The Italians may not have invented food, but their culinary contributions have certainly had a spicy twist. Likewise, Italians didn't invent the murder-mystery, but their take on the subject is just as spicy as their cuisine. Italian murder-mysteries are commonly referred to as giallo, from the Italian word for yellow. (The name from the derived from cheap mystery novels, which often sported yellow covers.) The giallo films came about in the late 1960s and early 1970s under the watchful eye of such noted Italian directors such as Mario Bava, Dario Argento, and Lucio Fulci. These films were very popular in Italy and were noticed world-wide due to their use of graphic violence and uninhibited sexuality.
As with any popular cultural phenomenon, imitators ran rampant, and Italian cinemas were flooded with giallo films in the 70s. (Many with similar sounding titles.) The newly released "Giallo Collection" box-set from Anchor Bay Entertainment collects four lesser-known giallo films and presents them in their uncut form for the first time in the U.S. All four films have been lovingly restored, and feature anamorhpic widescreen transfers and their original mono soundtracks. However, close inspection reveals that these films aren't as good as their better known cousins and that only two of them are worth watching.
The first two films in the set "Short Night of Glass Dolls" and "Who Saw Her Die?" were both directed by Aldo Lado. While each film is well shot and offers clever editing at times, Lado must work part-time in a pillow factory, because he is a master of padding. If you enjoy shots of people walking, people driving cars, or shots of building exteriors, then Aldo Lado is the director of your dreams. (Note to Lado: You don't have to use all of the footage that you shoot.)
The only words in the title "Short Night of Glass Dolls" that actually apply to the film are "of" and possibly "night". The film isn't all that short and doesn't feature any glass dolls. What we do get is one of the dullest films ever made. Jean Sorel stars as reporter Gregory Moore. Set in Prague, the film opens with Moore being pronounced dead, but he is really alive and in a catatonic state. As the coroner prerpares for the autopsy, Moore begins to have flashbacks to the events that lead up to his "death". Moore had a full life, mingling with important people and romancing the beautiful Mira (Barbara Bach). But, when Mira disappears, Moore's life begins to fall apart. Unable to get help from the police, Moore investigate's Mira's disappearance himself, only to uncover a bizarre conspiracy which ultimately puts his life in jeopardy.
"Short Night of Glass Dolls" (which is also known as "Malastrana" and "Paralyzed") is an odd choice for this collection, as it barely qualifies as a giallo. (The movie comes much closer to being a political thriller.) The film is incredibly boring and poorly paced (Did I mention the padding?). The only interesting parts are the rapid-fire series of images which precede each set of flashbacks. There is no character development and the "shocking" twist at the end is incredibly confusing. To be perfectly blunt, "Short Night of Glass Dolls" is one of the worst movies I've ever seen.
"Short Night of Glass Dolls" has been letterboxed at 2.35:1. The image looks quite good, displaying very little grain. The picture is sharp and clear, and the colors are quite good. There are a few defects from the source material, but they are hardly overwhelming. The Dolby Digital Mono audio track provides clear dialogue and music, but there are sudden shifts in volume throughout the film. The DVD offers an 11-minute interview with director Aldo Lado in which he explains the origins of the film (notice the nicely placed artifact on the left side of the screen). We also get a theatrical trailer and a Lado filmography.
Lado's second film, "Who Saw Her Die?" shows an improvement over his initial effort, but he can't seem to shake his love for padding. This film stars one-time James Bond George Lazenby (here resembling a cross between Dennis Weaver and John Phillips) as Franco, a sculptor who lives in Venice. Franco is quite happy that his daughter Roberta (Nicoletta Elmi) has come to visit him. The movie quickly becomes a Department of Social Services report waiting to happen when Franco leaves his daughter alone to go have sex, and she is abducted. Racked with guilt, Franco searches for Roberta and is devastated when she is found floating in a canal. Determined to find revenge, Franco begins a search for the murderer. He discovers that Roberta's murder isn't an isolated incident and that several of Venice's most elite residents may be involved in covering up the crimes.
For the first hour, "Who Saw Her Die?" seems destined to be a quasi-giallo like "Short Night of Glass Dolls", but with the third act, things begin to pick up and there are several bloody murders. However, the first hour is quite slow, and we never get a firm grip on who the characters are and what motivates them. The film is further crippled by its intentional refusal to explain the killer's motive. The frequent use of "doily cam" to show the killer's point-of-view and the incredibly irritating score by the great Ennio Morricone don't help matters. "Who Saw Her Die?" is better than "Short Night of Glass Dolls", but that isn't saying much.
