Greatest (Italian) Giallo Films

The term “giallo” initially refers to cheap yellow paperbacks, that were distributed in post-fascist Italy. For Italian audiences, the term is used to refer to any kind of thriller, regardless of where it was made. For English-speaking audiences, the term has over time come to refer to a very specific type of Italian-produced thriller that takes advantage of modern cinematic techniques to create a unique genre which unapologetically explores violence, sexual content, and taboo exploration. The giallo film genre proved to be a major influence on American slasher films but giallos remain stylistically different from American crime films. Here is my list of the best giallo films – made strictly by Italian directors; so don’t expect Black Swan, Amer or even Dressed To Kill to appear on this list.

 

27: Torso (I corpi presentano tracce di violenza carnale)
Directed by Sergio Martino
Written by Ernesto Gastaldi
1973

Prolific Italian genre filmmaker Sergio Martino started his career as an assistant director for filmmakers such as Mario Bava and Brunello Rondi before moving into directing himself, with the 1969 documentary Mondo Sex. Over the next three decades, Martino was responsible for some of the more exploitative films in a number of genres, moving from spaghetti Westerns to Giallos to gritty crime films, sex comedies, jungle adventures, and apocalyptic science fiction. He is one of the most overlooked genre filmmakers from Europe, and certainly one of my all time favourites.

Torso pales next to director Martino’s more inventive Giallos (see below), but there is still a lot to love about the film. The movie definitely improves in the second half, when it switches focus from being a broad murder mystery to more of a suspense thriller. The plot of the killer terrorizing Rome’s college students is hardly new (even for the time) but the murder sequences are artfully staged and strangely beautiful to watch: most notable is the one in which the killer stalks his victim through a muddy field. Torso is overloaded with red herrings and doesn’t feature the most complicated of whodunits, but Martino has his fun getting to the conclusion.

26: A Blade in the Dark (La casa con la scala nel buio)
Directed by Lamberto Bava
Written by Franco Ferrini and Gianni Romoli
1983

A Blade In The Dark comes from the director of Demons, and is written by the scribes of Lucio Fulci’s The Beyond and Mario Bava’s Bay of Blood. There are a few reasons why this film stands apart from most generic giallo films. First, the movie co-stars Michele Soavi, who would go on to direct Cemetery Man and StageFright. Secondly, the film may have clearly inspired Wes Craven’s Scream 3, another horror movie about the making of a horror movie. Finally, it features a memorable kill scene, which does for washing your hair in the sink what Hitchcock’s Psycho did for taking a shower. The ending is a bit predictable, there isn’ t much of a mystery, and it’s a brutal, nihilistic bit of filmmaking that some could easily interpret as an exercise in misogynistic sadism, so see it at your own risk.

25: Trauma
Directed by Dario Argento
Written by Dario Argento
1993

Asia Argento stars in Trauma, Argento’s first production on American soil. Although it doesn’t quite match the mastery of his previous work, Trauma is stuffed full of wild bursts of imagination. On American turf, Argento’s distinctly European sensibility is missed, but Trauma does feature some bizarre plot twists, a strange séance, and a dozen or so ways to creatively decapitate a human being. Lizards appear throughout the film, intercut with the killings as a motif, and much like The Bird With The Crystal Plumage, Trauma toys with perception and the idea of how our eyes can play tricks on us. Trauma showcase Argento’s funny bone moreso than any of his other films; note the strange closing credits, with Asia Argento dancing around a Reggae band and a few talking decapitated heads.

24: The Fifth Cord (Giornata nera per l’ariete)
Directed by Luigi Bazzoni
Written by Luigi Bazzoni  and Mario di Nardo
1971

Director Luigi Bazzoni’s beautifully crafted, nuanced contribution to the endless Giallo cycle is perfectly summed up as “style over substance.” That said, the film is also highlighted by Franco Nero, starring in his one and only entry in the genre. The Fifth Cord can be difficult to get immersed in, but the cinematography and the score by the legendary Ennio Morricone is brilliant, and the film features quite a few memorable moments – specifically in the suspenseful climax through the endless corridors.

