Giallo is known for many things. The flash of a killer’s knife blade. Black gloves. Gordian knot mysteries and plot twists. Sexy women in lurid, compromising, and let’s be fair: misogynistic situations. Salacious eye catching posters. Blood. So much blood. And, crazily evocative bordering on non-sensical titles. The Scariest Things dove deep into the Giallo well to find the best titles in the genre.
In preparation for our next Podcast (spoiler alert… it’s Giallo!), we were astounded at both the quantity of Giallo films and how many of them had wacky titles. Fans of the American thrillers that were influenced by Giallo get, at best two word titles, as if we wouldn’t understand a five word title if we had a Master’s Degree. Basic Instinct. Body Double. Fatal Attraction. Halloween. Se7en. Zodiac. Sliver. C’mon America, we can do better with the titles!
A shout out to Silence of the Lambs for giving us a Giallo worthy title. Dressed to Kill, the American film most associated with Giallo has an appropriate title that would fit in nicely into a shelf full of Italian thrillers. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is another contemporary film with a Giallo-esque title, but as that is a European film/book, I’m not sure it counts.
I propose that the benchmark of the trend of Giallo Titles goes back to Bird with the Crystal Plumage(1970) by Dario Argento, his first feature film and a hugely successful one at that. It set the table for a number of things. The title took a small element from the film, and then attached a preoposition and a colorful adjective descriptor, and presto! Giallo title royalty! The bird in question provides a pivotal clue, but it is a bit of a maguffin, as it merely serves as an audio indicator for the killer’s whereabouts. The film proved so influential that Argento’s peers picked up the theme and for about six years the Italian thrillers were wholly unique sounding, with some taking a route of entirely cryptic and others going explictly descriptive.
By the late seventies, the trend waned, for whatever reason, we get stuck with left with singular nouns or verbs for titles. Even Dario dialed it back, and gave us Inferno and Opera. The last film in this list went lovingly back to its source material and came up with a terrificly poetic title. The following titles are done chronologically. They don’t necessarily include the BEST Giallo films (Profondo Rosso notably absent from this list) as we are targeting the best TITLES.
Directed by Mario Bava This is the one that started the movement. It has all the hallmarks of Giallo. The blade. The black glove. The salacious poster. And, the exotic and alliterative title. IMDB Summary: A masked, shadowy killer brutally murders the models of a scandalous fashion house in Rome.
Directed by Jean Josipovici and Anbrogio Moteli Gotta love a movie that announces that in addition to the brutal murders, there will be a sexy party involved. GREAT ’60s mod poster. IMDB Summary: A party of young people gather in a mansion for an occult experiment in which deaths are predicted by a psychic. Soon it turns into more than an experiment . . .
Directed by Giulio Questi This could also describe when my dog gets really gassy. It’s horrible. This also goes by the less interesting title Plucked. It has a genuine movie star in it too, in the form of the lovely Gina Lollobrigida who spends a good amount of time in her lingerie in this movie. IMDB Summary: The depraved manager of a high-tech poultry factory – which is genetically engineering boneless chickens – is pulled into a love triangle with his domineering wife and her sexually liberated cousin, leading to double-crosses and murder.
Directed by Luciano Ercoli Points for being descriptive! IMDB Summary: The wife of a financially struggling businessman is blackmailed by a mysterious man into having a sadistic relationship with him, or he will release damning evidence which suggests that her husband is a murderer.
Directed by Mario Bava It’s Bava again! This film is not to be confused with So I Married an Axe Murderer. Very different. This one, not so funny. But, it has a funny title! Bava has a penchant for having killers in fashion design settings. IMDB Summary: A cleaver-wielding bridal designer murders various young brides-to-be in an attempt to unlock a repressed childhood trauma.
Directed by Mario Bava Surprise! More Bava. That man made a LOT of movies. We are now firmly in the realm of having a number in the cryptic title. I love the composition of the poster as well. IMDB Summary: An industrialist invites his colleagues and their wives to relax on his private island so they can exploit the monetary value of one of the guests’ revolutionary resin formulas, but a killer within the group disrupts the proceedings.
Directed by Sergio Bergonzelli Love this title! It’s sexy, alliterative, and it’s a little unsettling. IMDB Summary: The guests of a villa are killed off one by one by their hosts. Incest, decapitations, and a cyanide bath feature amongst the other bizarre delights.
