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Giallo Essentials: Black Edition - Giallo Essentials: Black Edition( Blu Ray boxset) [Arrow Video - 2022]

From the folks at Arrow Video- both in the UK and stateside- here is a blu ray boxset bringing together three of the great, but lesser known Italian giallo of the 1970s. With each film receiving a wonderfully new clean and crisp 2k print, a great new commentary track, and a few other extras to boot.

First up on disc number one we have 1972’s Smile Before Death (aka l sorriso della iena ). This sleazed ‘n’ flesh bound gialli, regarding a teen returning to her family home after her mother has seemingly committed suicide. The film was helmed Frascati, Lazio, Italy born Silvio Amadio. In total he helmed twenty-three credits to his name late 1950’s and early 1980’s- these went from submarine-based wartime drama Wolves Of The Deep (1959), sleazed and slowly paced gialli Amuck (1972), bank robber hiding our drama/ thriller Catene(1974), psychic horror Il medium(1980).

Smile Before Death opens with a bloody death, as we see a well-dressed woman seemingly slashing her throat in a plush mirrored bathroom. As we get into the film, we meet Marco (Silvano Tranquilli) the smug and greying round the-edges estranged husband of the dead woman, and Gianna (Rosalba Neri) his glamorous-if-slightly shady photographer mistress. The pair are still living in his marital home- and it seems the police are happy that his wife committed suicide, as the bathroom door was locked- but as this is a Giallo of course it’s not that cut ‘n’ dry.

Fairly soon added to the mix we have Dorothy(Jenny Tamburi)- the sixteen-year-old daughter of the dead woman- who when we first meet her seems very prim and proper, but as things unfold her more sleazed side comes to the surface, with Gianna taking nude photos of the girl, and others in the house having their eyes on the girl. The film only features just two deaths- both are fairly bright red spurting affairs, but really the film is a slowly twisting ‘n’ turning, slightly soapy melodrama/ come thriller based in and around her mother's large and isolated house.

Tranquill and Neri work well as the decidedly devious husband and mistress, and she had rather a shadowy allure which rather reminded me of Edwige Fenech. Tamburi worked well as the initially shy and guarded teen. With a worthy supporting cast from Dana Ghia as Magda the middle-aged housekeeper who is sure something odd going on. And Hiram Keller as the toyboy lover of the dead woman.

Overall, it’s a decidedly fleshy affair, with Tamburi often disrobing, which is more than a little seedy- if you take in her listed age, though the actress is clearly older. The house is groovily furnished with red and brown fabrics, house lights in angled pipes, and bold/ colourful artwork. The film runs around the one hour and twenty-eight-minute mark- and for the most part, one is held into the mystery of the whole thing. The only slightly trying thing is the overuse of a cue soundtrack in the first half of the film- it’s a jaunting, if cheeky affair with a la la singing from a woman, the cue is ok in itself, but the way it's way, way overused- so does become grinding in places.

On the extra side, we get a commentary track from authors and critics Troy Howarth and Nathaniel Thompson- and as we’ve come to expect from these two pros, it’s a fact and observation-packed track. They begin by discussing how the film starts with a bang, which stands as one of the most arresting of giallo openings. They talk about the score's main cue, and how it’s more known than the film it’s self- they also discuss the composer's other scores too. They inform us that there was a whopping thirty-three giallo films appearing in the year 1972- with many of these never appearing on the international market and if they did it was years later. We get chat about lead actress Rosalba Neri, her other film work, and the way even her eyes could suggest sensuality/ sexiness. There is talk about those who dubbed Rosalba in the English version of the film. We get chat about other cast members and gialli they appeared in. Later on, they discuss the curious way all of the film's characters have dubious morals. They talk about the framing in the murder scenes, unreleased giallo with great scores, and how they are no bad giallo scores- with the composers really going the extra mile. And of course, much. Much more- so a great track, which you could easily play again & again. Otherwise, there is Smile of the Hyena (23.25) a new video interview with Stefano Amadio, film journalist and son of director Silvio Amadio. An image gallery- with both English & Italian dubs of the film.



Next, we have the decidedly clunky titled The Weapon, the Hour, the Motive (aka L'arma, l'ora, il movente). This is from the year 1972- and it’s a fairly low-key and moody gialli edged with more than a pinch of catholic guilt- all set in and around a leafy-if-ageing rural monastery. The film was directed and co-written by Francesco Mazzei-who had just this one directorial credit to his name, though he produced a few Mondo films like World By Night (1960), and The Shocking World (1963). He also wrote the scripts for the likes of sexual melodrama A Girl Called Jules (1970), and euro sleaze western Convoy Of Women (1974).

The film opens with the young curly-haired and cat on leash Ferruccio (Arturo Trina) watching the sisters working on the monastery's land on a summer's day. Fairly soon we see the monastery's blond slightly shaggy-haired priest Don Giorgio (Maurizio Bonuglia) climbing into a car with Orchidea Durantini(Bedy Moratti) who works in the monastery, and cares for young Ferruccio who has to have an injection every day. We find out soon enough that the married Orchidea, is having an affair with Don Giorgio- who breaks off their thing fairly soon, but he is seemingly involved with a few others too.

The priest is full of guilt, often stripping off his smock to self-flagellate himself in the monastery's main chapel- watching on we see young Ferruccio, who peers through a hole in the crawl space near his high-up bedroom. One day when the priest is playing the church organ, he is brutally stabbed with of course Ferruccio seeing the killer. As the film unfolds bearded and slightly bulky in his brown suit Inspector Moriconi (Salvatore Puntillo) is sent into investigating the murder.

