8. Cruising (William Friedkin, 1980)
The film received a critical hammering and suffered from negative publicity for its representation of the gay community upon its release. The controversy has died down over the years and it’s now seen as somewhat of an underrated classic. Perhaps with the talent involved, director William Friedkin and Al Pacino at the height of their careers, initial audiences were expecting a gritty character exploration, what they got was a giallo. All the ingredients are present: striking visuals, erotized murder and a black leather gloved killer (thou in this case it’s more than just his gloves that are black leather). Instead of attractive young woman, the victims in the film are well-toned young men.
The film is loosely based on a novel of the same name and a series of unsolved killings in the New York gay leather bar district in the early seventies. Detective Steve Burns (Pacino) goes undercover in city’s gay club scene in an attempt the draw out the killer. The film acts as a fascinating flashback of what this scene must have looked like before the AIDS epidemic struck. The film works well as a mystery thriller but it could have been a much more interesting film, if it wasn’t too afraid to confront the stories central issue head on. In Gerald Walker’s novel, the Pacino character struggles with his own repressed homosexual tendencies, something that the film fails to explore adequately.
7. White of the Eye (Donald Cammell, 1987)
Donald Cammell’s extremely underrated thriller opens with a lurid murder straight out of the Dario Argento textbook. The film then returns to the real world as police investigate the murder. We discover that it’s the work of a serial killer who’s terrorising a small desert town in Arizona. Joan (Cathy Moriarty) is a young woman who is trapped in the small town. The police begin to suspect her loving and devoted husband Paul White (David Keith), when tyre tracks matching his car are found at the scene of the murder.
Doubt slowly starts to creep into Joan’s mind as her husband begins to show signs of a darker side hidden below his nice guy exterior. The film is stylishly shot, the camera prowls voyeuristically through white sharp architecture then lingers on shots of vast desert landscapes that seem to suggest a dark primal influences at work, giving the film a haunting atmosphere where things are not quite what they seem. The murders of young beautiful woman continues throughout the film, each one a stylish set piece any Italian maestro would be proud of. Everything builds up to an explosive climax where the killer tries to destroy the foundations of realty itself.
6. Alice Sweet Alice (Alfred Sole, 1976)
On the day of her first communion, a little girl in murdered in church. Suspicion falls on her slightly odd twelve year old sister Alice (Paula Sheppard). She was the last person to see her sister alive and her veil is found in her pocket. A few days later Alice’s aunt is attacked and stabbed by a small masked figure in a yellow raincoat. The aunt survives and when the police visit her in hospital she points the finger at Alice. Alice is locked up in a mental institution. Her parents are the only ones that believe in her innocence, her father (Niles McMaster) sets out to find the killer and clear his daughter’s name.
An odd jewel of a film that most people would have thought to be lost in the cracks of the cinematic landscape by now. But somehow it survives, and it has come to established itself as a cult classic. The film is often referred to as a prime example of American giallo. This is in part due to the films depiction of the Catholic Church and deep Catholic guilt that plagues the killer. The film has a unique visual style and the eerie haunting music we have come to associate with the genre. Mario Bava’s influence can be felt in every frame of the film, from the gothic depiction of the church to the more bizarre and surreal elements, like the obese landlord with a manic love for kittens and a morbid fear of cockroaches.
5. Klute (Alan J Pakula, 1971)
A private investigator John Klute (Donald Sutherland) from Pennsylvania travels to New York City to track down a missing person. He enlists the help of a struggling actress/call girl Bree Daniels (Jane Fonda) who might have known the missing man. As the investigation endures Klute and Bree become romantically involved, the whole time a mysterious figure stalks Bree from the shadows and several of her former associates turn up dead.
The film is set in a realistic and gritty New York City and not the surreal landscape we normally see in a giallo. The film also examines several interesting social issues including prostitution, drug addiction and urban alienation. Fonda is beautiful, feisty, streetwise and simultaneously hauntingly vulnerable. A role that deservedly won her an Oscar. The film is a real slow burner, there are no elaborate bloody murders, and everything about the film is understated. The film is more a psychological exploration and exercise in paranoia.
The murder mystery plays second fiddle to these other aspects. While the film lacks lurid content it defiantly has elements that are influenced by the giallo genre, such as the striking visuals, a seedy underworld, a killer lurking in the shadows and probably most notably the use of tinkling haunting music, which is used the films more suspenseful sequences.
4. Tightrope (Richard Tuggle, 1984)
Detective Wes Block (Clint Eastwood) is a man leading a double life. On one hand he’s a respectable single father raising two young daughters, and on the other he’s a tough cop who enjoys frequenting the city’s red-light district in his free time. When a serial killer start strangling woman of the night in Block’s jurisdiction, his two lives are set on a collision course. The killer starts targeting the woman of the night Block visits, and leaves items at the murder scenes taunting him. A dangerous game of cat and mouse develops between the two men, and Block begins to realise that he has more in common with the killer than he would like to admit.
