Did you know I liked giallo? Oh, that Letterbox list of three hundred plus movies let you know? Well, whether you’re new to the genre or have loved these black gloved killer movies for decades, Arrow Video’s Giallo Essentials: Red Edition is perfect with its new 2K restorations of the film from the original camera negative for The Possessed, The Fifth Cord and The Pyjama Girl Case.
The Possessed (1965): The Possessed is based on one of Italy’s most notorious crimes, The Alleghe killings, and adapted from the book by acclaimed literary figure Giovanni Comisso. It seems like a giallo, but it’s way closer to a film noir. Or maybe an art film. Often, people say that a movie feels like it’s inside a dream, but so much of this movie feels like one long evening of interconnected night terrors.
Also known as The Lady of the Lake, this films was written by Giulio Questi (Death Laid an Egg) and co-directed by Franco Rossellini (who would later produce Caligula) and Luigi Bazzoni (The Fifth Cord, Footprints on the Moon).
Bernard (Peter Baldwin) is a novelist who has given up on life, despite his growing fame. Last summer, he fell in love with a maid named Tilde and hasn’t been able to get her out of his mind. As time goes on, despite the friendly way everyone at the inn treats him, he grows more and more worried about the conspiracy within this small town. That’s because while he was gone, Tilde committed suicide. And she may not have been the perfect woman that his creativity made her out to be.
Much like the giallo protagonist — a stranger on a strange who is often an untrustworthy narrator who must now investigate a crime that they themselves are implicated in — Bernard learns more about how his vacation getaway also isn’t the heaven that he dreamed that it was.
Thanks to the recent Arrow Video releases, I’ve done a deep dive on the films Bazzoni and wish that he had made more than the three giallo-esque films on his resume. Each of them subverts the form while working within it, offering challenging narratives and films that refuse to simply be background noise.
I’d never heard of this film before they announced it and am pleased to say that it’s moved up on the list of my favorite films. Consider this my highest recommendation.
The Fifth Cord (1971): Argento’s The Bird with the Crystal Plumage has scores of imitators that rose in the wake of its success. There were scores of gorgeous women being murdered, jazzy soundtracks blaring and movies with animals in their titles. And then, every once in a while, there’s a giallo that rises beyond the pack and asserts itself as a true work of art.
Giornata Nera per L’Ariete, or Black Day for the Ram, may appear to be an animal title, but it really refers to astrology (which kind of gives away some of the film). It’s better known as The Fifth Cord.
Director Luigi Bazzoni doesn’t have a huge list of films to his credit, but between this film, The Possessed and Footprints on the Moon, his take on the giallo form is unlike anyone else’s. This is more than a murder mystery. It’s a complex take on alienation and isolation at the end of the last century.
Based on David McDonald Devine’s novel — but based in Italy, not Scotland as in the book — The Fifth Cord starts with a man barely surviving a vicious attack on the way home from a New Year’s Eve party. We even get to hear the words of the killer:
“I am going to commit murder. I am going to kill another human being. How easy it is to say, already I feel like a criminal. I’ve been thinking it over for weeks, but now that I’ve giving voice to my evil intention I feel comfortably relaxed. Perhaps the deed itself will be an anti-climax, but I think not.”
Writer Andrea Bild (Franco Nero!) is assigned to report on the case and to put it bluntly, he’s a mess. Ever since his separation, he’s been drowning his life in whiskey and women.
Soon, the attacker strikes again and this time, whomever it is succeeds and leaves behind a black glove with a finger missing (Evil FIngers is an alternate title). That one finger missing turns into two, then three and comes with evil phone calls. Andrea has to take on the giallo role of the investigator before he becomes either the fifth victim or is arrested by the police — it turns out that he was at that very same New Year’s party, as was every single one of the victims.
The story itself is rather basic, but the way that it’s told is anything but. Vittorio Storaro’s cinematography places The Fifth Cord in an industrialized Rome that’s rarely seen in giallo, eschewing the historic architecture we’re used to seeing. I’d say that it’s a less flashy Tenebre, but this was made a decade before that movie.
If you come to these movies for the fashions, well, you may be slightly disappointed. But if you love the decor, look out. I’ve never seen more spiral staircases in one movie ever before. The house with the giant fireplace was also used for Argento’s Four Flies on Grey Velvet, but looks so much more impressive here. And I loved how the modern architecture gives little room to run in the closing moments.
This movie has never looked better than on its recent Arrow Video release. It’s jaw-dropping how gorgeous the film appears and the Ennio Morricone soundtrack positively emerges from the speakers. I expect great things from this company, but they continually surprise and delight me at every turn.
