Tag Giallo

Phantom of Death (1988)

Phantom of Death 1988

Let the symphony of slaughter begin!

Pianist Robert Dominici suddenly contracts a rare and devastating disease that causes him to age rapidly. He also begins to suffer from memory loss and experiences mental problems. So when a spate of murders suddenly occurs around him, he draws the attention of Datti, a veteran police inspector determined to stop this maniac before he kills again.

 

My giallo-thon rolls on with another gory Italian slasher-thriller, Phantom of Death. Made by one of the most notorious Italian directors of all time (Ruggero Deodato, the man who unleashed Cannibal Holocaust upon the world) and with a host of other behind-the-scenes names who worked on other Italian horrors, Phantom of Death is a sort of twist on the tale of The Phantom of the Opera. But with this being an Italian spin, you can be rest assured of some bad acting, some terrible scripts and some over-the-top gore scenes. However if you’re looking for Deodato to shock the censors into submission for a second time, then you’ve come to the wrong place. It may be billed as a blood-splattered slash-fest but Phantom of Death is a more character-driven murder-mystery.

This giallo has some severe pacing problems though and despite a gruesome murder during the opening credits, not a great deal happens for the next third of the film. Instead the film is heavy on weak plot and pretty bland character development. The film tries to throw a curveball or two by pretending that the killer isn’t Dominici and every time he phones up the police inspector to taunt him about a new murder, he has his back to the camera. But we all know who it is early on and the fun of the ‘guess the killer’ mystery just disappears.

Unfortunately the film should have then just taken the gore and blood-soaked murdering to a new level by having him slay a few more people but he doesn’t and the body count is woefully inadequate. The gory deaths actually seem rather out of place at times and seem to have been added simply to beef the film up to try and attract the gore hounds. The film does work best when Datti pinpoints the murders on Dominici but can’t prove it as the witness reports are contradictory and, as Dominici is obviously aging rapidly, finds it extremely difficult to believe. The cat-and-mouse games between the two of them are pretty good

The film is greatly enhanced by the addition of its two famous ‘foreign’ stars in Michael York and Donald Pleasance. York’s character is the star of the show and he’s excellent as the tormented pianist. He’s not a nasty villain who deserves to be booed off the screen but rather a tragic man on the verge of death who has lost his self-control. His performance isn’t hammy or over-the-top and is rather touching at times. Even the make-up effects to make him age rapidly are very believable until he’s almost unrecognisable at the end.

Pleasance was clearly getting old and a little bit doddery but he still manages to instil the inspector with a degree of seasoned determination. He’s got a pretty throwaway role though and doesn’t do an awful lot with it but it’s still nice to see a familiar face. However I believe that the film relies a little too heavily on their name value – with the script as weak as it is, it wasn’t going to matter who starred! They’re expected to hold the film up during the bulk of the dull, talky periods and whilst they do a good job for the most part, it’s just enough.

 

Phantom of Death is a rather limp giallo which had a decent idea and even had some alright moments but it’s too talky and doesn’t make a lot of sense at times. You’ll most likely be as exhausted and tired as the poor old dying pianist by the end of it!

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Torso (1973)

Torso (1973)

One Day She Met a Man Who Loved Beautiful Women…But Not All in One Piece

Someone is strangling students in Perugia and the only clue that the puzzled police have is that the killer owns a black and red scarf. Some of the students decide to head to a villa in the country to get away from it all but the killer follows them to finish his murderous rampage.

 

I’ve never really gotten in the whole ‘giallo’ genre of cinema – stylish Italian thrillers (bordering on horror) made in the 60s and 70s. I’ve always heard a lot about them but having seen one or two of them in the past, I always thought they were a bit pretentious and were a lot of a style over substance. But with my current lack of interest in unoriginal modern horror, I’ve decided to go back in time and check out some films made during a time when films weren’t as desensitized and overblown as they are today. The giallos are categorised by their simple set ups and whilst not being entirely original (and many just following the same themes and ideas), they do allow their directors a bit of creative license. Like the slasher films of the 80s became showcases for the most original and graphic death scenes, the giallos became showcases for talented Italian directors to create dream-like pieces of art.

Made way before the Americans got their hands on many of the ingredients featured here, Torsocould well be considered one of the earliest slasher films. There’s the balaclava-wearing killer who strangles people and then mutilates their body (and always rips open the tops of his female victims for a quick grope before slicing their chest open). I love some of the shots of the killer stalking his victims, especially the chase through the swamp. Sergio Martino has framed the killer perfectly and there’s just the right amount of fog and light to make the scene chilling. Later in the film, he also gives us some P.O.V. shots from the killer which was another innovative idea at the time. The best part about the killer is that you don’t really know who it is until late in the film. There are a few red herrings but unlike recent slashers where you can pick out the culprit from the opening scene, this time you can’t quite put your finger on it.

Unfortunately a lot of the male cast look like each other so trying to distinguish who is who does get a bit difficult. They’ve all got character traits to make you think it’s them: the uncle who cares more about his niece’s long legs than her welfare, the town doctor who bought a red scarf from a market stall, the market vendor who sold him it wanting to blackmail someone, the mute town idiot and the prostitute-smacking weirdo with a penchant for violence. A nice group of chaps there, eh?

The gore isn’t excessive but it does look pretty fake and low budget. You can pinpoint the dummies used (watch the scene where the guy gets crushed by the car and you’ll see the worst mannequin ever going splat against the wall) but for 1973, I’d say it was pretty decent given that gore flicks weren’t all the rage and make-up effects were still crude. The victims are all stuck-up art students so you can guarantee that they look hot, they will do drugs and alcohol and most importantly, they will get naked. Actually judging by the frequency of their clothes being removed, I’d say they were studying for a degree in stripping. These women are incredibly hot and I’d say it one was one of the hottest casts I’ve ever seen, definitely not harmed by the fact they all have amazing bodies. Suzy Kendall is great in the ‘final girl’ role or at least in a prototype of what would become a genre cliché. The final third of the film as she tries to prevent the killer from finding out she’s hiding in the villa is pretty nerve-jangling, especially when she is forced to watch her friends being chopped up or else risk being caught.

There’s also a terrific music score which kicks in when the killer is homing down on his victims. If there’s one thing I’ve always admired about the Italians, it’s that their scores are always excellent and add to the atmosphere. It’s something that a lot of American and British directors should be looking to if they want to improve their films. The cinematography is also superb – quite irrelevant really for a horror film but it does add a lot to the ‘cultural’ feel of the film. It could almost double as a tourist guide to Italy (without the copious naked chicks and the balaclava-wearing killer I might add).

Unfortunately the problem for Torso is that if you’d have seen in back in 1973, you’d have thought it was the most brutal film ever. It would have been unpredictable, scary and genuinely disturbing. But if you watch this after you’ve seen a lot of modern flicks, you’ll just probably get a little bored with it. It can get slow in places and the dubbing isn’t the best. Plus there’s a big problem with these older films getting released on DVD and that’s the sound is never perfect so you get a lot of hissing in the background when the scene is supposed to be quiet. It’s not really a big issue but during some scenes where silence is key, it can put a bit of a damper on it.

 

Torso was a pleasant surprise to me. I wasn’t expecting a lot but I got way more than I bargained for. It’s stylish and tense yet sleazy and cheesy and the ingredients all add up nicely. If you’re looking to get into the giallo genre, then this is a great introduction to it.

 

 ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