Directed by Lucio Fulci Fulci, known for his gory films, almost went to jail for a sequence in this movie involving gutted dogs (and Fulci being known to hurt animals in his films). It turns out, these were just great gore effects, and not actually puppy snuff. IMDB Summary: The potentially unhinged daughter of a British politician is accused of killing her hedonistic neighbor after she witnesses the murder in a dream.
Directed by Luciano Ercoli So… the killer must be a woman. Or, does it mean that the victim is death, and she’s walking in high heels? Or, maybe it’s a killer in drag! Any way you cut it, it’s a fun title. IMDB Summary: A French stripper is entrusted with her thieving father’s last score, a million dollars worth of diamonds. After being threatened to handover the score, she leaves France to England in the company of a doctor, but danger follows.
Directed by Paolo Cavara The lurid title in this case actually has a direct correlation to what happens in the movie! Barabara Bach, a future Bond girl and Mrs. Ringo Starr is featured in this movie along with famed Italian Actor Giancarlo Giannini. IMDB Summary: A series of victims are paralyzed while having their bellies ripped open, much in the same way tarantulas are killed by the black wasp. The victims all seem to have a connection with a spa.
Directed by Emilio Miraglia Color? Check. It’s Red. A number? Check. It’s Seven. Violent action? Check The Queen Kills. This is prototype Giallo naming convention. We’re missing an animal, though. A young Sybill Danning shows up in this movie, and that alone would make this a good watch. IMDB Summary: When two sisters inherit their family castle, a string of murders committed by a mysterious dark haired woman in a red cloak targets their circle of friends. Is the killer their ancestor, the “Red Queen”, who legend says claims seven lives every hundred years?
Directed by Riccardo Freda So, there isn’t an iguana. Spoiler alert! But, there will be lots of killing and stabbings happening. Not one of the better Giallo films, but one of the better titles. It is a Giallo odditity in that it was filmed in Ireland. IMDB Summary: A corpse is found in the trunk of a car that belongs to the Swiss ambassador to the UK. Speculations run wild, as more people around the ambassador keep falling victim to the vicious killer. A former detective is hired to investigate.
Directed by Dario Argento Finally, one from the master! Argento understood how to create evocative titles that were thematic rather than literal. This however isn’t one of his more coherent offerings. It’s a mystery with few clues to follow, but it is stylish. And… it has a great title. IMDB Summary: A musician is stalked by an unknown homicidal maniac, who blackmails him for the accidental killing of another stalker.
Directed by Aldo Lado Wait. What? This is one very cryptic and strange title. This one might suffered in translation. Perhaps the summary will help explain it. IMDB Summary: Greg Moore, an American journalist visiting Prague with his girlfriend Mira is found dead. However, he’s actually only temporarily paralyzed, but the coroner fails to realize this and proceeds to prepare him for the autopsy. While Moore awaits his doom, he tries to recollect what has happened to him. It all starts when his girl disappears. He asks his friend, a local journalist, for help. They discover that this was just the latest in a series of disappearances of young pretty girls in the area. Their investigation leads them to a strange high profile private club, whose affluent members practice odd ritualistic orgies and bizarre dark rites.
Nope. Still don’t understand the title. I guess I’ll have to watch this one.
Directed by Lucio Fulci And here we have it! The BEST GIALLO TITLE OF ALL TIME! This is one of Mike Campbell’s favorites. And, there is a duck, though it’s a stuffed duck. It should go without saying that you really shouldn’t be torturing ducklings, but Fulci apparently is taking a stand on this. IMDB Summary: A reporter and a promiscuous young woman try to solve a series of child killings in a remote southern Italian town rife with superstition and a distrust of outsiders.
Directed by Alfonso Brecia I will give you one guess as to what this movie is about! Where some Giallo titles seem to be abstracted word salad, this one gets right to the point. There’s a dead girl in the park, and she’s naked, and she was murdered. Whodunnit? IMDB Summary: An investigator is assigned to investigate a man’s family after he is found dead only hours after taking out a million dollar insurance policy.