23: Four Flies on Grey Velvet (4 mosche di velluto grigio)
Directed by Dario Argento
Written by Dario Argento
1971

Four Flies on Grey Velvet is the final film in Argento’s infamous (but in no way structurally connected) “animal trilogy.” Four Flies literalizes the eye as a photographic camera, toying with the theory that a dead person’s retina retains the last image he or she sees before they die. This especially homoerotic entry into Argento’s canon borrows heavily from Peeping Tom and injects one of Hitchcock’s favorite subjects into the script: the innocent man, wrongly accused. Ennio Morricone’s expressive score provides moments of beauty and quiet despair, and Argento’s use of light and shadow heightens the terror. Four Flies shows Argento experimenting more with filmmaking techniques – a technical wonder for its time of release, Flies proudly boasts the first use of a slow-motion bullet effect in film, pre-dating The Matrix and many action films to come.

22: In The Folds Of The Flesh (Nelle pieghe della carne)
Directed by Sergio Bergonzelli
Written by Sergio Bergonzelli
1970

This candy-coloured, feverish, mind-twisting nightmare is one of the most bizarre Giallos ever. In the Folds of the Flesh packs more bizarre ideas and offbeat elements into its brief 87 minutes than any other film featured on this list. All the usual genre trappings are present and accounted for: femme fatales, clouded flashbacks, gruesome killings and so on. Fusing together the mainstays of the sub genre, director Sergio Berzonzelli also finds time for incest, child killers, caged flesh-eating birds, golden beetles, a cyanide bath to eliminate dead bodies, and Nazi war camp sequences. Flesh consists solely of a series of shocking scenes strung together with virtually no cohesive narrative, yet somehow it is a rewarding film. It’s almost pointless to attempt to describe the madness that unfolds. None of the characters are mentally stable, and they are all haunted by some past traumatic experience in the form of the film’s opening decapitation (a recurring theme), The film looks gorgeous, with its lavish decorations, lurid set design, a palette bursting with primary colours and Bergonzelli’s fondness for unorthodox camera angles and still photography. Jesús Villa Rojo provides a eclectic score ranging from contemporary jazz to classical compositions and inter-titles appear from time to time (with a few spelling errors). There is even a narrator who attempts to explain the origin of the film’s title with a Freud quotation: “…what has been remains imbedded in the brain nestled in the folds of the flesh distorted it conditions and subconsciously impels…” Bergonzelli directed a number of entries into the Italian cult film scene. Perhaps his most famous is the obscure Blood Delirium (1988), which stars John Phillip Law as a man who believes he is the reincarnation of Vincent Van Gogh (think Blood Feast).

21: The Killer Must Kill Again / The Killer Must Strike Again (L’assassino è costretto ad uccidere ancora)
Directed by Luigi Cozzi
Written by Adriano Bolzoni and Luigi Cozzi
1975

Director Cozzi crafted a suspenseful thriller with The Killer Must Kill Again. Most notable about the film is the music, an early Italian progressive jazz score by Nando De Luca, and also the cast. The beautiful Christina Galbo does stellar work here, and George Hilton plays the shady rich guy perfectly. The film is visually striking, mostly shot at night, punctuated with vivid bursts of colour, and benefits from a striking, satisfying climax. Indebted to Alfred Hitchcock (like most Giallos), The Killer Must Kill Again plays like a twisted hybrid of Strangers on a Train (two protagonists who swap murders along with a vital cigarette lighter which plays a key role in the conclusion) and Dial M for Murder (with the cunning rich man who arranges his wife’s murder).

20: The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail (La coda dello scorpione)
Directed by Sergio Martino
Written by Ernesto Gastaldi and Eduardo Manzanos Brochero
1971

Like all of Martino’s films, The Case Of The Scorpion’s Tale is a visual treat. Martino always endeavored to do something interesting visually – here, prodigious zooming, a plethora of unconventional angles, strange compositions, and fluid camera work to help escalate the tension. Martino also uses innumerable colour gels to maximum effect here, moreso than in his previous work, and the score is truly mesmerizing, especially the main theme. There are enough devilish plot twists to keep viewers on their toes and guessing the identity of the killer right until the very end.

