Thursday, October 11, 2012

Giallo

31 Days of Horror, Day 10
One of the reasons I spend all October reviewing horror movies is because I need to focus if I'm going to find good horror flicks that I've never seen.  When the mood strikes me to watch a horror movie during the rest of the year, my natural instinct is to find something godawful and laugh through it.  October is different.  I try to watch famous movies or styles that I wouldn't ordinarily check out.  This year, I realized that I had never seen a Dario Argento film.  That's kind of weird, right?  Well, I thought it was high time to put that wrong right, and I took up Netflix's suggestion to watch Giallo.

Giallo begins, like so many horror films, with a woman being victimized.  After partying in a club, an international model decides that she should walk back to her hotel.  All alone.  At night.  In a large city.  In a country where she doesn't speak the language.  Because international models wander off alone after a night of partying all the damn time.  Thankfully, this obvious rape setup is just a bit of misdirection.  When she feels threatened, the model hails a cab.  Unfortunately, the cabbie happens to be a serial killer who likes to torture, disfigure and kill beautiful people.  Whoops.  The next night, Celine (Elsa Patakay), another model, falls for the same trick as she left work to meet up with her sister, Linda (Emmanuelle Seigner).  The next morning, Linda tries to report Celine's tardiness to the police, but is rebuffed because you have to wait X amount of hours to qualify as a missing persons case.  The police also won't help her because they're fairly certain that Celine was just out late, getting her booster shot of Vitamin Bone.
Yeah, that's the reaction I gave myself after I typed it.  But then I high-fived myself.  I'm a contradiction.
The local cops decide to cut Linda a break and introduce her to Inspector Enzo Avolfi (Adrien Brody).  Enzo is the kind of detective that is so bad-ass that he gets a most of the police department's basement to himself; he doesn't have a partner, because he "doesn't exactly do things by the book"; he is apparently given free reign to solve whatever cases tickle his fancy; and he is apparently all the manpower needed to track down a serial killer, because he's the only one working this series of disappearances and murders.
"I'm so relieved that my survival is dependent on just one man!"
When Linda explains the situation to Enzo, she mentions that they were on the phone when Celine got in a cab and they lost the connection.  Enzo, being a sensible rogue cop, realizes that this fits his killer's MO.  So what does he do?  Tell Linda that he's on the case, pat her on the head, and point her out the door?  No.  He tells Linda --- that's Linda, the civilian, mind you --- that Celine has probably been kidnapped by a psycho killer who is going to be torturing her for the next few days, leading up to murder. 
"She'll probably look like this when it's over, but with less...face."
In what sort of world does a police officer tell anyone outside of the police about the inner workings of a case?  The sort of world where the same police officer takes that same civilian and lets her be his partner for the rest of the movie.  What.  The.  Hell.  Is this a Batman movie?  Is she going to be named Robin by the end of this?  Because that's probably what this movie needs; to get past the stupid, it's going to need a whole lot of ridiculousness.
Okay, that's a good start.  What's next?

The acting in Giallo is pretty inconsistent.  Adrien Brody plays both the detective and the killer (he's credited as Byron Deidra, which is an anagram of his name).  As the detective, Brody was pretty good, although his character was very cliched and spoke exclusively in movie-tough-guy-ese.  As the killer, he was pretty terrible.  The character was awful, sure, but it wasn't helped by the fact that Brody went cartoony to play the part.  And while his bad guy makeup and costume were just plain bad, I will admit that I didn't realize Body was playing both parts; I did, however, wonder how someone so terrible could have gotten the main villain part.
Adrien Brody, as the older brother from The Goonies
Emmanuelle Seigner is not very impressive here, either.  Again, a large part of that is thanks to her character being ridiculous, but Seigner is also guilty of practically sleepwalking through this film.  Elsa Patakay was better, but that's because she was a victim and was forced to show at least one emotion while on camera.
ACTING!

Okay, so I wasn't impressed by the acting in Giallo.  Perhaps the direction of horror master Dario Argento helped balance that a little?  I'll remove the suspense of that statement; Argento's direction does not help this movie.  I was disappointed that my first experience with Dario Argento had to be such a bland and uninteresting effort.  This is a poorly-paced movie for a horror/thriller.  There are only a few kills in the entire film, and most of the gore comes from photos of previous murders.  The editing is also noticeably bad.  There is no way for the audience to know how much times has passed between scenes, and that quickly becomes a problem.  We also can't tell how many people the killer has murdered; Enzo claims only four or five, but the killer has also been at large for several months --- and yet, the killer appears to be picking up girls every few days in this movie.  Perhaps the biggest problem with Giallo is the portrayal of the killer.  Never mind the back story and jaundiced skin, I just want to point out the makeup. It looks like someone used papier-mâché instead of makeup on Adrien Brody. 
I've seen more frightening Scooby-Doo villains.  He looks like a rejected member of an all-zombie E-Street Band.  An experienced director should be able to realize how awful this main villain is, which is why this movie is so disappointing.  I've seen some reviews that mention Argento has disowned Giallo because the producers re-cut it behind his back, but I seriously doubt anyone could drastically improve this film, regardless of the cut.
"Maybe I should have kept suing to keep this movie from ever releasing..."

There is very little gore, a low body count, a laughable villain, and poor editing in Giallo.  Is it bad enough to be good, at least?  Well, if you watch this movie, you will be laughing at it, but not enough to justify investing your time in it.  Yes, the killer is incomprehensibly weird.  Yes, he photographs his victims, uploads the images on his computer, uses a magnifying glass to enlarge the pictures (um, there's a zooming tool on your computer, dude), and masturbates, all while sucking on a pacifier.  Yes, Adrien Brody is awfully jowl-ly (jowl-ful?) as the killer. And yes, the back story explaining how Enzo became a cop is one of the dumbest you will encounter.  But that doesn't make this consistently fun to laugh at.  There are little things here and there that inspire snickers, like the nightclub that apparently specialized in 120-watt lighting or the cabbie who does the world's worst job of trailing a car, but they're not really funny; they are just signs of sloppiness. 

Even when I felt inclined to be charitable towards Giallo, it bent over backwards to do something irritating.  In the last act of the movie, there is a goofy-ass twist that was made even sillier by Seigner's wooden performance.  It boils down to this (SPOILER ALERT: you should not watch this movie): the killer dies before anyone can find Celine, so Linda blames Enzo for her sister's death.  Then cut to a parking garage, where the killer has stashed a bound and gagged Celine in the back of a hatchback --- so anyone walking by could see the body in the back --- and there appears to be a ton of blood pooling beneath the car.  A security guard notices the blood pool and hears Celine's grunts and --- cut to end credits. 
"...aaand CUT!  Should we roll credits here, or before the story can finish?"
So the hero and the sister don't know where the victim is, or if she's alive when the movie ends.  And the movie ends with these two partners being mad at each other.  And the ending is obviously not supposed to be a downer ending, because we don't find Celine in a remote location where she will starve to death, never to be found --- she is literally seconds away from being found by a security guard when the movie throws in the towel!  If you're going to quit so easily, Giallo, you should have done it an hour-plus earlier.

In case you were wondering what "Giallo" means, it's Italian for "yellow."  It is also used to describe the pulp books and movies made in Italy in the 60s and 70s that focused on crime and exploitative horror, which often used yellow covers to stand out.  Dario Argento is best known for his giallo movies.  Not this one, certainly, but others.  Oh, and "Giallo" also refers to the killer's jaundiced skin.  What a dumb movie.

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