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Let's Talk Giallo

Giallo. For the uninitiated, it might be a word you have never heard or have heard tossed around by your film buff friends and wondered what the heck they are on about. For the rest of us, it's the word that means some of the best films ever to flicker into our eyes.

Simply put, Giallo, (Italian for yellow) is a genre of Italian cinema that enjoyed its heyday in the 1960s and 70s. These mystery thrillers are one part Agatha Christie story, one part sexploitation and usually one part real-world (sometimes supernatural) horror. Often set in or near Rome and making use of the architecture, fashion and decor of the time, they are basically warped time capsules. One very important addition to many self-respecting Gialli is that iconic green bottle with the yellow label. If someone cracks open a bottle of J&B you can rest assured sex or death is not far behind. Probably both. In this genre of classic films, the killer's repertoire often includes a straight razor, black gloves and dark shadows. There is usually an overall weirdness that puts the characters and world slightly askew in some way from our own. Sometimes it's the translation, sometimes it's simply the writing. But either way, this is one of the overreaching charms of the genre.

The final piece of the puzzle in these films is the soundtrack. Many of these films boast a soundtrack almost as iconic as the film itself. Getting into them here would push this quick introduction to a book-length dissertation. For a primer on these and even more great Italian film soundtracks, check out our article, “The Sounds of Italy" in Fantasm Presents #7: A Tribute To Italian Cinema.” Available Here

These films were largely discovered after their initial release in often heavily cut late night cable presentations or on VHS releases. To this day, we feel Gialli are underappreciated. We've put together a primer for any of you who might not be deeply immersed in these Italian gems. So, without further adieu, here's a brief starter pack of Gialli (plural for Giallo) to get your noggin warped.

In no order:

The Bird With The Crystal Plumage

Dario Argento's first film and to this day, one of his strongest. After witnessing an attack, an American living in Rome is stalked by a killer as he attempts to unravel the truth.

Deep Red

After a psychic is murdered, a jazz pianist and a journalist face down the killer in Dario Argento's masterpiece.

Don't Torture A Duckling

Lucio Fulci—known to many for his unofficial sequel to Dawn of the Dead, Zombie—delivers a spectacular Giallo about a child murderer. This film, set mostly in broad daylight, plays heavily against the grain, with spectacular results.

The Strange Vice Of Ms. Wardh

The Queen of the Giallo, Edwige Fenech stars in this Sergio Martino masterpiece. Someone is a killer. Is it her lover? Someone from her past? Maybe it's her husband...

Knife Of Ice

One of the many great collaborations of filmmaker Umberto Lenzi and American actress Carroll Baker, this Giallo features Baker, who is mute in response to the childhood trauma of losing her parents before her eyes and a string of killings suspected to be the work of a Satanist.

Strip Nude For Your Killer

Murder, botched abortions, nudity and a modeling agency...everything needed for a great Giallo! Edwige Fenech stars in this classic Andrea Bianchi sleaze fest.


Umberto Lenzi is back on the list with this peeper-plucking romp. Swapping the standard black gloves and shadows for sunlight and a bright red cape, this film follows a tour group as they lose...sight of their lives.

Your Vice Is A Locked Room And Only I Have The Key

This Sergio Martino and Edwige Fenech outing that follows a string of murders all centered on an abusive husband and his tormented wife is mean, cruel, weird and yet a strangely compelling watch.


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