19: The New York Ripper (Lo squartatore di New York)
Directed by Lucio Fulci
Written by Lucio Fulci and Gianfranco Clerici
1982

In the hierarchy of Italian horror, Lucio Fulci usually doesn’t get his due. Many place him below Argento and Bava, but I’d argue many of his films are far better. Fulci is admired for his onscreen appreciation of violence and brutality, but the man could shoot a picture like nobody’s business. The New York Ripper is often targeted as misogynistic, as Fulci relegates the detective story aspect of the film to the background, focusing more on the killer’s atrocities instead. It also features cheesy dialogue and a needlessly convoluted narrative, but the film is worth a watch for its intriguing cinematography, outlandish gore, sleazy 70s New York setting, flashy set design, and a pair of truly suspenseful scenes – and yes, the ever-present unintentional humour. The New York Ripper is Lucio’s attempt to make a Dirty Harry-esque crime thriller, albeit a highly sexualised one with excessive nudity and a live sex show which verges on pornography.

18: Black Belly of the Tarantula (La tarantola dal ventre nero)
Directed by Paolo Cavara
Written by Marcello Danon and Lucile Laks
1971

Just as the wasp uses a deadly stinger to kill its arch nemesis the tarantula, a psychotic murderer is mimicking the insect by inserting a poison-tipped acupuncture needle into the back of his victim’s neck. The venom paralyzes the victims and the killer forces them to watch their own death as he slices them up. The inventive killings are orchestrated with remarkable visual flair and live up to similar works from Bava and Argento.The method of the killings is perhaps the most interesting aspect of Black Belly of the Tarantula, but there are many more reasons to recommend the film. Cavara started his career co-directing the highly controversial sleazy-docu trash Mondo Cane and Women of the World. Even though he would go on to direct a wide variety of genre films, he would only make two outright Gialloss, of which Black Belly is his most famous. Cavara directs the sordid proceedings with style and precision. Every scene is pieced together with suggestive compositions that give deeper meaning to what we witness, and the piercing score by the ever-present Ennio Morricone intensifies the tension throughout. Tarantula is a virtual who’s-who of Euro-cult actresses, with Claudine Auger, Barbara Bouchet and Barbara Bach all starring. It’s a perfect gateway into the world of Italian thrillers.

17: Death Walks on High Heels (La morte cammina con i tacchi alti)
Directed by Luciano Ercoli
Written by Ernesto Gastaldi
1971

Death Walks On High Heels and Death Walks At Midnight (1972) were Italian/Spanish co-productions, and two of many Giallo films from director Luciano Ercoli. Made using most of the same main cast and crew, both High Heels and Midnight were vehicles for Spanish-born starlet Susan Scott (Ercoli’s wife), who stars in both flms. High Heels revolves around a famed jewel thief who is slashed to death on a train after perfoming a heist. His daughter, Nicole, a famous nightclub performer, is then stalked and terrorized in hopes that the prowler will discover where the stash was hidden. High Heels is the real gem of the two, constantly spinning a web of murder, mayhem, and masquerade. Although somewhat convoluted, the carefully revealed backstory actually makes sense (something of a rarity for the genre), and the script keeps the viewer guessing right to the end. The finale provides an unforgettable revelation and one of the most bizarre extended sequences of any Giallo film. High Heels is the only film from Ercoli to make my list, but I do give special mention to Midnight and Photos Of A Lady Above Suspicion.

16:  Seven Deaths In the Cat’s Eye (La morte negli occhi del gatto)
Directed by Antonio Margheriti
Written by Antonio Margheriti (story) and Giovanni Simonelli
1972

Seven Deaths in the Cat’s Eye seems like a case of the filmmakers going out of their way to distinguish themselves from the hundreds of other Giallo films released, with a very strong supernatural underpinning to the proceedings (including repeated mention of vampires) and a specific focus on would-be animal murderers (including several cats and a gorilla). But where Seven Deaths truly sets itself apart from other Giallos is in its extremely gothic tone. The MacGrieff castle is appropriately ancient, and its stone hallways have statues of gargoyles and secret passageways. The movie is best described as what a Giallo film would look and feel like if it was made by Hammer studios. In fact, the film is based on a novel by Peter Bryan, who once supplied the scripts for such Hammer productions as The Hound of Baskervilles and The Plague of the Zombies. French cult actress/singer Jane Birkin stars, and the film is shot in glorious widescreen, with every inch of the frame filled with incredible art direction and set design. The castle location turns out to be a brilliant choice as it becomes a character within the picture. Seven Deaths is punctuated by some finely crafted suspense, dark family secrets, an excellent cast – and did I mention a gorilla?

