The Giallo Collection: The Bloodstained Shadow, Short Night Of Glass Dolls, The Case Of The Bloody Iris & Who Saw Her Die?
Prior to the boom in Hong Kong action-movie imports, Italy led non-Hollywood cinema in the production of internationally popular genre pictures, starting in the '60s with Westerns and sword-and sandal epics, and moving into the '70s with the sexy mystery-thrillers known as "giallo" films. "Giallo" literally means "yellow," as in the yellowing pages of old pulp novels, and the genre relies on the conventions of lurid colors, bright splashes of blood, full orchestral scores, picturesque locales, political conspiracies, earnest heroes (who are often non-Italian), and beautiful women stalked by cloaked killers. Anchor Bay has packaged four representative giallos into a DVD box set enhanced by a handful of interviews with the films' creators. Director Aldo Lado takes responsibility for the 1971 feature Short Night Of Glass Dolls, with Jean Sorel as a journalist attempting to solve his own murder while laying motionless but conscious on an autopsy table. Sorel recalls investigating his girlfriend's disappearance, and getting too close to a secret organization of social elites who thrive on the life essence of the young. Short Night presages Eyes Wide Shut in its account of a man wandering through a shadow city while uncovering layers of sleaze, and the film's simple social metaphor, imaginative setpieces, and unsettling finale make it a prime example of diverting suspense. Less successful is Lado's Who Saw Her Die?, another missing-person case, with George Lazenby as an artist tracking the killer of his preteen daughter. The 1972 thriller opens strongly, with a chilling child murder set to a jarring Ennio Morricone melody, but Lazenby's passionless performance and a silly twist ending mar Lado's starkly beautiful imagery. The artistry level is lower but the entertainment value higher in Giuliano Carnimeo's glam-heavy 1971 slasher movie What Are Those Strange Drops Of Blood Doing On Jennifer's Body? (known in Anchor Bay's set by its inferior American title, The Case Of The Bloody Iris). Edwige Fenech plays a jumpy model who moves into the apartment of a slain colleague and soon fears that she's next on the killer's list. Carnimeo, directing under his preferred pseudonym, Anthony Ascott, constructs the movie as a series of sudden murders and last-second fake-outs, and he distracts the audience with half-naked models up until the anticlimactic revelation of the killer's identity. The set rounds out with Antonio Bido's mundane 1978 detective story The Bloodstained Shadows, which has Lino Capolicchio as a college professor returning home to find out who's killing his town's aristocracy. Aside from a vibrant electro-rock soundtrack provided by Dario Argento's house band Goblin, there's little to recommend this routine exercise in graphic violence. All four pieces of The Giallo Collection suffer from distracting (albeit historically accurate) English-language dubbing, which gives these stylish mood pieces the timbre of a Steve Reeves Hercules movie. It's also easy to overrate the giallos' tautly plotted, nattily shot style, which doesn't differ much from that of American TV cop shows of the same period. (The classy ones, anyway, like Columbo and Mannix.) But the giallos in this set are fun, and in the same arena as the violent, faintly meaningful foreign "artsploitation" movies that currently pack U.S. art houses. If these Italian genre pictures were released today, they'd likely be word-of-mouth niche-cinema smashes, if they didn't go straight to video.