With this DVD, "Who Saw Her Die?" is presented in its original 2.35:1 letterboxed format. The picture is quite sharp, showing a clarity that is surprising for a film from thirty years ago. The colors are fine, although slightly washed out in some scenes. There are occasional defects from the source material and some elements of artifacting, but they aren't distracting. With the Dolby Digital Mono audio track, we get clear dialogue and music, with no hiss or distortion. This DVD provides another 11-minute interview with Lado, this one entitled "Death in Venice". Here, Lado has some interesting things to say about his cast. Also, the DVD contains the theatrical trailer for "Who Saw Her Die?", and the Lado filmography.
At this point, one may want to give up on "The Giallo Collection", but things pick up with the next offering, "The Bloodstained Shadow", which is the best film in the bunch and the one that most resembles the classic giallo. College professor Stefano (Lino Capolicchio) comes to an island near Venice to visit his brother Palo (Craig Hill), the local priest. Palo warns Stefano that there are some unsavory people on the island who participate in seances. That night, Palo witnesses the murder of the medium who coordinates the seances. Soon after, more members of this sinister circle begin to die. Meanwhile, Stefano is romancing Sandra (Stefania Casini), a visiting interior decorator who may be linked to the murders. As the killings come closer to Palo and Sandra, Stefano decides to uncover the killer himself.
"The Bloodstained Shadow" is a fine example of a competent giallo, as it contains all of the requisite elements. There are bloody murders, an unnecessary sex scene, beautiful Italian locations, and a nice twist ending. Actually, this film is rather unique as the audience is given a firm clue as to the killer's identity before they are revealed. "The Bloodstained Shadow" offers several interesting characters, and gives the audience many red-herrings. The film is well paced and the only real drawback is that the killer's true motivation is never fully explained. Also, the score by Goblin adds to the film's atmosphere. This film is certainly the best in this package and is on par with the work of Argento and Bava.
Presented in a letterboxed ratio of 1.85:1. "The Bloodstained Shadow" looks fine on this DVD, although there is some noticable grain in some daytime shots. The transfer reveals a sharp picture, but it also accentuates some of the blemishes from the source print. The colors are slightly faded in some shots, but good overall. From the Dolby Digital Mono audio track, we get audible dialogue and nice reproduction of the Goblin score. The DVD features a 13-minute interview with director Antonio Bido. This is a fun segment, as Bido speaks frankly about his work and his own cameo in the film. The DVD features are rounded out by the film's trailer and a filmography for Bido.
The final film in this set, "The Case of the Bloody Iris" is available exclusively in "The Giallo Collection", which is a shame, as its a good movie, and certainly much better than the Aldo Lado films. After two women are murdered in a high-rise builing, the building's architect Andrea (George Hilton), has two young models Jennifer (Edwige Fenech, who is the 70's answer to Catherine Zeta-Jones) and Marilyn (Paola Quattrini) move in the apartment that was previously occupied by one of the slain women. (It's not clear exactly why this happens. Apparently, Andrea was looking for models to help advertise the building...or something like that.) As Jennifer settles in to her new abode, she finds herself being stalked by a former boyfriend (who had forced her to join an orgy cult) and a masked killer. When the killer takes more victims, the police begin to suspect Andrea, as he has access to the building. Surrounded by death, Jennifer fears for her life, and realizes that she doesn't know who to trust.
Also known by the absurd title "What are Those Strange Drops of Blood Doing on Jennifer's Body?" (Now that's a movie I want to see!), "The Case of the Bloody Iris" is hindered only by its muddled storyline. Otherwise, it's a competent thriller which offers enough violence and sex (this film is chock full o' nudity) to satisfy the most ardent giallo fan. The film is never boring, and as an added bonus, the ending is incredibly politically incorrect, and would never fly in today's conservative climate.
"The Case of the Bloody Iris" has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 for this DVD release. The image is sharp and clear for the most part, but there is some noticable grain at times. At the 13:47 mark, the transfer shows some significant damage from the source materials, but this goes away within seconds. Also, there is one scenere where there are a few frames missing. The colors are good, which helps to show off the garrish costumes in the film. With the Dolby Digital Mono soundtrack, we get clean dialogue, with no distortion. The DVD offers an alterate take for one of the murders, but it is only slightly different from the scene in the finished film. In addition, the DVD features the trailer and a filmography for director Anthony Ascott (AKA Giuliano Carnimeo).
Anchor Bay must be applauded for brining these obscure films to DVD. However, this set will only appeal to hardcore giallo fans, due to the price and the very nature of the movies. Casual giallo viewers who may have seen well-known films such as "Deep Red", "Tenebre", or "Blood and Black Lace" will most-likely be disappointed by the movies in this collection.