This eight-film series, running through November and December at Northwest Film Forum, offers a guided tour through the liminal space of giallo films, tracing the rapid and peculiar evolution of an entrancing and dangerous film genre.
What is a giallo? In short, it’s a stylish Italian murder mystery featuring an always-growing body count and a heavy dose of fetishism; giallos frequently explore experiences of subjective memory, voyeurism, and trauma. A forerunner of the American slasher genre, the giallo film takes its name from the Italian word for “yellow,” the color of bookjacket most commonly used in Italy for lurid pulp. So while for Italians, giallo is synonymous simply with “thriller,” internationally it has come to indicate the specific trend of shockingly violent Italian mystery-horror films that began in the 1960s and proliferated through the 70s.
Horror as a cinematic mode carries a unique potential to break apart the influences of patriarchal, heteronormative, cissexist, white-supremacist capitalism. It can do this by providing an oneiric space where abstractions take form. By moving the action to a dreamlike cinema-space, dominant, violent ideologies and social structures can become embodied, encountered and reckoned with. Giallo films have their own special and historically important approach to this world of inversions, oppositions, fragmentations and resistances. Due to its frequent reliance on the trope of the dangerously unhinged female victim/perpetrator, the giallo genre is sometimes (justifiably) accused of pathologizing femininity. But while few of these films had women involved in any key creative roles, they are overwhelmingly inhabited by women and thus, ripe for reclamation.
The primary debt that American slashers owe to the giallo is the figure of the relentless killer – the phantom, the shape – most commonly manifesting as a mysterious black-gloved, knife-wielding assailant in giallo films. This screening series encourages a reading of this central, amorphous, recurring figure as both an embodiment of an internalized sexism rising out of the shame and fear of one’s own identity, as well as a manifestation of masculine-coded patriarchal violence at large.
If the reification of our dominant ideologies and social structures can be externalized in dreams, then horror movies – themselves literalized dreams – are places where resistance to the psychic colonization of patriarchy can be fought through fantasy. To have art which concerns itself with the damaged, the obsessive, the controlling, and the destructive is to know that these things are navigable, even as they are devouring us.