The academically programmed Giallo Fever! series at Anthology Film Archives, apparently the first major Giallo series in New York, illustrates the style-based genre of mystery-horror films that came primarily from Italy in the 60s and 70s (but which sometimes also includes Brian De Palma in the 80s). So, rather than collect all the greatest hits of Giallo, which would contain all of Mario Bava’s work and more of Dario Argento’s, this series illustrates the definitive tropes of the genre: black raincoats, eye-liner, jet-setting tourists, models & artists, knives, Morricone S&M (in giallo-outlier A Place in the Country), prog rock, and buckets of red paint blood (Deep Red). “My colors, my colors, they erase everything else,” begins the narration in The House of the Laughing Windows, which is a good description for an expressionistic style of film that contains collectively, totally objectively, The Greatest Framing and Colors in the History of Cinema. If Fritz Lang made more color films (and worked super speedily or took more drugs, perhaps) it would look like these.
So it’s interesting that except for a few more obscure standouts (What Have You Done with Solange? and Don’t Torture a Duckling), the film most worth seeing in the series is atypically black and white, Bava’s The Girl Who Knew Too Much, from 1963, described as the first giallo. When kohl-eyed cutie American Nora Davis arrives on the jet plane to Rome reading a detective novel (which often came in yellow book-jackets in Italy, which is where the genre got its name), it sparks an overactive imagination that sees danger in every shadow. Nora witnesses a knifing by the notorious Alphabet Murderer, but the body has disappeared by the morning. Bava remarkably creates constant tension, almost never fulfilled, in every single shot of this film. It’s a masterpiece homage to Hitchock, which takes the irony in the Master’s work a little more playfully and pushes the tension/irresolution further until the whole film becomes a wonderful, titillating joke. It should also be seen on film, and there’s a rare chance to do so in this series.