Giallo (pronounced 'ʤallo, plural gialli) is an Italian 20th century genre of literature and film, which in Italian indicates crime fiction and mystery. In the English language, however, it is used in a broader meaning that is closer to the French fantastique genre, including elements of horror fiction and eroticism. The word giallo is Italian for "yellow" (see Wiktionary: giallo) and stems from the origin of the genre as a series of cheap paperback novels with trademark yellow covers.
The term giallo
was originally coined to describe a series of mystery/crime pulp novels
first published by the Mondadori publishing house
in 1929. Their yellow covers contained whodunits
, much like their American counterparts of the 1920s and 1930s, and this link with English language pulp fiction
was reinforced with the Italian authors always taking on English pen names
. Many of the earliest "gialli" were however English-language novels translated into Italian.
Published as cheapish paperbacks, the success of the "giallo" novels soon began attracting the attention of other publishing houses, who began releasing their own versions (not forgetting to keep the by-now-traditional yellow cover). The novels were so popular that even the works of established foreign mystery and crime writers, such as Agatha Christie, Edgar Wallace and Georges Simenon, were labelled "gialli" when first published in Italy. Giallo Mondadori is currently published every month, as one of the most long-lived publications of the genre in the world.
The film genre that emerged from these novels in the 1960s began as literal adaptations of the books, but soon began taking advantage of modern cinematic techniques to create a unique genre which veered into horror
and psychological thrilling. These films, particularly such 1970s classics by directors like Dario Argento
or Mario Bava
, are only defined as "gialli" in the English language usage of the term; they are not called such in Italy, where they are usually described as thrillers
instead. This stems from the fact that in Italian the Argento and Bava movies were defined as "giallo-thrillers" or "giallo-horrors"; in the Italian tongue the coupling of the two words, meant as substantives
, had to indicate the public the salient characteristics of the new genre where the search for a murder culprit (hence "giallo") was interspersed with shocking and grandguignolesque events (hence "thriller" and "horror"). English-speaking people, instead, following the use of their native grammar, took "giallo" as an adjective to "thriller" and "horror", hence appropriating the term in their own language while being only partially aware of its broader meaning in Italian.
"Giallo" films are characterized by extended murder sequences featuring excessive bloodletting, stylish camerawork and unusual musical arrangements. The literary whodunit
element is retained, but combined with modern slasher
horror, while being filtered through Italy's longstanding tradition of opera
and staged grand guignol
drama. They also generally include liberal amounts of nudity and sex.
Gialli typically introduce strong psychological themes of madness, alienation, and paranoia. For example, Sergio Martino's Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key (also known as Eye of the Black Cat) was explicitly based on Edgar Allan Poe's short story "The Black Cat".
They remain notable in part for their expressive use of music, most notably by Dario Argento's collaborations with Ennio Morricone and his musical director Bruno Nicolai, and later with the band Goblin.
As well as the literary giallo
tradition, the films were also initially influenced by the German "Krimi
" phenomenon - originally black and white films of the 1960s that were based on Edgar Wallace
The first film that created the giallo as a cinema genre is La ragazza che sapeva troppo (The Girl Who Knew Too Much) (1963), from Mario Bava. Its title referred to Alfred Hitchcock's famous The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), again establishing strong links with Anglo-American culture. In Mario Bava's 1964 film, Blood and Black Lace, the emblematic element of the giallo was introduced: the masked murderer with a shiny weapon in his black leather gloved hand.
Soon the giallo became a genre of its own, with its own rules and with a typical Italian flavour: adding additional layers of intense colour and style. The term giallo finally became synonymous with a heavy, theatrical, and stylised visual element.
The genre had its heyday in the 1970s, with dozens of Italian giallo films released. The most notable directors who worked in the genre were Dario Argento, Mario Bava, Lucio Fulci, Aldo Lado, Sergio Martino, Umberto Lenzi, and Pupi Avati.
Although often based around crime and detective work, Gialli should not be confused with the other popular Italian crime genre of the 1970's, the Poliziotteschi, which refers to 'tough-cop', action-oriented films. Directors and stars often moved between both genres, and some films could be considered under either banner, such as Massimo Dallamano's 1974 film What have they done to your daughters?
In Italy, in Tuscany, there are many new authors as: Graziano Braschi, Giampaolo Simi, Mario Spezi, Leonardo Gori, Divier Nelli, Parigi & Sozzi, Riccardo Cardellicchio, Linda Di Martino and others.
Notable giallo films
- The Girl Who Knew Too Much (Mario Bava, 1963, also known as The Evil Eye)
- Blood and Black Lace (Mario Bava, 1964, also known as Fashion House of Death, Six Women for the Murderer)
- The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (Dario Argento, 1970, also known as Phantom of Terror, Point of Terror, The Gallery Murders)
- Five Dolls for an August Moon (Mario Bava, 1970, also known as Island of Terror)
- Lizard in a Woman's Skin (Lucio Fulci, 1971, also known as Schizoid)
- The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh (Sergio Martino, 1971, also known as Blade of the Killer, The Next Victim, Next!)
- The Cat o' Nine Tails (Dario Argento, 1971)
- Four Flies on Grey Velvet (Dario Argento, 1971)
- Short Night of the Glass Dolls (Aldo Lado, 1971, also known as Paralyzed)
- Twitch of the Death Nerve (Mario Bava, 1971, also known as Bay of Blood)
- The Case of the Bloody Iris (Giuliano Carnimeo, 1972, also known as What Are Those Strange Drops of Blood Doing On Jennifer's Body?)
- Don't Torture a Duckling, starring Barbara Bouchet, (Lucio Fulci, 1972)
- Who Saw Her Die? (Aldo Lado, 1972, also known as The Child)
- Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key (Sergio Martino, 1972, based on Poe's "The Black Cat" and also known as Eye of the Black Cat)
- What Have You Done to Solange? (Massimo Dallamano, 1972, music by Ennio Morricone)
- Knife of Ice (Umberto Lenzi, 1972, also known as Silent Horror)
- They're Coming to Get You (Sergio Martino, 1972, also known as All the Colors of the Dark, Day of the Maniac, Demons of the Dead)
- Torso (Sergio Martino, 1973)
- Eyeball (Umberto Lenzi, 1974, also known as The Devil's Eye, The Eye, The Secret Killer, Wide-Eyed in the Dark)
- A Dragonfly for Each Corpse (León Klimovsky, 1974, also known as Red Killer)
- Deep Red (Dario Argento, 1975, also known as Profondo Rosso , The Hatchet Murders, The Sabre Tooth Tiger)
- Strip Nude for Your Killer (Andrea Bianchi, 1975)
- The House with Laughing Windows (Pupi Avati, 1976, also known as Casa dalle finestre che ridono, La)
- The Psychic (Lucio Fulci, 1977, also known as Murder to the Tune of the Seven Black Notes, Seven Notes in Black)
- The Blood Stained Shadow (Antonio Bido, 1978, also known as Solamente nero)
- Tenebrae (Dario Argento, 1982, also known as Unsane or Under the Eyes of the Assassin)
- The New York Ripper (Lucio Fulci, 1982)
- Camping del terrore (Ruggero Deodato, 1987)
- Deliria (film) (Michele Soavi, 1987)
- Opera (Dario Argento, 1988, also known as Terror at the Opera)
- Sleepless (Dario Argento, 2001)