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6 Blood and Black Lace: The Giallo Film

Ian Olney Indiana University Press ePub

THE GIALLO FILM

Mario Bava’s Blood and Black Lace chronicles in gruesome detail the crimes of a silent, black-clad, white-masked killer, who, armed with an iron claw, stalks and brutally slays half a dozen beautiful female models employed at a fashion salon in Rome. The chain of murders begins in the opening scene, when the first victim, Isabella (Francesca Ungaro), returns to the salon after a night on the town only to be ambushed on the grounds by the anonymous killer, who savagely slashes her face, throws her against a nearby tree, and finally strangles her to death before dragging her body into the bushes. When her mutilated corpse is discovered the following day, the police are contacted and proceed to question her former employers, the suave Massimo Morlachi (Cameron Mitchell) and the attractive, recently widowed Countess Cristiana Como (Eva Bartok), and her former co-workers, few of whom seem genuinely distressed by her horrific death. Although the motive behind Isabella’s murder is at first obscure – the investigating detective, Inspector Silvestri (Thomas Reiner), initially speculates that the person responsible might be a “homicidal sex maniac” driven to kill by “the female beauty” – it soon becomes apparent that she was murdered because of her intimate knowledge of the sordid private lives of her colleagues. When her incriminating diary is discovered and circulated among the models at the salon, the killer begins to eliminate them one by one. As the bodies pile up, the mystery surrounding the identity of the masked murderer grows, frustrating the police and terrifying potential victims.

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Note on Film Titles

Ian Olney Indiana University Press ePub

Most of the Euro horror films discussed in this book have at least two different titles: their original, foreign-language titles and the English ones they were given upon their American theatrical or home video premiere. Many, however, have acquired other titles as they have been released and re-released in different markets over the years. Consider the (admittedly extreme) case of Mario Bava’s 1971 film, Bay of Blood, which has played to audiences around the world under more than a dozen titles, including Reazione a catena, Antefatto – Ecologia del delitto, Bloodbath, The Last House on the Left: Part II, and (my favorite) Twitch of the Death Nerve. To avoid confusion, I have elected to introduce the Euro horror films discussed in this book by their original, foreign-language titles, followed in parentheses by the English titles under which they are most widely known and available in the United States today; all subsequent references use the English titles. Thus the aforementioned Bava film would be introduced as Reazione a catena (Bay of Blood, 1971) and thereafter referred to as Bay of Blood. Readers who look up a Euro horror film in the index will find the foreign-language title there, though they will be directed to the English title for a list of the pages on which the film is discussed.

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7 The Whip and the Body: The S&M Horror Film

Ian Olney Indiana University Press ePub

THE S&M HORROR FILM

Mario Bava’s kinky gothic melodrama La frusta e il corpo (The Whip and the Body, 1963) stars Christopher Lee as Kurt Menliff, a sadistic aristocrat who returns to his family’s ancestral home after a period of banishment to reclaim his patrimony as the eldest son of the ailing Count Menliff (Gustavo De Nardo) and to prevent his younger brother, Christian (Tony Kendall), from marrying Nevenka (Daliah Lavi), Kurt’s former lover. The sudden reappearance of Kurt, who was exiled by the Count years earlier, throws the Menliff household into turmoil. He terrorizes his family from the moment he arrives, badgering his dying father to write him back into his will and tempting Nevenka to resume their violent, sadomasochistic love affair. Kurt’s reign of terror is brought to a shockingly abrupt conclusion when he is murdered one night by an unseen assailant. Each member of the family is a suspect in his murder, since they all had ample motive; questions of guilt and innocence are soon forgotten, though, as strange lights start to appear at night in the windows of the mausoleum where Kurt’s body is interred and Nevenka begins to have visions of a ghostly Kurt entering her chambers to whip her as she lies in bed – visions that are seemingly proven real when muddy boot prints are found on the floor of her room in the morning. Finally, a desperate Christian, believing that his brother has indeed returned from the grave to further torment them, opens Kurt’s coffin and burns the remains he finds there along with the infamous whip. As he is returning to the house, however, he notices a figure dressed in Kurt’s clothes walking ahead of him. Christian confronts this mysterious person, only to find to his astonishment and horror that it is Nevenka. Fleeing from Christian, she locks herself in a cell inside the mausoleum, where she speaks to Kurt as if he were alive, leading Christian and the audience to understand that she murdered Kurt in an outburst of violent passion and then, regretting her act, “absorbed” his personality and began to carry on a double life as “Kurt” and “Nevenka.” As Christian watches helplessly, Nevenka embraces an invisible Kurt and cries, “I love you, Kurt, only you!” before stabbing herself to death with a dagger. In the final moments of the film, the director cuts to a shot of Kurt’s corpse, still burning in the coffin, and – as the film’s lush orchestral score swells – slowly zooms in to a close-up of his whip, which twists like a living thing as it is consumed by the flames.

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4 Playing Dead, Take Two: Euro Horror Film Reception

Ian Olney Indiana University Press ePub

EURO HORROR FILM RECEPTION

Postmodern filmmaking practices provide part of the explanation for the performative spectatorship fostered by Euro horror cinema, but not a full account. For that, we need to consider the uniquely performative ways in which Euro horror movies are now being watched in the United States. To a certain extent, film viewing always involves an element of performativity. In her phenomenological account of the cinematic experience, Vivian Sobchack appropriates Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s description of the “intertwining” or “chiasmus” of subject and object that takes place at the moment of perception in order to argue that watching a movie should be thought of not as an act, but rather as a dialogue that involves the audience and the film as equal participants. Writing that a movie “is as much a viewing subject as it is . . . a visible and viewed object” (51), Sobchack demonstrates that spectatorship is necessarily “a dialogical and dialectical engagement of two viewing subjects who also exist as visible objects” (52). Despite the fact that there are “always two embodied acts of vision at work in the theater, two embodied views constituting the intelligibility and significance of the film experience” (53), though, we often fail to recognize this, missing entirely the “dynamic activity of viewing that is engaged in by both the film and the spectator, each as viewing subjects” (45). Rather than treating the movies we watch as partners in dialogue, we tend to see them as events to which we must play passive witnesses. As a rule, the “returned gaze” (Dixon, It Looks at You 2) of cinema goes unmet.

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5 Return of the Repressed: Euro Horror Cinema in Contemporary American Culture

Ian Olney Indiana University Press ePub

EURO HORROR CINEMA IN CONTEMPORARY AMERICAN CULTURE

As we scan the landscape of mainstream cinema in the United States today, it becomes easier to understand why Euro horror movies like The House by the Cemetery and Troll 2 currently hold such allure. For all its commitment to crowd-pleasing spectacle, contemporary Hollywood cinema simply does not offer audiences the same opportunities for performative spectatorship that Euro horror does. Bland, safe, and boring – despite their emphasis on nonstop action, celebrity actors, and flashy special effects – Hollywood films lack the postmodern qualities that afford Euro horror fans the chance to try out different points of view and play with a range of often transgressive subject positions. Moreover, rather than presenting itself as a partner in dialogue and prompting the viewer’s active participation in a conversation, the dominant cinema is largely invested in masking its gaze and colonizing ours. It denies the intersubjectivity that defines the cinematic experience by presenting itself simply as a vehicle for our entertainment and encouraging us to just go along for the ride. In short, it is a form of disposable entertainment intended to be consumed and quickly forgotten, a roller-coaster ride designed to thrill audiences without asking them to think too much or feel too deeply.

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