Third part of the series of posts about the evolution of horror movies, from German Krimi, to Italian Giallo, to American Slasher.
Once again I must thank my friend Lucia Patrizi, of the blog Il Giorno degli Zombi, for her fun but erudite (or is it erudite but fun?) contribution.
And now, on with the show…
There are important distinctions to be made between Giallo and Slasher. Slasher movies are not and will never be “the American Giallo” – they are autonomous and have their peculiar traits, as Giallo movies do. And it is not just a matter of lowering the age and the social status (sometimes) of the main characters, it is not a matter of setting that separates the two genres. What changes is, predictably, a matter of style first, and second, of contents, because we are discussing genres in which aesthetics guides the narrative, and not the other way around.
Giallo does have in fact a very complex aesthetic, informing both the camera movements and the set-up for the killings. We can certainly call Giallo an experimental genre. And as much as the Giallo is convoluted, as the Slasher is simple and direct. The plot, too, in Giallo has a very involved development, while usually the Slasher is the extension over 90 minutes of a single situation: camping kids being killed-off, a pajama-party with the killer, babysitters pursued by the Bogeyman.
Moreover, the two genres have social, ethical and even political implications thaat push them further away from each other: the Giallo, at the height of its splendor during Dario Argento‘s golden age, becomes an increasingly formal mechanism, devoid of all contents. The Slasher movie will instead act as a sponge, absorbing (in 90% of the cases unwittingly) the worries and the mindsets of the different ages it will go through.
If we were to list the Giallo titles closer to the Slasher movie, we’d find very little, and our choice would be reduced to two movies, both produced in the early’70s: I Corpi Presentano Tracce di Violenza Carnale by Sergio Martino (1972) and most importantly Reazione a Catena (1971 – aka Blood Bay, Bay of Blood, Blood Bath and a variety of other titles) again by Mario Bava.
And yet, while the former has a university campus setting that will become topical in the Slasher movie, and it premieres the trope that unhinibited behavior equals death, it is the latter that appears to be almost prophetical, as it anticipates by almost a decade the lakeside horrors beloved by the Friday the 13th saga.
Set in a cozy bay belonging to an aging countess that is offed in the first scene, Reazione a Catena is one of the few movies about which Bava admitted he was completely satisfied. And this is unsurprising, as this is the work in which his worldview emerges more potently. And it is his most groundbreaking movie, where Bava drops all the tropes of the thriller, where identifying the killer becomes superfluous, and where a savage sequence of crimes is unleashed, increasingly violent and graphical, destroying the “Hitchcockian” ideal of suspense and opening, by all means, the doors to the lean, linear Slasher narrative.
It is not just a matter of details, like the couple impaled by the killer while they are having sex, reprised shot-by-shot by Steve Miner in the second chapter of the Friday the 13th series. The hommage is evident and it is not that what makes Chain Reaction a movie that dozens upon dozens of later films will be indebted to.
In this case too, it is again a matter of style, because officially Reazione a Catena is a Giallo, if atypical, including all the elements common to the genre: a cast of adult and well-to-do characters, money as the primary motor of the action, elegant venues.
And yet, if analyzed in depth and compared to the Giallos by Argento (and in part with those by Martino), it is easy to notice how little of the formula is maintained, and what seeds of the future Slasher movie it carries within its frames.
[In a few days, please join us for an in-depth analisys of Reazione a Catena and the closing of this series.]