Last week, we started discussing the strange legacy of the pulps, of German Kriminalfilm and of Italian Giallo on the development of slasher movies.
Lucia Patrizi, webmistress of the blog Il Giorno degli Zombi1, horror expert and an accomplished writer on her own right, is giving us a preview of her forthcoming essay on slasher cinema.
In case you missed the first installment, you can find it here.
Nowe, it’s time to meet the Master – and see how Mario Bava created a whole new genre of cinema.
In 1963, Mario Bava directs **La Ragazza che Sapeva Troppo* (1963, The Girl that Knew Too Much – but distributed as The Evil Eye in English), the first Italian movie to be described by the tag Giallo: a homicidal maniac roams the streets of Rome, and the girl protagonist is a witness to one of his crimes.
The new genre is not fully codified yet, the influence of Krimi is still felt – for instance in the insisting use of comedy scenes, used to break the tension. Bava himself was never satisfied with this movie, but the opportunity for setting up the definitive structure of what was to become the Italian Giallo would come the following year, with a Italian/French/German co-production that was supposed to be the Italian Kriminalfilm.
Bava, on the other hand, was never one to passively imitate anything, and Sei Donne per l’Assassino (1964, Six Women for the Killer – but distributed as Blood and Black Lace in English) turns into a linguistic test ground in which one of the most interesting and original genres in Italian cinema will be born. The Giallo begins here. This is one of the few movie genres over which origin’s there can’t be any debate.
With Sei Donne per l’Assassino a narrative formula – and more importantly a style – is developed – ready to be adopted by other directors, each with their own peculiarities, each with their own obsessions, but all keeping the original Bava frame intact.
Bava is the first to drop the investigation plot, pushing it to the back, basically the weakest element in the movie, to concentrate on the execution of the crimes. The emphasis is totally on the minutes that precede the homicides: long, tense shots, centered on camera movements sticking to the victim as she’s pursued by the killer. And here, maybe for the first time in movie history, violence explodes. The maniac in his trench-coat, black gloves and slouch hat hiding his face hits with an extreme sadism, and the bodies undergo a series of offenses that are, for the time, extremely bold.
From Krimi, Bava keeps only the upper bourgeois setting, in this case a fashion house, and little else. Sei Donne per l’Assassino is absolutely new. And because of this, was not understood at the time. The film was a commercial disaster in its country of origin, and had a minimally better track record abroad. Not to worry, though: Giallo was a genre created for foreign markets.
But why did the critics attack the movie?
It was too violent, they said, with paper-thin characters existing for the sole purpose of being killed. And they got it right: Bava’s purpose was exactly that. He was never a director in love with is characters, but he was more of an entomologist observing them like they were insects, studying their behavior – a behavior that was always twisted, and devoid of any morals. And this too will return often in the Italian Giallo. A typical trait, in fact, is the idea of greed as the main motor for the characters’ actions. Madness will appear only later.
How much and in what manner did the Italian Giallo influence the American and Canadian Slasher?
We can’t give a single, clear answer to that question. Certainly there is a handful of works that casts its shadow on the trans-Atlantic slashers. But it is also true that slasher movies were not a simple imitation of the Giallo, but an original form of cinema and, most of all, rooted in the social context of America between the 1970s and the 1980s – and was the product of thousands of other suggestions.
Certainly the high number of easily available Giallos (that were most often shot in English) had a first rate impact in the building of the imaginarium of directors that would later shoot a great number of slashers.
But there are important distinctions we must make between the two genres.
[and we will see them in a few days, in episode three of this series]
- Il Giorno degli Zombi is written in Italian, but you can get a decent English translation using online engines – and you’ll see it’s well worth the extra effort. ↩