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15 Essential Films For An Introduction to Italian Giallo Movies

14 October 2014 | Features, Film Lists | by Hossein Eidi Zadeh

8. The Black Belly of the Tarantula (1971)

Black Belly of the Tarantula (1971)

Plot: Inspector Tellini is to find out the killer who only kills women that are blackmailed for infidelity.The murderer opens up his victims’ bellies after paralyzing them with a needle.

What is so important about the movie: The Black Belly of the Tarantula made in 1971 by Paolo Cavara, is one of the funniest yet most accomplished police procedural giallo movies. Though it is inspired by Dario Argento’s The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, it is memorable for its complicated plot line and fine acting by Giancarlo Giannini.

Black Belly of the Tarantula is also dealing with one of the familiar stories of giallo films: a sex maniac who loathes women because his wife has betrayed him. The chasing scenes on the roofs are well done and the funny scene in the police department where officers watch a hidden cam cord of Tellini having sex with his wife makes this film one of the rarest cases of commedia dell’arte in giallo movies.

The movie is also unforgettable for its murderer’s Modus operandi: the long sharp needle dipped in deadly venom that make the victims paralyzed – so they must lie awake and watch themselves killed by a big knife in their bellies! Yes, it is bizarre and terrifying.


9. Don’t Torture a Duckling (1972)

Don't Torture a Duckling (1972)

Plot: In a small Southern Italian village, a series of children are killed. A reporter and a young girl are determined to find the killer in this superstitious village abundant with black magic.

What is so important about the movie: Don’t Torture a Duckling (Italian: Non si sevizia un paperino) is a 1972 film by Lucio Fulci. And again full of Freudian sexually charged plot lines. Fulci here for the first time combines sex with gore and the result is one of the most disturbing and pervert movies in giallo history.

But the movie with its enigmatic title is not just about sex and gore, according to giallo expert Danny Shipka, the film provides a thought-provoking depiction of life and politics in a small town of Italy. The main themes are “repression, sin and guilt”. The motive of the murder turns out to be a desire to rescue the boys from the effects of their own sexuality. In other words, the killer attempts to preserve the innocence of the victims. Being fresh and disquieting after 40 years, it seems Shipka was right about the movie.


10. Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I have the Key (1972)

Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I have the Key (1972)

Plot: Oliviero Rouvigny (Luigi Pistilli), a failed writer and an alcoholic, lives in a crumbling mansion with his wife Irina (Anita Strindberg). The shadow of Oliviero’s mother has cast upon their lives and Irina can’t accept this. A series of murders are committed and everyone thinks the killer is Oliviero. Irina’s life becomes a living hell and only when one of Olivieros relatives (in the shape of a sexy girl) comes to visit them, everything starts to change for her.

What is so important about the movie: Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key (Italian: Il tuo vizio è una stanza chiusa e solo io ne ho la chiave) is another movie about driving a woman to madness. It was made in 1972 by Sergio Martino (one of the best giallo directors of all time). The film uses many elements from Edgar Allan Poe’s short story “The Black Cat”, and acknowledges this influence in the film’s opening credits and finishes it with ominous mews of a cat.

There is not so much gore in this movie (apart from the scene in which Irinia stick a scissor into the cat’s eye); but its use of music and emphasis on mystery makes it an entertaining giallo. The movie also features two of the goddesses of giallo cinema; Strindberg and Edwige Fench and yes, to satisfy your curiosity you see both of them naked, but it is not really important. What is so significant is how by employing a big frightening house and mad characters, Martino managed to make a decent horror movie in which you sense death lurking behind the door.


11. Seven Blood-Stained Orchids (1972)

Seven Blood-Stained Orchids (1972)

Plot: A woman is a survivor of a failed attempted murder and it is up to her husband who must find the connecting thread between her wife and the other six women.

What is so important about the movie: Seven Blood-Stained Orchids (Italian: Sette orchidee macchiate di rosso) made in 1972 by Umberto Lenzi, is a typical giallo movie good for anyone who wants to watch a movie to pass time and be entertained. It has murder, sex, nudity, gore, violence, women strangled and beaten to death and many more. Lenzi was a cult director who started his career as a journalist and that’s why his movies are like a series of news articles about murders.

The movie was not successful because it was costly and at the same time the script was full of cliché. However this is recommended to anyone who likes to watch a giallo. Don’t forget it was Lenzi’s own favorite giallo film.


12. The Perfume of the Lady in Black (1974)

The Perfume of the Lady in Black

Plot: Sylvia’s life is a living hell, she constantly dreams of her mother being murdered by a stranger who seems to be her mother’s lover. Soon reality and dream mix and Sylvia can’t bear this nightmare anymore.

