So, I finally saw the infamous (and, in many countries, banned) 1979 film, Giallo in Venice.
Back when I first decided to learn about the history of Italian horror, Giallo in Venice was a title that I frequently came across in the course of my research. Everyone — and I do mean everyone — seemed to agree on three points: 1) it was one of the most graphic and mean-spirited Italian thrillers of all time, 2) it had never been released on DVD or Blu-ray in the United States and, as such, it was not the easiest film to see, and 3) the film was really, really bad.
Now, I have to admit that I probably wouldn’t have had any desire to see Giallo in Venice if not for the fact that I repeatedly read that it would be next to impossible for me to do so. I hate being told what I can and cannot do. Don’t get me wrong. Everything that I read about Giallo in Venice was overwhelmingly negative. Critics, some of whom I actually respected, were nearly unanimous in their dismissal of the film. Unlike my hope that I’ll someday see fully restored versions of Greed and London After Midnight, seeing Giallo in Venice was never a number one priority for me. Instead, it was just something that I kept in the back of my mind. If I ever had a chance to watch Giallo in Venice, I told myself, I would just so I could say that I had seen it.
Last week,I got that chance. I discovered that Giallo in Venice had not only been uploaded on YouTube but it was also the uncut version. (I’m not going to include a link because of the film’s graphic content. I don’t want to get either this site or the people who uploaded the video in trouble. If you go to YouTube and search for “Giallo in Venice,” it should be one of the first videos to come up.) The only problem was that, along with being copied from a faded VHS tape, it was the Russian language version. Basically, whenever any of the film’s characters spoke, you would first hear the line in the original Italian and then a rather angry man would shout the same the line in Russian. Unfortunately, I know very little Italian and absolutely no Russian.
Needless to say, this led to a rather odd viewing experience. If Giallo in Venice had been directed by a visual stylist like Lucio Fulci, Dario Argento, Mario Bava, or even Ruggero Deodato, it might not have been a problem. Those four directors are all rightly renowned for their ability to create mood and atmosphere. (And, for that matter, the best giallo films are often more concerned with visuals than dialogue.) Unfortunately, Giallo in Venice was directed by Mario Landi, an veteran television director whose style can best be described as “turn on the camera at the start of the scene, turn it off at the end.”
(Landi also directed Patrick Still Lives, which is a smidgen more interesting than Giallo in Venice.)
As for the film’s plot — well, it’s hard for me to say for sure. Not to overemphasize this point but, quite literally, I COULD NOT UNDERSTAND A WORD THAT ANYONE WAS SAYING.
The film opens in Venice, with a man being stabbed to death while a woman drowns in a canal. Inspector De Paul (Jeff Blynn) is assigned to solve the murders. He has poofy hair that wouldn’t be out of place in a stage production of Boogie Nights and, for some reason, Inspector De Paul is constantly eating hard-boiled eggs. In just about every scene in which he appears, he is eating an egg. Though it was hard to judge his overall performance (though the Russian seemed to enjoy repeating De Paul’s dialogue), Jeff Blynn really got into eating those eggs. It got rather sickening to watch after a while. As far as I could tell, De Paul’s investigation amounted to talking to one witness and then talking to the dead woman’s roommate.
The roommate, incidentally, is played by Mariangela Giordano, who also appeared in Patrick Still Lives, Burial Ground, and Michele Soavi’s The Sect. Any fan of Italian horror will not only recognize Giordano but will also immediately know that her Giallo in Venice character is destined meet an unlucky end. Patrick Still Lives, Burial Ground, and Giallo in Venice were all produced by Giordano’s then-boyfriend and, in all three films, she played a character who was graphically and gruesomely killed onscreen. In Patrick Still Lives, she was skewered by a fireplace poker. In Burial Ground, she made the mistake of trying to breastfeed her zombiefied son. And in Giallo in Venice, one of her legs is slowly sawed off. Seriously, if my boyfriend insisted that I suffer a terrible death in every film that he produced, it would probably be an issue. Just saying.
Anyway, while Inspector De Paul is investigating the murder, this young couple keeps popping up. They’re young, rich, and fifty shades of fucked up. Fabio (Gianni Dei) has apparently been rendered impotent by all the cocaine that he’s been snorting and the only way he can get off is by forcing Flavia (Leonara Favi) to play out all of his kinky fantasies. I found myself wondering why the film kept switching back and forth, between the not-quite-loving couple and the murder investigation. Was Fabio the murderer? Then, suddenly, I realized that Fabio and Flavia were the same couple who were murdered at the start of the film. The Fabio and Flavia scenes were flashbacks. I’m assuming that my confusion was due to the Russian dialogue but it says something about Landi’s visual style that it was impossible to tell, just from watching, that the Flavia/Fabio scenes were meant to be flashbacks.
(As far as I can — and again, dialogue problems — the flashbacks weren’t triggered by anyone saying, “I remember one time…” or anything like that. Add to that, most of the flashbacks only featured Fabio and Flavia so, logically, there’s no way anyone could have been telling Inspector De Paul what happened. Instead, the flashbacks just felt like random scenes that were sprinkled in between the violence and the eating.)
Giallo in Venice is a mix of egg eating, sex, and sadism. The graphic murders are probably what Giallo in Venice is best known for, though I have to admit that I found the constant egg eating to be almost as disgusting. As for the film’s gore, it was just as graphic and extreme as I had previously read. But, with the exception of what happens to poor Mariangela Giordano, the violence has no impact on the viewer. Since Landi directs with no discernible style, there’s nothing behind the murders beyond the fact that, when you title a movie Giallo in Venice, you’re obligated to include a few deaths. It’s violence for the sake of violence and therefore, rather boring. Admittedly, I’m sure it was rather shocking in 1979 but, today, audiences are more used to that sort of thing. After all, everyone’s seen that tutorial on how to be a zombie for Halloween.
While watching Giallo in Venice, it was hard not to compare it to Lucio Fulci’s The New York Ripper. Both films are deeply unpleasant but, due to Fulci’s energetic and, at times, subversive direction, there’s at least always something going on underneath the blood-drenched surface of The New York Ripper. You can debate whether or not he succeeded but it can’t be denied that Fulci was going for something more than just sadism when he made The New York Ripper. (If you doubt me, read Stephen Thrower’s analysis in Beyond Terror: The Films of Lucio Fulci.) Landi’s style, in Giallo in Venice, is so flat that there’s not only nothing going on underneath but the surface itself seems to be pretty barren too.
To give credit where credit is due, I did appreciate just how ugly Landi managed to make Venice look. I’ve been to Venice and I absolutely love it. I would never believe that a director could make Venice look like a dump but Mario Landi managed to do it. I don’t know if that was intentional on his part but it actually worked for the film. Since all of the characters actually lived in Venice, it made sense that they wouldn’t be standing around and admiring the city’s natural beauty. Instead, they all live and operate in the parts of Venice that tourists don’t see.
Finally, Landi did manage to get one interesting shot, when the reflection of one of the victims is seen in the killer’s sunglasses. Unfortunately, Landi was so impressed by that shot that he kept using it over and over again until, eventually, it became far less interesting.
One final note: Giallo in Venice had a very odd score. It sounded like it was being played by a cocktail lounge jazz quartet. The music, itself, was actually rather boring but it was so totally out-of-place that it became oddly charming. I found myself craving a drink with a little umbrella in it.
Anyway, that’s Giallo in Venice. It’s not good, it’s not memorable, but at least I can now say that I’ve seen it.