Giallo was a great movement in Italian horror that has sadly died out since, much like Italian horror itself. It heavily influenced movies like Halloween, Black Christmas and Friday the 13th and was in general a classier (yet often gorier) precursor to the slasher film. It was a great time in horror history and it’s a shame that there isn’t really anything even reminiscent of Giallo being produced right now. Read on for our picks for the top ten giallo films of years past.
10. CAT O’ NINE TAILS-
Dario Argento’s second film, and the second part of his connected-in-title-only animal trilogy, takes the edge just over Four Flies on Gray Velvet. But it falls short of the first, The Bird With the Crystal Plumage. Argento has been known to call this the worst of his movies, but it’s actually a fairly competent little thriller. It’s far from his best and far from the best of its genre, but it’s moody and gory all the same. It also makes a kind of straightforward sense that Argento films rarely do, but that might make it even more generic.
9. DON’T TORTURE A DUCKLING-
Lucio Fulci had a grittier, less art-deco style to his gory outings that were just as engaging as the stuff Argento and others were coming up with. This one is an incredibly disturbing thriller, just from a visceral perspective, like most of Fulci’s films. But it also ties into that themes of repression and guilt. The killer has an obsession almost with maintaining the innocence of his victims (by killing them.) It’s an upsetting but entertaining watch.
8. THE NEW YORK RIPPER-
This film was banned in many countries. After a lifetime of horror movie viewing, there are still scenes in this film I simply cannot look at. At all. But they all make up a tense and visceral psychothriller. While the movie still has a lot of harsh critical reception, even from the cult movie fans, just because of how shockingly violent that it is. But it’s still a well made, well shot film nonetheless.
7. THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE-
An incredible debut for a first time director, The Bird With the Crystal Plumage is a very artistically done thriller. We start with a writer in Rome, thinking of returning to America when he witnesses a violent murder. This is one of Argento’s most critically acclaimed movies, holding a 91% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. And there’s reason for that. It’s not as gory as he would get very quickly in his career, but it’s very tastefully done.
6. DRESSED TO KILL-
It’s the only American film on the list because Giallo is an Italian subgenre, but Brian De Palma’s Dressed to Kill is a Giallo movie down to its core. It adheres to all the visual and story styles of a traditional Giallo film, from the camera work to the dream sequences to the open-to-interpretation plot, it’s all deeply entrenched in that genre. And it’s a great Giallo film too. The cinematography is astonishing. There are some great performances by Nancy Allen, Keith Gordon and particularly Michael Caine, not the mention the score by Pino Donaggio.
And here’s another Argento movie on the list, and one of his absolute most underrated. It’s one of the best films of his career. Tenebre centers on an author who is called in on an investigation when it seems that there’s a killer out there duplicating the horrific murder scenes depicted in the author’s work. There’s some fantastic cinematography, particularly all four-minute crane shot tracking the outside of a building from the killer’s perspective. There’s quite a bit of gore in this one, but it’s all very visually beautiful in a way that was really only topped by Suspiria (which we’ll get to in a second) and it also has one of Argento’s most effective twist endings. If not the most effective.
4. BLOOD AND BLACK LACE-
Blood and Black Lace was a 1964 thriller by the master of the genre, Mario Bava. It was one of the earliest templates for what would one day become the American slasher movie. It is one of the earliest Giallo films and is also one of the most influential. The story is very simple, but was in many ways the first of its kind. It focuses on a masked killer picking off Italian fashion models one by one, all in an effort to obtain a diary that showcases the addictions, abortions, etc. of all the models.
Suspiria is Dario Argento’s masterpiece as a director. It is a gorgeous, pop-Gothic, moody film. The only thing to really call into question with Suspiria is whether or not it is a Giallo film, which is harder to answer. I would lean toward yes. I would think so. But it is also supernatural, it is most easily classified as a witch movie (of which I would have to say it is the best of its genre) but Giallo is harder to answer, so that keeps it from the number one spot here. It is beautifully done, centering on a German ballet school that is home to a secret coven of witches, and the death sequences are some of the most memorable, terrifically executed death scenes in horror history.
2. DEEP RED-
It doesn’t have much in the way of a solid, standard plot, but Deep Red is unquestionably a Giallo film and is one of the most stylish of its genre. It contains a lot of things Argento had explored previously in film (someone witnessing a murder and being brought in on the investigation) but much of it was really perfected here. This was a movie clearly made by a much more confident Argento, and it shows. It’s the first movie after Argento’s opening “animal trilogy” and feels like the first Dario Argento movie in a lot of ways. There are some expertly shot sequences and twists and turns throughout. Not all of them make sense, but they all do add something to the overall experience.
1. BAY OF BLOOD (AKA TWITCH OF THE DEATH NERVE)-
While Mario Bava’s films have been cited as the earliest template for slasher films, this is the film. This is the one that sets the whole thing up. There are some sequences in this movie that were completely lifted into a couple of the Friday the 13th movies years and years later. There’s a death scene that is almost identical to a scene in Friday the 13th Part 2. And many of those movies would not exist in the form they exist in today without Bay of Blood. It changed a lot of things in the horror genre and simply does not get the credit it deserves. Hell, in America it was released as Last House on the Left Part II, despite the fact that it was filmed almost a decade earlier than Last House on the Left. The plot of Bay of Blood is a pretty standard inheritance plot, anybody could be picking off anybody in order to get at it, but it’s the violent and imaginative death scenes that really make this one stand apart.