The film moves between showing the daily lives of the sister- including near nude shower, and on massed topless self-flagellation. The inspector's investigation, which sees him getting closer to Orchidea, and wandering dusty/ near deserted rural buildings. Banter and chat between those who live/ work around the monastery- including a few nicely captured panning in the circle of a summer day's lunch. The murder/ gore is fairly fleeting- as other than the mentioned stabbing, we get a throat slashing, and a gunshot to the head.

Puntillo is good as the fairly charming, though determined to find the killer inspector. As is Moratti as the slightly shifty Orchidea, with Trina not being a too annoying or grating child lead. Aside from a little bit of organ playing and mood scaping the film is largely scoreless, and this adds the more eerier creeping through the rundown monastery, and other seemingly abandoned rural buildings. On the whole The Weapon, the Hour, the Motive is a compelling enough gialli - just don’t expect too much gore or glamour, as it is very much a relatively slow-burn rural set affair. The film is present in its Italian dub with English subtitles. 


On the extras side, we have a commentary track by Australian author and critic Alexandra Heller-Nicholas- and it’s a well-researched, interesting, and often sly humour-edged track. She begins by giving her alternative title for the film Who killed The Horny Preist, shortly giving a brief Giallo history lesson- mentioning worthy proto examples of the genre. She talks about the representation of priests and Catholicism in the giallo- mentions key films dealing with these themes. We get talk about classic films in the genre from the year this film was released 1972- though as she points out many of these are urban set, unlike the film to hand. She mentions recent critical assessments of the film, its cast/ crew- and some of their other notable work. Later on, she talks about how the film portals its themes, and key scenes in this portrayal. She runs down slightly more academic discussion about the film- but largely it never gets too stuffy. All in all, it’s a worthy track- with the only real criticism being that it’s a little sporadic. Otherwise, we have A Man in Giallo (13,32) a video interview with actor Salvatore Puntillo, and an image gallery.



Finally, we have The Killer Reserved Nine Seats( aka L'assassino ha riservato nove poltrone) this is from 1974, and it is a seemingly abandoned theatre set gialli - with proto-slasher/ horror touches. It was directed by Grosseto, Tuscany-born Giuseppe Bennati- he had nine directorial credits to his name. These went from musical comedy Il microfono è vostro(1951), crime drama Operazione Note(1957), and drama regarding a lawyer trying to find his daughter Red Lips(1960). The Killer Reserved Nine Seats was Giuseppe's final film, though he passed years later in 2006- so a rather pity really, as the film is well made, suspenseful, and at points quite creepy/ eerier Giallo.

The film's credits open by introducing the cast, as they travel through the night in several cars- their destination is a theatre which apparently hasn't been opened in 100 years. Leading the group on the trip is suavely greying Patrick Davenant(Chris Avram) whose family owns the building. As the group of nine make their way into the building, it’s clear that it’s far from abounded- as candles are lit, chandeliers are a glow, and the place looks well-kept/ un-dusty. The group all rather bicker, and at points take a chance for the odd fondler/ snog- and while one of the number is on stage, a large wooden support is dropped- it just misses its target. This along with the kept 'n' clean state of the place, makes them decide to leave- but all the doors have been locked/ windows barred.

Fairly soon the nines numbers decline- as we at first get an on-stage stabbing, and a host of other murders including a topless door crushing and, an off-camera genital stabbing & crucifixion. We get a few glances of the killer - who is decidedly creepy, and rather slasher killer-like with his bushy eyebrowed face mask and green-lined black cape. The film managers to nicely walk the line between a murder mystery, stuck in creepy place suspense, and proto-slasher stalking action ‘n’ kills.

The film runs just over the one hour and forty-five-minute mark, and it very much had me hooked with its mix of bickering characters, guessing who’s the killer, and some fine moments of creepy moodiness and suspense. With the whole thing been topped off with a nice creepy twist to the end of the film. Simply put The Killer Reserved Nine Seats is a great last film on the set.

On the extras side on this final disc, we have commentary track author and critic Kat Ellinger- and as we’ve come to expect it’s another thoroughly researched and observed track from Ms Ellinger. She begins by discussing what defines a giallo, and how it’s rather a nebulous genre definition- pointing out how different this film is to Dario Argento's more pacy examples of the genre. She talks about how she feels the film to hand is somewhat of a forgotten/ misunderstood film- going on to discuss its very much more gothic and supernatural tropes. She chats about the film being in three acts, and how the first act really lays out the largely self-centred and obnoxious characters- talking about each one's interesting elements. She discusses the film's wonderful location, giving some historical facts & mentioning key artworks/ elements in the building. She talks about the trapped in a location body-count genre- mentioning key/ important films. Later she discusses the screenwriter, and their other work- as well as mentioning they were none too keen on the film when they saw it, as he felt the gore was too extreme. She talks about the cast, mentioning other worthy films they are in. She discusses one of the film's more shocking kill set-ups, and how it got used in its poster artwork. She talks about the final girl's role in Giallo, and how it differs from its slasher counterpart. Once again, a must-play track from Ms Ellinger- which you could easily play several times through, and still not pick up everything. Otherwise, we get two archive interviews from 2013- one is with actor Howard Ross (8.23), and the other is with screenwriter Biagio Proietti (28.38).


In finishing this set features a fine selection of lesser known, but worthy examples of the Giallo form. With Arrow, as always offering up a wonderfully curated and presented set- with fine prints, and wonderful extras. If you enjoy the Giallo genre- this truly is a no-brainer release, which you need to pick up as soon as you can!.

Rating: 4 out of 5Rating: 4 out of 5Rating: 4 out of 5Rating: 4 out of 5Rating: 4 out of 5

Roger Batty
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