15: A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin (Una lucertola con la pelle di donna)
Directed by Lucio Fulci
Written by Lucio Fulci
1971

After the success of Dario Argento’s The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, the Italian film industry set out to produce a slate of thrillers with animal-related titles. One of the first was Lucio Fulci’s A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin. Despite its Giallo status, Fulci’s film is a distinct entity apart from those made by his peers, quickly earning a reputation as one of Fulci’s finest works. As a convoluted thriller, Lizard works extremely well, though its climax falls somewhat short. The highlight of the film is an 11-minute chase sequence through the catacombs of a church, featuring a nerve-wrecking scene involving killer bats and ends in a bloody rooftop encounter. The strength of the movie (as with most Giallos) lies in the visuals. Fulci’s innovative camera work helps reinforce the sense of illusion throughout, and Ennio Morricone’s score complements the picture’s strange mood perfectly. At times it’s a bit slow, but Lizard in a Woman’s Skin is a unique and wild experience. Keep an eye out for the obvious ripoff/homage of Hitchcock’s The Birds.

14: Tenebrae / Unsane
Directed by Dario Argento
Written by Dario Argento
1982

Generally considered Argento’s last good film before a steep decline, Tenebrae was a return, after experiments with supernatural horror (Suspiria, Phenomena), to the classic Giallo formula: homicidal maniacs, black leather gloves, the killer’s point of view, convoluted plot twists, pulse pounding music, and so on. Said to be Argento’s most personal film, Tenebrae was reportedly inspired after Argento was stalked by a fan – but more importantly Tenebrae is his most self-reflexive work. Argento identifies more closely with the killer in this film than any other. The murderer acts as an artist, snapping photographs of his own crime scenes, and kills someone after shoplifting a book (Argento’s way of addressing pirating and bootlegging) – not to mention the murder of a lesbian film critic accusing a man of misogyny, much like Clint Eastwood killing off a Pauline Kael-like character in The Dead Pool. This specific set piece features an incredible long crane shot which reportedly took three days to film, a scene the U.S. distributors wanted removed although it is the film’s highest technical accomplishment. Of all Argento’s films, Tenebrae might just be his most shocking and overtly sexual film. Expectedly, Tenebrae is filled with Argento’s customarily over-the-top, artistically motifs, and was shot by Luciano Tovoli, who was also the director of photography on Suspiria.

13: StageFright: Aquarius
Directed by Michele Soavi
Written by George Eastman and Sheila Goldberg
1987

Soavi’s time spent assisting Dario Argento with Tenebre, Phenomena and Opera clearly prepared him to direct a feature of his own. Soavi proves himself as adept a director as any of his peers. StageFright is famous for two main reasons: donning an owl mask, the maniacal killer sets about his massacre via an assortment of weapons including an axe, chainsaw and drill. Secondly, the theatrical setting is used extremely well – the killer frequently uses props and costume found nearby. He blasts ominous orchestral music from the speakers to increase the panic, and the set provides a number of rooms, corridors and secret passageways to run through. Equal parts thriller, comedy, and splatter flick, StageFright starts strong and keeps up the pace, ending with a bravura sequence front and center on the stage.

12: Lo strano vizio della Signora Wardh (The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh A.K.A. Blade of the Ripper)
Directed by Sergio Martino
Written by Ernesto Gastaldi and Eduardo Manzanos Brochero
1971

Director Sergio Martino (also known as Italy’s Roger Corman) proves once again why he does Giallo better than most. Starring giallo queen Edwige Fenech (What Are Those Strange Drops of Blood Doing on Jennifer’s Body, The Case of the Bloody Iris, Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key, and many more) and George Hilton (The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail, The West Is Tough, Amigo), the film is a carefully fashioned and engrossing thriller with impressive Italian locations, beautiful authentic interiors, awe-inspiring cinematography (by Emilio Foriscot and Floriano Trenker) and excellent sound design. (Note the use of a heartbeat effect during a tense life-or-death scene.) A number of elements have been lifted in later films: you may recognize Nora Orlandi’s wailing theme music recycled in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill. A murder in a public park provides the blueprint for a similar scene in Argento’s Four Flies on Grey Velvet, and a pair of shoes poking out from behind a curtain, was also seen in The Forbidden Photos Of A Lady Above Suspicion (the same year) and later duplicated in Brian De Palma’s Dressed to Kill, but Strange Vice also takes a page from classic films itself, including The Wages of Fear and Diabolique. The Strange is a slow burn, but it is every bit as memorable and thrilling than Argento’s best work. Double-cross tactics and red herrings are all present as is a twist-upon-twist ending that’s entirely unpredictable mostly by virtue of not making much sense). Strange Vice also features one slick scene showing us a particularly clever way to use ice cubes.