Directed by Sergio Martino The longest title in a subgenre that likes long titles! This film is a solid tale based on The Black Cat (Edgar Allen Poe), where everybody is manipulating everybody else, and deceit and murder abound. Come to watch the gorgeous Edwige Fenech, and stay for the fun twisty plot. IMDB Summary: A series of murders are committed near the estate of a degenerate author and his wife.
Directed by Gianfranco Piccioli A more comprehensible but still allegoric title. How many flowers actually sting? Thistle? Roses? Insects sting. Thorns scratch. Just an observation. As it turns out, the title is literal, as the flower in question is a steel statue and is used as a murder weapon. IMDB Summary: A well known surgeon Andrea Valenti (Gianni Garko) accidentally kills his mistress with a metal sculpture of a flower, later he tries to cover-up his crime never realizing he’s being watched by someone lurking, then he begins receiving menacing phone calls from an alleged witness. Who could it be behind the blackmail?
Directed by Antonio Margheriti Cat’s feature prominently in a lot of Giallo. Often they are harbingers of doom, and that goes for this one as well. Cat jump scares are commonplace in these films, and this one fully embraces the cat curse motif. Another Giallo with a U.K. setting. IMDB Summary: In a small Scottish village, horribly murdered bodies keep turning up. Suspicion falls upon the residents of a nearby castle that is haunted by a curse involving a killer cat.
Directed by Riccardo Ghione The bloodstained lawn in question is a description of a lawn covered with a field of roses. Awesome poster! Creative title. The plot? Well, your mileage may vary on whether you value coherent stories or not. IMDB Summary: A group of rich decadents pick up wanderers from the streets and take them back to their large villa, where they are initially treated with consummate care but things take a turn for the worse.
Directed by Giuseppe Benatti Hey, save me a seat! Or maybe… no, nevermind. I’ll catch the next show. Theaters also offer backdrops to a number of Giallo. (Profondo Rosso, Inferno, Opera, and Stage Fright among them.) This lesser known film sets up the premise within the title. You are cordially invited… IMDB Summary: A wealhty Englishman, Patrick Davenant, invites a group of friends to visit a theater inside his villa. Within a short time, the guests realize that they are trapped. A merciless killer then begins to murder them one by one.
Directed by Andrea Bianchi As instructions go, I think I’m passing on these directions. If I’m going out by stabbing, I’m not going out naked. This film is certainly targeting the soft-core crowd. IMDB Summary: When a fashion model dies during an abortion, a series of murders begins, starting with her doctor. The next victims are connected to the modeling agency where she worked, Albatross, run by a hard edged and jealous bi-sexual, Gisella, married to a Farouk-like dissolute. One suspect is Carlo, a playboy photographer who has a hot temper and refuses to share information with the police. He becomes the lover of Magda, another photographer at the agency, who’s probably in danger. The murderer wears a black motorcycle outfit and helmet. Will anyone discover the murderer’s identity before the entire agency dies?
Directed by Alfredo Lizzo Mind if I cut in? Aiiiieeee! Vampires! An example of a Giallo/Vampire movie mashup. How racy! Bonus points for the Atilla the Hun inclusion. Gothis lesbians? This was a movie ahead of its time. IMDB Summary: Gothic lesbians prowl the corridors of a miserable little castle in Italy and fall prey to a deranged count with resplendent canine gnashers, a ghostly white complexion and the personality of Atilla the Hun.
Directed by Pupi Avati Evocative in that some houses seem to have “faces” to them. But usually, the windows serve as the eyes to the face of a house, rather than a mouth. In this case, the title is translated literally, as smiling mouths are painted around this unusual remote church. Bonus for mildly reepy murals. IMDB Summary: Stefano, a young restorer, is commissioned to save a controversial mural located in the church of a small, isolated village.
After a gap of some thirty years comes another great Giallo title. The sub-genre took a more conventional route as the seventies rounded into the eighties, and the colorful and flowery titles went by the wayside. This French/Belgian movie is an homage in so many ways to the 1970s Giallo films, right down to the incomprehensible plots, that it HAD to come up with a convoluted and lyrical title as well. IMDB Summary: Returning home from a business trip to discover his wife missing, a man delves deeper and deeper into a surreal kaleidoscope of half-baked leads, seduction, deceit, and murder. Does anyone in the building know something?