Giallo Review

Giallo is a phrase that refers to both literature and film and is usually used to describe a particular type of fiction, generally thrillers involving a lot of horror and a fair amount of sex. The phrase was first used to describe books in this genre which were cheap paperbacks with yellow (Giallo in Italian) covers. Since the emergence of a wave of horror films in the sixties and seventies the term has become synonymous with these rather than the books.

Key filmmakers in Giallo include Dario Argento, Mario Bava, Umberto Lenzi and Lucio Fulci. It is Dario Argento who, at least in the West, has become most associated with Giallo, with the success of incredible films such as The Bird With The Crystal Plumage, Profondo Rosso and Suspiria. Argento has continued to make films since his debut in 1970 with The Bird With The Crystal Plumage, and his recent output has included Sleepless, Do You Like Hitchcock?, Mother of Tears and the Masters of Horror segments, Jenifer and Pelts. These most recent efforts have mostly been met with a lukewarm response by critics and even by fans, like myself, who despite the misfires still bravely champion his work.

It was therefore with a lot of excitement that I read the news that Dario Argento was releasing a new film bearing the name of the genre, Gaillo, and that it was to star Academy Award winner, no less, Adrien Brody. Everything pointed towards a return to form for Argento, a modern Giallo to justify sticking with Argento so long.

When the film began screening though, reviews were universally bad. Scouring the internet, the only good reviews I could find cite Giallo as being the best comedy this year and some even suggest this was the intention of everyone involved. I do not feel this was intention of the scriptwriters, Jim Agnew and Sean Keller, Dario Argento or the star and co-producer Adrien Brody.

Giallo has at its heart a reasonably simple premise which actually ticks all the boxes of the Giallo genre. Adrien Brody plays Enzo, a hard-boiled New York cop who has returned to Italy and is working on the case of a serial killer who has been killing beautiful women and in the process “making them ugly”. He is approached by Linda (Emmanuelle Seigner) whose sister Celine, a successful model, has gone missing and Enzo guesses, correctly, that she has been kidnapped by the serial killer.

There then follows a race against the clock to find Celine before she is killed. The serial killer turns out to suffer from a liver condition that has given him permanent jaundiced skin, in effect making him yellow. Because of this he feels he is ugly, tormented by children when he was young, and he now sets out to make beautiful things ugly. Yellow is played by Byron Deidra which, to the observant among you will notice, is an anagram of Adrien Brody. Because one can tell from the voice and eyes, that you hear and see early on, that it is clearly Adrien Brody I was expecting a reveal that the detective was also the killer, a twist that would have admittedly been obvious a mile away.

The problem, one of many actually, is that the two characters are intended to be entirely different characters which completely pulled me out of the story as, despite the ridiculous make up, Yellow and Enzo are clearly the same person. The make up is also a very big problem in Giallo. Obviously in a great effort to make Yellow not look like Adrien Brody the make up department has gone over the top and created a truly hilarious looking killer who raises a lot of laughter every time he is on screen. The film would have been so much more effective if the audience had not seen the killer until the very end as almost every scene with Yellow on screen is a bad scene. Giallo films have had their somewhat laughable villains before. In The New York Ripper, for example, the killer adopts a ‘Donald Duck’ voice, which is ridiculous but when juxtaposed with the truly horrific violence in the film, it does not seem quite so funny. Yellow, however, is just ridiculous and undermines the film constantly.

The acting in the film is generally of a low level, with Emmanuelle Seigner giving a particularly wooden performance, although this could be down to the script as much as her. Despite receiving criticism from many critics, I actually felt Adrien Brody was actually quite good as Enzo. He plays an archetype detective, constantly smoking, tortured by a past in which he saw his mother slashed to death and by the case that he cannot crack. Although a very underwritten part, the shorthand simplicity of the character appears to be deliberate and is somewhat effective. The only logic to the actor playing the role of the killer and the detective is revealed in the last scene when Linda states that they are both the same. This is a clumsy point made badly though and does little to add to the film.

Stylistically the film does indeed look like a Giallo, with beautiful cinematography in some scenes, including the opening in the red opera house. There is an effective use of colour throughout by Argento, including the yellow saturation in some scenes and the use of yellow items such as Enzo using a yellow highlighter and drinking from a yellow cup that give the film a definite crafted feel. Unfortunately the story and a lot of the acting does not live up to this visual styling.

There is little good to say about Giallo as aside from a beautiful setting (Turin), Adrien Brody’s adequate performance as Enzo and some impressive cinematography, the film is a by-the-numbers thriller that does little to hold a viewer’s attention and little to restore Argento’s stature as a great director. There was, however, something about Giallo that I liked and it is something that is hard to put my finger on. As a long time Argento fan I think it is just the feeling of being happy to watch a new Argento film and despite its many many faults, I enjoyed the film, flaws and all.

It is rumoured that Argento has distanced himself from Giallo and has been noticeably absent from premières of the film. Perhaps Argento was as unhappy with the film as the majority of the critics. Giallo is definitely a film for fans of Argento who are desperate to see some new Argento on the big screen and even many of those fans may still dislike it and be deeply disappointed. If you are new to Argento or Giallo then this should be very low on your list of priorities and I suggest starting with one of the more impressive Giallos such as The Girl Who Knew Too Much, Profondo Rosso or The New York Ripper.