What is so important about the movie: The Perfume of the Lady in Black (Italian: Il profumo della signora in nero) made in 1974 by Francesco Barilli is another examples of how disturbing experiences in the past haunt men and women in the present. The movie deals with the typical theme of driving a woman crazy, however this time the woman is driven crazy by black magic.

The movie is a good example of mystery movie done with all giallo instruments available. Barilli has only made two giallo movies (the other one is Pensione paura), but he showed how well he knew giallo cinema and how good he was at making a horror film in the manner of Polanski and Hitchcock.


13. Deep Red (1975)

Deep Red (1975)

Plot: Music teacher Marcus Daly witnesses the murder of psychic medium Helga Ulmann, which leads him to a series of macabre events and a doomed house where the secret of murder is hidden.

What is so important about the movie: Deep Red (original title Profondo Rosso; also known as The Hatchet Murders) is a 1975 Italian giallo film by Dario Argento. It stars David Hemmings in a role that reminds us of his role in Antonioni’s Blow-Up, but certainly we are not dealing with modern crisis of humanity here. What we see in Deep Red is a mystery thriller that calls to mind Hitchcock’s Psycho with more blood and murders.

Argento said he made the movie in Turin because at the time there were more practicing Satanists in Turin than any other European cities excluding Lyon. It is important, maybe not, but the city, its empty streets and abandoned houses really have some satanic undertone.

The film’s special effects were made and executed by Carlo Rambaldi, best known for creating the extraterrestrial protagonist of Steven Spielberg’s E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, for which he won an Academy Award in 1983. There are many close-up shots of the killer’s hands, clad in black leather gloves (Dario Argento’s hand), this becomes a fashion in the future slasher movies.


14. The House with Laughing Windows (1976)

The House with Laughing Windows (1976)

Plot: Stefano (Lino Capolicchio) arrives in a rural Italian village where he has been employed to restore a fresco depicting what appears to be the martyring of Saint Sebastian, but someone does not like the idea and soon Stefano’s life is in danger.

What is so important about the movie: The House with Laughing Windows (Italian title: La casa dalle finestre che ridono) made in 1976 by the legendary Pupi Avati is a masterpiece. It has one of the best titles of giallo cinema, its ending twist gives you goosebumps, it is beautifully shot and its characters are well developed, it nicely walks on the line between reality and dream, it has less gore and more brain, its characters are not stupid and its music is disturbing.

Avati shows how well he knows giallo films and knows how to play with genre clichés to reach his desired result. Unlike many giallo movies that worth watching only once, you can watch Avati’s Laughing Windows many times and you will be surprised by its ending in each viewing. The House with Laughing Windows is like a Hitchcock movie made in Italy and it is open to all kinds of Freudian interpretations.


15. The Bloodstained Shadow (1978)

The Bloodstained Shadow (1978)

Plot: Stefano returns to his childhood island to reunite with his brother, the local priest, only to fall in love and find horrible truths about a murder committed many years ago.

What is so important about the movie: Undeservedly neglected, Solamente nero (internationally released as The Bloodstained Shadow, Bloodstained Shadow and Only Blackness) is a 1978 film by Antonio Bido. The movie with its complicated plot lines tends to develop its character rather than using “boos” and sudden appearance of characters from behind the walls to frighten the audience.

The movie will stick to one’s mind when in the end you see the priest was the murderer and his suicide never lessens the bitterness you feel; there is no hiding place in the giallo world, even the man of God may be a killer.

Author Bio: Hossein Eidizadeh is a film critic and cinephile from Iran. He has interviewed David Lynch, Margareta von Trotta, Barbara Sukowa and many others. He writes film posts on his blog



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  • Martin Franz Seng

    Laughable list without Suspiria

    • David Lamerton

      Susperia is not a giallo.

      • Martin Franz Seng

        Just like Profondo Rosso its a Giallo!

        • Adrian LeFou

          Why wouldn’t it be?

          • Martin Franz Seng

            Because Profondo Rosso isnt the typicall Argento giallo in my eyes

          • HumanCobras

            but it is a giallo

      • HumanCobras

        it does have elements of giallo.

    • Guest

      Suspiria is a supernatural thriller/horror! You clearly doubt know your stuff and are a laughable person!

      • Martin Franz Seng

        Still a Giallo!

        • eagleye

          I was studying the Giallo extensively a couple of years ago and just went over my notes. Technically Suspiria IS in fact a Giallo. I can understand why people would think it’s not, but it fits all the requirements.

          • Martin Franz Seng

            Thanks 😉

      • HumanCobras

        it has elements of giallo. DUH

    • ChrisMaddockOfEarth

      Suspiria is a supernatural thriller/horror! You clearly don’t know your stuff and are a laughable person!