The Pyjama Girl Case (1977): The Girl in the Yellow Pyjamas AKA The Pyjama Girl Case is more than just a giallo. It’s based on a true story, the 1934 Australian cold case that concerns the murder of Linda Agostini. Born Florence Linda Platt in a suburb of South East London, she left the UK behind for New Zealand after a broken romance, then went to Australia where she worked at a cinema and lived in a boardinghouse. Post-murder gossip claimed that she was a heavy drinker, a jazz baby and someone who entertained plenty of much younger men, which became an issue when she married the Italian expatriate Antonio Agostini. He moved her to Melbourne to try and get away from the bad influences that he felt existed in Sydney, but four years later she disappeared.
Her body was found inside a burning grain sack left behind on the beach. Her head was wrapped in a towel, her body was badly beaten and she had been shot in the neck. But what defined the case were her intricate silk pajamas, complete with a Chinese dragon design, a look that was not the type of clothing favored by your average Australian housewife.
Her body was kept in a formaldehyde bath for a decade and the public was invited to attempt to identify the body. In 1944, dental records proved that the girl in the yellow pajamas was Agostini. Meanwhile, her husband had been in an internment camp for four years during World War II due to his Italian heritage and sympathies toward the Axis. When he returned and was questioned by police commissioner William MacKay — a man he had once waited on — he immediately confessed to killing his wife.
There’s still some controversy over whether or not he actually confessed. There’s just as much as to who the pajama girl was. Regardless, her husband only served three years on manslaughter, as he claimed the shooting was an accident, and was extradited to Italy. Historian Richard Evans wrote The Pyjama Girl Mystery: A True Story of Murder, Obsession and Lies in 2004 and claims that police corruption meant that the case needed to be solved as quickly as possible, as the public sentiment had turned against the cops.
The giallo that is based on the case is really well made and has an intriguing split narrative. On one hand, we have the retired Inspector Thompson (Ray Milland) investigating the case and dealing with his own mortality. Meanwhile, we see Glenda Blythe (Dalila Di Lazzaro, Frankenstein 80, the monster’s bride in Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein, the headmistress in Phenomena, perhaps the other woman in Carlo Ponti and Sophia Loren’s marriage) struggle with the relationships in her life, including her husband Antonio Attolini, her lover Ray Conner (Howard Ross, The New York Ripper) and her mentor Professor Henry Douglas (Mel Ferrer). As the relationship with her husband starts to fall apart, she drifts into prostitution and in a harrowing scene, makes love to two men while one’s teenage nephew tries to not make eye contact with her.
Other than the Riz Ortolani score — Amanda Lear sings on two of them! — this isn’t a fashion-filled bit of fun. This is a dark and dreary journey through the end of a woman’s life and the elderly man devoted to finding out the answers to who and why, even if he knows that discovering that truth won’t change the fact that he’s closer to the end of his story than the beginning. At least he cares more than the modern police, who simply embalm her nude body, put it on display and allow people to stare at it.
I read the other day that giallo films were meant for the people outside of Rome, for provincial tastes that demanded a morality play. I’m not certain that’s entirely true, but this movie aspires to art and a heartbreaking moment as we reach the close and realize that the two stories are truly connected in the bleakest of ways.
Arrow Video’s Giallo Essentials: Red Collection has all three films in a rigid box packaging with newly designed artwork by Adam Rabalais in a windowed Giallo Essentials Collection slipcover.
The Possessed special features include new audio commentary by writer and critic Tim Lucas, a video appreciation by Richard Dyer, interviews with the film’s makeup artist Giannetto De Rossi, award-winning assistant art director Dante Ferretti and actor/director Francesco Barilli, a close friend of Luigi and Camillo Bazzoni. It also has the original trailers and a reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Sean Phillips.
The Fifth Cord has new audio commentary by critic Travis Crawford, a video essay on the filmâs use of architecture and space by critic Rachael Nisbet, interviews with author and critic Michael Mackenzie, Franco Nero and film editor Eugenio Alabiso. Plus, there’s a rare, previously unseen deleted sequence restored from the original negative, the original Italian and English theatrical trailers, an image gallery and a reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Haunt Love.
The Pyjama Girl Case has new audio commentary by Troy Howarth, plus interviews with author and critic Michael Mackenzie, Howard Ross, editor Alberto Tagliavia and composer Riz Ortolani. Plus, you get an image gallery the Italian theatrical trailer and a reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Chris Malbon.
You can get it from MVD.