11: The House with Laughing Windows (La casa dalle finestre che ridon)
Directed by Pupi Avati
Written by Pupi Avati
1976

The House With Laughing Windows opens and ends as a deathly serious meditation on suffering and art. This sense of dread begins with a series of highly disturbing images that play out in sepia tones, juxtaposed with the opening title cards – a man is chained, tortured and repeatedly stabbed by two hooded figures. Tormented cries of pain give forth amidst the blurry imagery, and a grating voiceover speaks: “colours, my colours, they run from my veins, colours, sweet colours.” Although this film doesn’t conform to some conventions of the genre, it does feed into a familiar meta-narrative: a mystery killer abounds, a homicidal maniac stalking in the night, and a half dozen or so suspects at large. Director Avati reveals a small town full of secrets and superstition and much like H.G. Lewis’s Bloodfeast or Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom, Laughing Windows explores a dichotomy between art and death. The artist at hand, Legnani, is obsessed with capturing on canvas the reactions of people at the precise moment of their death. The film is deliberately paced, and suffers from a middle section rooted too deeply in an unconvincing love interest. But it’s the book-ends that make this picture great. While the intricate plot will keep you guessing until the very end, it is the shocking conclusion (and I do mean shocking), that will burn in your memory for a very, very, long time.

10: Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key (Il tuo vizio è una stanza chiusa e solo io ne ho la chiave)
Directed by Sergio Martino
Written Ernesto Gastaldi
1972

The title is a reference to Martino’s earlier Giallo Lo strano vizio della Signora Wardh (The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh), in which the same phrase appears in a mysterious note apparently sent by a killer. Better known under its export title Gently Before She Dies, the film stars Edwige Fenech, Luigi Pistilli, and Anita Strindberg, and uses many elements from Edgar Allan Poe’s short story The Black Cat (acknowledging this influence in the film’s opening credits). It marks Martino’s fourth of six Giallos.

Giallo films usually don’t feature great acting, but Martino’s are a cut above in this respect. Giancarlo Ferrando’s budding cinematography, the catchy score and the colourful art direction are also noteworthy. While most horror aficionados always praise Argento, many are unfamiliar with Martino, an underrated talent who, while paying homage to the established stalk-and-kill approach of early Giallos, revitalized the genre in new and interesting ways each time. What Martino did better than most was emphasize the complex motivations of all his characters and find ways for the audience to understand them clearly.

9: Don’t Torture a Duckling (Non si sevizia un paperino)
Directed by Lucio Fulci
Written by Lucio Fulci
1972

The best Giallos boast two main components – horror and mystery. Lucio Fulci’s Don’t Torture a Duckling doesn’t quite have a mystery, nor does it actually succeed as a horror film, but it is considered a giallo by the majority, so let’s just go with it. This stylish modern-day murder mystery follows a serial child killer on a rampage in a remote southern Italian village. Fulci is often criticized as misogynist and Don’t Torture a Duckling sure won’t help in his defence. With that said, I’d argue most horror films, especially those made in Italy in the 70s, are generally misogynist. Still, Duckling is quite entertaining, and a clever and complex social commentary on the effects of mob mentality on vigilante justice, pedophilia and the disrespect youth have for traditional values. Despite a few shortcomings, Duckling is a beautifully realized horror film with shades of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible.

8: Blood And Black Lace / Six Women for the Murderer (Sei donne per l’assassino)
Directed by Mario Bava
Written by Marcello Fondato and Giuseppe Barilla
1964

Blood and Black Lace is light on story but rich in style. One of Bava’s most accomplished works, Lace is a beautiful piece of workmanship executed with dazzling, unparalleled use of bright colours and deep shadows. Choreographed with cruel precision, with an always mobile camera (mounted on a child’s wagon due to a lack of budget), Lace is a web of murder and intrigue, elevated to a higher level through Bava’s visual style. Some argue this started the Giallo genre; others credit Bay Of Blood, but as noted further down this list, I’ve always considered The Girl Who Knew Too Much to be the first true Giallo.

