DIRECTED BY:Dario Argento
WRITTEN BY:Jim Agnew, Sean Keller
STARRING:Adrien Brody, Emmanuelle Seigner, Elsa Pataki, Robert Marano
RUNNING TIME:88 mins
REVIEWED BY:Dr Lenera, Offiial HCF critic
In Torino, Italy, a young woman catches a taxi and is kidnapped by the driver and imprisoned in a dark room with other victims, some of whom have been tortured. Soon after a second woman is kidnapped – Celine, an American model en route to meet her sister Linda. The next morning Linda reports that Celine is missing and is directed to FBI Inspector Enzo Avolfi, who is investigating a serial killer who kidnaps foreigners and destroys their beauty. Then a Japanese woman is found mutilated and half dead by a fountain, calling the abductor the Japanese word for ‘yellow’. At last Avolfi has something to go on, though Linda feels he isn’t making enough effort to catch his prey……………
I think that most fans of Dario Argento will admit that his recent output is a considerable notch down from such great movies as Suspiria and The Stendahl Syndrome, and though I know it does have its defenders, I personally thought Mother Of Tears was an embarrassment and an incredibly depressing experience, leaving me trying to solve the mystery of how such a genius could make such utter garbage. Giallo, which had a troubled post-production with Argento being denied final cut and star Adrien Brody ensuring that the film’s release was withheld until he was paid properly, comes with the general opinion that it’s another failure. This Argento fan had to psyche himself up to watch it. Could it really be another disaster? Well, Giallo, though nowhere near a return to the director’s best form, is certainly a step up from The Card Player and Mother Of Tears, and doesn’t quite deserve either the generally bad reviews or the very limited distribution it has received.
Giallo opens with two kidnappings one after the other, and these are well staged and even exhibit a bit of the old Argento in their handling, with some interesting camera shots from on top of the taxi. The first major impression one gets from Giallo though, is that this is Argento’s excursion into the ‘torture porn’ genre. The director keeps hurling us into scenes, some of them very short but with considerable impact, set in the dark room where Yellow keeps his women and mutilates them. These scenes have great intensity, and though some have remarked that the camera cuts away too much from the gore – for instance a tooth removal happens off screen – there is actually a fair bit of nastiness that you do see, including a hammer in the face and an especially bloody finger severing, while the sense of fear is very grim indeed. The ’18 ‘certificate is certainly merited. Unfortunately, the majority of the rest of the film is mostly average, though certainly not painful like Mother Of Tears. The investigation does just about keep you watching, though there’s little actual suspense and no outstanding set pieces, though some flashbacks of Avolfi are very stylishly handled ,with great use of colour [appropriately mostly yellow] and at one point some interesting swaying camera movement. The only especially exciting scene though involves a victim’s escape from her prison, and the climax though is a lame rehash of that of The Cat O’ Nine Tails.
If Giallo does see Argento getting back just a little of his old style and panache, he is hamstrung by other elements including the weak script by Jim Agnew and Sean Keller, which is misjudged in the extreme. They wrote it as a supposedly as a tribute to Argento and sent it to him on the off chance that he may want to film it, but despite its title it isn’t much of an actual giallo at all. Early scenes may point to Avolfi as the killer, but that is soon dispensed with and after that there’s no real mystery except the question, why is Adrien Brody playing both killer and hero? This bizarre decision, seemingly one of several by executive producer Brody, who seemed to overrule Argento on several matters, sounds interesting but ends up leading nowhere. I hoped it may be revealed that Yellow is Avolfi’s brother, or something similar, but no, he’s just a madman played by the same guy who plays the hero, a pointless gimmick.
Likewise, the many flashbacks, showing traumatic events in the past of Avolfi, while as said before very well filmed, seem only to be there because lots of previous Argento films had similar flashbacks. Avolfi having a troubled past, much like Yellow, doesn’t affect the outcome of anything in the film at all. With little action, perhaps we could have gone for a more psychological approach and explored the way that both Avlolfi and Yellow are extremely disturbed, but no. The script throws up interesting elements and does nothing with them. The writers may have been Argento fans, but they don’t seem to have understood his films much at all. Interestingly the end credits do say Argento wrote the script. Did he rewrite it? Why are the original writers not credited? There is a lot of mystery about this film, and I’m sure as time goes by things will be made clearer. Argento has always been a very self-reverential filmmaker and there are the typical echoes of earlier works such as Opera and Deep Red, plus maybe some comments to fans who seem to want him to make the sort of films he used to. No, Dario, we don’t especially want that, we just want you to make film that are good.
Visually Giallo is a cut above many recent Argento pictures, most of which have looked awfully cheap and like TV movies even when they’re not. Here, Federic Fasano’s photography gives the Italian locations a nice lush feel, and while it’s hardly outstanding, it has more style than you might expect. Sadly Adrien Brody, who replaced Vincent Gallo, is really quite weak. As Avolfi he just mumbles with occasional shouting, as Yellow he hams it up so much I found him actually really funny, but I’m sure that was not intended. One thing for sure; he’s certainly not scary [even when he’s masturbating over pictures of his victims]. I cannot understand why Brody botched his performances so much in this movie as he was, at least for a while, heavily invested in it. Emmanuelle Siegner, who replaced Asia Argento, fares a bit better. Marco Werba’s score is far more traditional than the usual Argento movie score, but mostly comes across as Danny Elfman on a tiny budget – honestly, there are times you may almost expect Batman to burst on to the screen and save the day. Overall Giallo passes the time reasonably well, though an Argento film should do a lot more then that so it’s still a failure, albeit one not as awful as many make out. I could be wrong, but I do sense signs of an upward swing in the director, and I reckon Dracula could be something very special indeed!