      • Martin Franz Seng

        Suspiria is not a Giallo in his finest form but it has a lot of Giallo elements so in my eyes its clearly a Giallo!

        • Owen Morghini

          Sorry I dont see Suspiria as a Giallo

          • Martin Franz Seng

            I can understand why but Suspiria has many elents that belong to the Giallo genre especially the death sequences

          • Jérôme Blanchet

            Suspiria is an absolute masterpiece that don’t fit in any concrete category, this film is such a beauty that it will make people fight to decide what category it belong to.

          • Martin Franz Seng

            Totally agree 😉

        • Adrian LeFou

          What a vain and ignorant comment.

        • Timon Felber

          “Short Night of the Glass Dolls” also isn’t a giallo.

          • HumanCobras

            yes it is. it’s even released in the “Giallo” box set of Anchor Bay.

          • Darius Drewe

            As said to the bloke above: Twunt.

  • Aaron Goldberg

    You missed two absolute classics in Tenebre and the Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh.

  • Martin Franz Seng

    And Opera maybe…

  • laird jimenez

    Bruno Nicolai composed the score for Case of the Scorpion’s Tail, not Ennio Morricone

  • vivaitalianmovies

    Awesome list, great job! I’d add Bava’s classic 1963 black-and-white thriller “The Girl Who Knew Too Much.” Watch it with his 1964 “Blood and Black Lace” and you’ve got a great primer on the origins of the giallo.

  • Martin Franz Seng

    By the way… where is opera?

  • Maximo Cunillera

    Suspiria? the definitive horror-giallo film

    • Adrian LeFou

      It’s spectacular but I don’t think it counts as a giallo. It has supernatural elements and the focus isn’t so much who the killer is as it is why these mursers are happening.

      • Martin Franz Seng

        But a giallo can have supernatural elements as well and the perspective of the killer is typically for the giallo genre

  • martin fennell

    Well, thank you very much for telling me the identity of the killer in The bloodstained shadow. I guess that’s one movie I can take off my list.

    • Jesse Gooby Buenger


  • DSteel

    Good list. Tenebrae (1982), What Have You Done To Solange? (1972), The Strange Vice Of Mrs. Wardh (1971), All The Colors Of The Dark (1972) & Opera (1987) are also wonderful examples of the (sub)genre.

  • lilyboosh

    Deep Red is awesome, specially with the original italian scenes cut from the american release. It elevates itself above the giallo and elevates the genre as a result.

  • TheBlogThatScreamed

    Check out the choice of polish fans of giallo!

  • Jimi LaMort

    The guys who made THE EDITOR really need to see the films on this list, so they would have a clue as to what they said they were parodying in their film!! Notice there is no SUSPIRIA and THE BEYOND guys, cause those aren’t Giallo films!!

  • Kirk

    Wakamatsu’s A Pool Without Water (pinku ripped from headlines) makes a good double bill with Forbidden Photos.

    Si, Pupi Avati per sempre!

  • 1angryscot

    A couple of choices are borderline gialli, but The House with Laughing Windows simply doesn’t qualify. If we lump together all Italian, non-supernatural horror-thrillers, the term no longer means anything.

    • Darius Drewe


    • Blastfighter

      Careful now. Next you’ll be saying Suspiria isn’t a giallo

  • Hatesville

    Lo Strano Vizio della Signora Wardh is a glaring omission.
    Tutti i Colori del Buio too!

  • Blastfighter

    Two of those films aren’t gialli

  • Jesse Gooby Buenger

    Suspiria is over-rated garbage, all people do is praise this crappy movie over and over and over and over, I am -extremely- open minded and forgiving about movies but Suspiria is so horrendous it deserves the MST3K Riff-Track treatment more than ANY other movie I can think of. The scene where she starts talking in the cab, and the music starts, and her and the cab driver both start shouting trying to hear each other, almost as if over the ungodly ear piercing train wreck of a soundtrack people call a “Masterpiece”. Too fucking funny, and the most disappointing thing is Suspiria DID have one of the best intros I’ve ever seen but the movie only got lamer and lamer. When the chick just decides to wander through the mud… what… I was so glad when that dumb bitch died. But yeah, Suspiria ranks up there as one of THE most overrated movies I’ve ever seen along with Audition, Tale of Two Sisters, and Zootopia!!

    • Leonel_VHS

      Through the mud? What movie did you watch with that scene, ’cause it sure as fuq isn’t SUSPIRIA. And please keep the bashing to yourself. Some of us hold that film in very high regard and to us, your opinions are irrelevant.

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  • Maria Serrano

    great list!

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  • tsokos

    The idiot told the identity of the killer in the bloodstained shadow . Stop reading this article !!