7: Bay Of Blood / Twitch Of The Death Nerve (Reazione a catena)
Directed by Mario Bava
Written by Franco Barberi
1971

In 1971, Mario Bava unleashed Bay Of Blood, a film that pushed beyond the levels of gore that had yet been seen in a murder mystery thriller. Blood has a body count of 13, spread across multiple killers – that is more dead bodies than the total of victims in the first Halloween, Nightmare On Elm Street and Friday The 13th movies combined. In place of a single psycho, Bay Of Blood hosts a cast of characters, all related (and all insane), and all after the property of a deceased Countess and her lofty inheritance. It was by far Bava’s goriest film, soaked in top-of-the line practical effects, dripping in blood and featuring the most innovative kill sequences for its time. Bava was a cinematographer-turned-director, and Bay was the first film since 1962’s The Girl Who Knew Too Much for which he took credit in both capacities. Released as Twitch of the Death Nerve, the film would become a predecessor to the slasher sub-genre, and said to have heavily influenced Friday the 13th. Frederico Fellini once commented that he worked on writing a horror film for an acquaintance who gave him a script with numerous depictions of murders, but not one thread of story connecting them. Many believe it was Bava he was referring to, specifically this movie. Dario Argento loved the film so much, he had a friend (a projectionist) steal him a print of the film during its first run in Italy. One last piece of IMDb trivia: Roberto Rossellini (whom Bava had previously worked for) shot a day’s worth of second unit footage for Bava. While he was uncredited, most of the footage appeared in the final cut.

6: Hatchet For The Honeymoon (Il rosso segno della follia)
Directed by Mario Bava
Written by Santiago Moncada
1970

The general consensus on Hatchet For The Honeymoon is that it’s a departure from the traditional Giallo formula and not one of Bava’s best, but I wholeheartedly disagree. Hatchet is further evidence of the legendary director’s brilliance. The film held a special place in Bava’s heart since his own marriage, like the protagonist’s, was quickly coming to an end at the time. In the opening scene, John Harrington (Stephen Forsyth) announces in his narration that he’s mad, channelling the best of Anthony Perkins in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. Hatchet is a clever mix of style and tone. The murder sequences are directed with panache – shy on blood but ratcheting up the tension to the max. The standout scene is the killing of Mildred, interrupted halfway through by the arrival of the film’s sleuth, but the most peculiar aspect is the introduction of the ‘Mildred as ghost’ plot. One would think that this idea perhaps inspired John Landis when writing American Werewolf In London. The film is beautifully shot, well-acted and sharply written – something usually lacking in Giallos. By the time we see Forsyth decked out in a wedding gown wielding a knife, we quickly come to realize that Hatchet for the Honeymoon is another Bava masterpiece.

5: The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (L’uccello dalle piume di cristallo)
Directed by Dario Argento
Written by Dario Argento
1970

One of the most self-assured directorial debuts of the decade, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage was a box office hit and breakthrough film for the master of Giallo. Here, Argento is more interested in building supsense in tense but clever plot twists, and focused less on gore. The acting is excellent across the board, the camera work is fluid, Vittorio Storaro’s stylish widescreen photography is ambitious, and the score by Ennio Morricone is superb. Bird laid the groundwork for later classics like Deep Red and stil remains one of Argento’s finest. It also features one of the best twist endings of all time.

4: The Girl Who Knew Too Much (The Evil Eye /  La ragazza che sapeva troppo)
Directed by Mario Bava
Written by Enzo Corbucci and Mario Bava
1963

Mario Bava’s final black and white production is regarded as the seminal work in what would become known as the Giallo genre. Much Like Brian De Palma, Bava was very influenced by the master of suspense and borrowed heavily from Alfred Hitchcock over the years. The title itself spoofs The Man Who Knew Too Much, a story Hitchcock adapted twice to the big screen. The Girl Who Knew Too Much helped kick-start a whole school of Italian thrillers, but only a few were able to surpass the genius of Bava. The Girl Who Knew Too Much is beautifully shot, composed of pristine blocking, framing, pans, dollys, and sharp edits, creating suspense amid all the shadowy photography. Bava’s films might not always make a lick of sense, but as a former cinematographer working for directors such as Roberto Rossellini, his movies always looked better than other Giallos. With a a solid performance from the always reliable John Saxon, The Girl Who Knew Too Much is incredibly entertaining, with a few twists and a surprise ending as to “whodunit” and why. Part mystery, part horror, part comedy, part romance, The Girl Who Knew Too Much ends seemingly as an anti-drug/anti-smoking feature length film. Essential viewing for any horror aficionado.