In this taut suspenseful thriller Clint Eastwood plays a challenging character, a character who is struggling with his own inner demons and dark desires. When an expert talks to Block about the killer, she tells him: “There’s a darkness inside all of us. Some act it out. Some try to control it. Most of us walk a tightrope between the two.” In great giallo tradition the film has an overall sleazy tone and an unseen killer, whose victims are all attractive young woman of ill repute. The New Orleans setting is utilised to great effect, from the wild nightlife on Bourbon Street to the carnival floats and masks that add a chillingly surreal edge to the tense climax of the film.
3. Body Double (Brian De Palma, 1984)
Struggling actor Jack Scully (Craig Wasson) is having a bad day, firstly he gets fired from his job and then be catches his girlfriend cheating on him, leaving him without a roof over his head. At a method acting class he meets fellow actor Sam (Gregg Henry), who offers him a place to stay. A friend’s house needs housesitting: a stylish mansion on stilts in the Hollywood Hills. Sam points out that a beautiful neighbour does a suggestive dance in front of her bedroom window every night. A few nights later while watching his neighbour do her nightly routine, Jack witnesses her brutal murder.
One of De Palma’s most underrated and overlooked films. It was denounced by most critics on its release, perhaps audiences weren’t ready for its mix of eroticism, surrealism, voyeurism and violence. It has since become a cult favourite. The plot is undoubtedly influenced by Hitchcock’s “Rear Window” and “Vertigo” but the mood and the tone of the piece is pure giallo. De Palma infuses all these elements with the trash neon culture of the eighties creating a completely distinctive aesthetic for the film. The film contains several surreal dreamlike sequences that appear out of nowhere and give the film an unpredictable edge, where you feel just about anything could happen. Everything is done with great style and cinematic flourish making it a feast for all the senses.
2. Basic Instinct (Paul Verhoeven, 1992)
When a retired rock star in murdered in bed with an ice pick, Detective Nick Curren (Michael Douglas) is on the case. The main suspect is the victim’s girlfriend Catherine Tramell (Sharon Stone), who also happens to be a mystery novelist. The murder victim having being killed in an identical manner to a scene in one of her novels. Curren allows himself to be seduced by the novelist and they begin a passionate affair. Soon his desire turns into obsession and he begins to believe she’s innocent, while everything around him points to the contrary. The dead bodies begin to pile up around him as he gets closer to the truth.
Watching the film makes you feel like you are reading a cheap paperback novel with a lurid cover, in Italy the cover might be yellow. This is very fitting as that is exactly the type of novel Catherine Tramell writes and as she states several times, all her actions in the film are purely research for her new novel about a detective the falls for the wrong woman. The story flies along at breakneck pace like any good page turner.
The screenplay by Joe Eszterhas was bought for $3 million, which is still one of the highest prices paid for a spec script. The film is often categorised as a neo-noir. While there are several noir elements in the film, the biggest being Sharon Stone’s sizzling hot and equally ice cold femme fatal character. Thou the films twisted sexuality and erotic murders have more in common with the giallo. The film is masterfully directed by Paul Verhoeven, who combined several elements from some classic genres and created something new and intoxicating for the nineties audience.
1. Dressed to Kill (Brian de Palma, 1980)
A frustrated Manhattan house wife (Angie Dickinson) tries to seduce her psychiatrist Dr Robert Elliott (Michael Caine), when he rejects her advances, she heads off to an art museum, where she meets a mysterious man, before she knows it she’s jumping in a cab with him for a wild night back at his apartment. While leaving the apartment she is brutally murdered in the elevator. Liz (Nancy Allen), a hooker with a heart of gold, witnesses the murder and unwittingly becomes the prime suspect and the killer’s next target. The police are less than helpful, so Liz teams up with the murdered woman’s son (Keith Gordon) to solve the mystery.
The film is undoubtedly Brian De Palma’s magnum opus in the field. Everything about this giallo is as it should be. It’s stylish, imaginative, suspenseful, erotic and shocking. From the opening frame to the final credits, the film is a fever pitch dream. As with all truly great gialli everything takes place in a surreal dreamlike world.
There isn’t that much dialogue in the film, in one memorable sequence in the Metropolitan Museum there is no dialogue for over ten minutes. Instead the story is told through a voyeuristic camerawork, rich visuals, melodramatic music and creatively suspenseful set pieces. The film has often been called a homage to Hitchcock but it undoubtedly has more in common with the work of Dario Argento. However, the film is far more than just a homage to other filmmakers, it has a unique style and character all of its own including a wickedly dark sense of humour.
Author Bio: Dean Hesom is a screenwriter based in London, England. He studied Film and Video Production at The Surrey Institute of Art and Design.He also works in live interactive television production.