The Italian Giallo film and literature genre style had a large impact on America slasher-horror films of the 1980s. One of the most well-known directors of this 1970s style, Dario Argento, returns to write and direct a throw-back to this time and style where he was such a central figure. For film history buffs, Giallo can be excused for its hideous plot and dialogue, but will be revered for its use of color and stylish nature, as the Giallo movement intended.
Linda (Emmanuelle Seigner) overhears her sister Celine’s (Elsa Pataky) abduction by a taxi driver over the phone. Giallo (Adrien Brody), who is called such because jaundice has permanently altered the color of his skin, has been abducting beautiful women, butchering them, and then leaving them dead around Turin, Italy. Linda calls upon Inspector Enzo (also Brody) to assist in Celine’s recovery and attempt to figure out Giallo’s intentions and motivations.
Giallo is Italian for ‘yellow’ and is used an English term for specific Italian horror and thriller films (as well as novels) that featured stylized brutality, blood-letting, and mystery. The style and movement was a precursor and had a heavy influence on the growth of 1980s American slasher films. Dario Argento was one of the most well-known of the Giallo filmmakers, specifically for his seminal 1977 film Suspiria. Giallo not only refers to the antagonist’s jaundice affliction, but also to the style that Argento arose from, making this film an homage to his roots.
Like many Giallo films, the central aspect is the mystery and thriller, and the quality of anything else takes a backseat. This explains why the film’s dialogue is so bland and vile. Where a good film uses dialogue to move the plot along, here the dialogue is a buffer between the few plot points. Consider Linda and Enzo’s first meeting; Linda spots Enzo’s accent and regional New Yorker ‘rudeness’. The dialogue fails to give the film a reason to move forward, and instead clarifies how an Italian film features English as its central language. However, films such as Giallo are not loved for dialogue or continuity, but merely for their stylish use of color and horror.
The film’s color palate preserves the bright colors that Argento has used in the past, specifically red (consider his 1980 film Deep Red). Of course yellow would also be a primary tint of the film, but it is when these two colors combine that their tones accentuate the film’s scenes. Flashback scenes have a reddish-yellow tint, perfectly placing the audience in the characters’ darker past and explain their motivation. When Enzo and Linda have dinner in the third act, there are two sets of tulips on the table, both yellow and red, signifying their friendship, passion, and the hint of romance between the two.
Argento is certainly no master of plot or dialogue, but he knows how to make a captivating image. From the early moments of the film there are fluid pans over Turin’s cityscape that evokes a cinematic patience that properly sets up any foretelling suspense. The film’s digital medium uses deep-focus expose the depth of the settings with a slight distortion, giving this film a visual third-dimension that is far more awesome than any 3D film that requires glasses. Essentially, Argento is a master of the horror set up, getting the suspense in motion within the first few moments of a film without introducing the plot at all. Instead, he introduces the tone and atmosphere of the film, like a composer using an overture to introduce the audience to the themes of a full score.
Brody’s portrayal of an Inspector is cliché and uninspired. Enzo states how his investigative methods are unorthodox, smokes incessantly, and has a past that motivates his interest in nabbing Giallo. Giallo is proof that when Brody is in control of a master director, he is a pleasure to watch (think Roman Polanski, Wes Anderson, Woody Allen). But here, he is just a puppet. Seigner (another Polanski link) also phones it home with another dull role.
Giallo is an incredibly flawed film, but its intention is not to be a great film, but fulfill its obligations to the Giallo style. Horror fans are rarely interested in seeing the genre progress, but rather the satisfaction with the intentions of the horror genre; murder and mystery. Each film is a shell for the common tropes that meet expectations, and Giallo is successful only in that aspect. It evokes a theme and atmosphere that explores an idea, and the Giallo style, which is often times enough of an aspiration to enjoy horror films such as these.