3: Terror at the Opera (Opera)
Directed by Dario Argento
Written by Dario Argento
1987

Opera collides with horror in this gory Giallo from director Dario Argento, fitting neatly with Argento’s lavish stylistics and dark trademarks as a filmmaker. Opera was Argento’s most expensive production and it shows in his colour schemes, use of music, grand set design, and camera work – all of which are wildly inventive and appropriate. The film’s chosen opera is an avant-garde rendition of Giuseppe Verdi’s Macbeth, historically known for bringing bad omens to its cast and crew. Though Opera was never plagued by post-production problems, the director has been quoted as saying that “Opera‘s loveless tone was intended in part as a kind of AIDS metaphor” since star Ian Charleson learned during the filming that he was HIV+. Much like most of Argento’s work, the dialogue is over-the-top, and the acting is at times hammy, but one can’t deny its style and spectacular mood. Opera also features many incredible highlights including some truly brilliant POV shots—at one point Betty is immobilized, as the killer ties her up and places a row of needles below her eyelids, forcing her to witness the excruciating deaths of her friends. We see the torture of unsuspecting supporting characters through her obstructed, terrified view. I dare you not to blink.

2: Suspiria
Director: Dario Argento
Written by Daria Nicolodi and Dario Argento
Italy, 1977

The king of Italian horror, Dario Argento, directs what many consider to be his masterpiece. Suspiria is one of the most important and influential genre movies ever made, and essential viewing for all horror fans. Argento’s first major non-Giallo directing job doesn’t stray too far from the style he established in his previous film Deep Red. Suspiria’s overall charm resides in its technical triumphs and visual style. Taking his cues from Mario Bava, Argento, together with his director of photography Luciano Tovoli, creates a vibrant, colorful film quite apart from the standards of the genre. Argento’s masterful use of intense primary colours (he acquired 1950s Technicolor stock to get the effect) and stunning set designs gives the whole film a hallucinatory intensity. The dissonant, throbbing score, composed by Argento and performed by his frequent collaborators, Italian rock band Goblin, drives the picture with the occasional distorted shriek of “Witch!”. A strange combination of the arthouse and horror film, Suspiria, although cited as one of the scariest movies ever made is, ironically, one of Argento’s least violent films. It relies more on tone and atmosphere than on blood and gore. Surreal and frightening, Suspiria still shocks audiences decades after its original release.

1: Deep Red (Profondo rosso) (The Hatchet Murders)
Directed by Dario Argento
Written by Bernardino Zapponi

1975

Many will argue Suspiria to be Argento’s full-fledged masterpiece, but for my money it is Deep Red – gorgeous, gory and gruesome, and undoubtedly his finest picture. The alluring David Hemmings steals much of the show as a music teacher who investigates a series of murders performed by a mysterious figure wielding a hatchet. Argento’s trademarks are all visible here in copious amounts, as it prefigures some of the elaborate stylistic choices that he would carry on for the remainder of his career. Add in the superb, jazzy score by Argento’s band Goblin, and you have one of the most distinct-sounding and looking horror films of the decade. From a technical perspective, the film is a masterwork, but Deep Red also excels where most Giallos fall short: it carries an engaging narrative heightened by an unpredictable course of events and a truly surprising twist ending.

Special Mention (just didn’t make the cut):

Autopsy, The Psychic (Seven Black Notes), Forbidden Photos Of A Lady Above Suspicion, All The Colors Dark, Short Nights of the Glass Doll

Oversights (movies I am still trying to track down):

Eyeball, Eyes of Crystals, A Perversion Story, Knife On Ice, Seven Blood Stained Orchids, Red Queen Kills Seven Times, Red Rings Of Fear, So Sweet So Dead, Who Saw Her Die, La Dona Del Lago, Avere Vent Anni, and Watch Me When I Kill

Not making my list. Sorry I just don’t like these movies:

What Have They Done to Solange?, French Sex Murders, Shock, Macabre, Do You Like Hitchcock?, French Sex Murders, Slaughter Hotel, Short Night Of Glass Dolls, Night Train Murders, The Night Evelyn Came Home From The Grave, Strip Nude For Your Killer, Sister Of Ursula, The Bloodstained Butterfly, Death Walks At Midnight, Pyjama Girl Case, Giallo. Mother Of Tears

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By Ricky da Conceição

Some people take my heart, others take my shoes, and some take me home. I write, I blog, I podcast and I edit.

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15 Responses to Greatest (Italian) Giallo Films

  1. Richard October 1, 2013 at 1:09 pm

    It’s “gialli,” not “giallo films.” ;-)

    Reply
  2. johnwaynman December 16, 2012 at 6:05 am

    Looks like a whole bunch of sick shit to me.

    Reply
  3. Michael T November 27, 2012 at 2:15 am

    Suspiria is not a “Giallo” in any sense. Not in style and certainly not in tone or atmosphere.

    Stagefright is not a giallo either.

    Reply
  4. Pearce November 20, 2012 at 1:42 am

    This is a pretty good list. I would have left off Stagefright, which is a slasher movie through and through, and Suspiria, which is supernatural horror, and substituted Perfume of the Lady In Black and Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion, and maybe shuffled the order a bit.

    Reply
  5. Yolanda October 29, 2012 at 7:32 pm

    What about Argento’s Inferno, the 2nd in the 3 Mothers Trilogy?

    Reply
  6. Dave October 25, 2012 at 9:17 pm

    Suspiria isn’t a Giallo. I would also leave off Stage Fright. If anything that plays more up to slasher conventions rather than Giallo.

    The Killer Muzt Kill Again is often cited as a Giallo, but I would leave that off as well. It has the aspects of one, but we know who the killer is right away.

    Reply
    • Ricky October 25, 2012 at 10:49 pm

      Hey Dave,

      This list was updated from what I posted last year. I originally didn’t include Suspiria as I shared the same point of view as you. However, I have since reconsidered. Despite the many supernatural trappings, it has the look, sound and feel of a giallo, and in many ways is a mystery. There’s a general aesthetic that spans several genres; from the classic Gothic horror to the police procedural to slasher flicks. Although Suspiria is seen as a move away from Argento’s giallo films and more into the realms of the fantastical, it still carries many of the elements recognizable with giallo: It is stark, full of violence, sex and fear – it features an outsider on foreign turf, an investigation, suspense and grisly deaths – and the atmospherics are pushed to a breaking point.

      And yes The Killer Must Kill Again is a giallo.

      I won’t argue against Stagefright.

      Reply
      • e.k. March 3, 2013 at 10:26 pm

        It’s not a giallo film by any means. Suspiria is a fantasy film; it doesnt even have the black gloved killer nor the framed protagonist. Also Tenebrae came out before Inferno. No Death laid an Egg or La polizia cheide aiuto?

        Reply
  7. Malastrana Film Series July 20, 2012 at 11:38 am

    Great article, although I beg to differ on a couple of titles : ) Check out NYC’s first ever Giallo series in September at the Anthology film archives! The program is on our website.

    Reply
  8. Malastrana Film Series July 20, 2012 at 11:35 am

    Great article, although I beg to differ on a couple of titles : ) Check out our program for NYC’s first giallo series ever happening in September!
    http://anthologyfilmarchives.org/film_screenings/series/39659

    Reply
  9. riotfog May 11, 2012 at 10:00 pm

    if you need track down these films join tntvillage

    great list…have seen them all and love them, though i would include Solange…

    Reply
  10. James Merolla October 26, 2011 at 11:13 am

    I think Deep Red is good, but never even comes close to reaching the heights of The Bird With The Crystal Plumage, and Opera. It was good to see some love for The Evil Eye, that is still my favorite Bava.

    Reply
  11. Ricky October 26, 2011 at 10:56 am

    If I place Suspiria on this list, I would have to consider so many other films. Suspiria will be on future lists – in other categories – but I am not alone to think of it as not a giallo

    Reply
  12. Taylor October 26, 2011 at 9:04 am

    Again, really good list. There are several films in there that I don’t consider giallo films (namely Stagefright and Opera), but I get your point. I love the inclusion of Trauma (not totally a giallo to me either). That has to be one of Argento’s most overlooked films.

    I really dig these horror lists. You’ve really put me in the seasonal mood.

    Reply
  13. Bill Thompson October 26, 2011 at 4:16 am

    Great list, it’s interesting that you consider Suspiria supernatural horror though. It definitely has supernatural elements, but for my money it’s a Giallo film.

    Reply

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