Primary Killer

I wrote bits of a new piece at The Chiseler. Here. It’s kind of about gialli.

I guarantee you won’t be able to tell which bits are mine and I probably couldn’t either. Daniel Riccuito, the presiding intelligence, tends to ask me to write bridging material and I just blurt something out with the keyboard. A very enjoyable way of working. Anyway, it may become part of a longer thing about Edgar Allan Poe and the cinema. A book? Publishers are welcome to come and ask about it.

20 Responses to “Primary Killer”

  1. David Ehrenstein Says:

    Marvelous article. I well recall seeing “Blood and Black Lace” when it came out in 1965. What impressed me then was the curious level of suspense Bava created. We knew women were going to be killed but precisely how and when was an open question. As for “macho” I’m not so sure about that. The murderer is barely glimpsed. All the emphasis is on the victim. Bava’s most important contribution to the genre is “The Whip and the Body” in which the luscious Dahlia Lavi is whipped by the ghost of her dead lover Christopher Lee.

    Argento took this up in his masterpiece “Suspiria” and Brian De Palma “Americanized” it his films — most successfully “Dressed to Kill.” But to get at the genre’s roots one much go all the way back to 1933 and James Whales’ “The Kiss Before the Mirror” — which is newly out on Blu-Ray. This is all about women becoming so beautiful that their husbands are driven to murder them. Gloria Stuart is dispatched with the panache tat was Whale’s stock-in-trade. In fact as time goes on I find myself examining his work more and more closely. “Bride of Frankenstein” may be his most well-regarded and well-remembered work (and for good reason) but it’s just the tip of the iceberg.

  2. It’s a very Mishima idea, the beauty that cries out to be destroyed. Also present in Poe, which is where we see a direct link to gialli.

    I know you love The Great Garrick. Have you seen The Impatient Maiden?

  3. chris schneider Says:

    I was just reading a review of a new, cleaned-up edition of Harald Reinl’s DIE SCHLAGENGRUBE UND DAS PENDEL (1967) — sometimes given the endearingly tacky title THE TORTURE CHAMBER OF DR SADISM — and that sounds like it would fit into your “terror in houses with big knockers” category. Poe influence plus color experiments plus Christopher Lee.

    You mention westerns in passing. It strikes me that young Tomas Milian had an almost Barbara Steele-like capacity for undergoing excruciation. See Petroni’s TEPAPA (1969) and Sollima’s RUN, MAN, RUN (1968) and Questi’s DJANGO KILL (1967) — not to mention Fulci’s period drama BEATRICE CENCI (1969). Although, of course, the western circumstances are not conducive to the sort of wardrobe in which one sees female suffering wrapped in gialli…

    What was the old Paul Lynde exchange? “”Why do cowboys [originally “Hell’s Angels”] wear leather?” “Because chiffon wrinkles so easily.”

  4. Eastwood suffers spectacular Calvaries in Fistful and TGTBATUgly, so I think there’s a sadomasochistic thing about male torture in the spaghetti western. One of Bava’s few oaters, Roy Colt and Winchester Jack, is about two cowboys who love each other and express it in epic punch-ups with one another. You can recognise the subtext easily: it’s the one on top.

  5. The Reinl film rips off too much from Corman’s Pit&Pendulum, but it’s quite enjoyable. He did fun krimi and fun Mabuse sequels.

  6. David Ehrenstein Says:

    “Impatient Maiden” is a Whale I have yet to see. Looking forward. “The Great Garrick” with its elaborate camera movements and Riviete-avant-la-letter scenario is my favorite.

  7. IM is where he starts to flex his muscles with the camera, a lot of tracking through walls, which he would carry on doing. A perfect signature for him because it’s cinematic yet theatrical, it exposes the artifice with a dazzling smile — as in Ophuls.

  8. David Ehrenstein Says:

    Whale’s track shots sometimes Out-Ophuls Ophuls. There’s a marvelous sequence in “The Great Garrick’ where the actors make a commotion outside the door to his room at the inn where the action in principally set. He doesn’t respond and so one of them pushed the door and as it opens the camera movie sin, swiftly tracks across the room, re-focusses and goes up to the window where it refocuses again to take in the garden outside the inn (which is itself a set) where we see Bran Aherne chasing Olivia De Haviland across a small hill, laughing as she waves a long chiffon scarf in the air, Sublime!

    Back to “Giallo” with Whale as a precursor in “The Old Dark House.” Having come in from the rain soaking wet Gloria Stuart changes into a white evening gown. She asked him why she’d wear that and he said “When Boris chases you through the rooms I want you to appear like a white flame !” And so she does , creating a visual spectacle frequently reproduced in Bava ad Argento.

  9. Sudarshan Ramani Says:

    Giallo I think drew on a host of influences. In addition to Whale, there’s also Franju’s Les yeux sans visage, Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom (which was far more valued in Europe in the ’60s by Polanski, by Melville, by Argento than in the UK), Hitchcock of course. I’d also make a case for the Tourneur-Lewton films.

    I think what is most of interest in giallo is the abstraction — Suspiria of course, but also Inferno (which I saw again recently and it literally makes no sense as a story but it’s kind of dazzling).

  10. Thanks man. I dig “presiding intelligence”… Oh, I’ve got the Poe and cinema introduction to this imaginary book of ours looking good. Two chapters also on the way! Fun revisiting Poe, especially the letters — oddly, he’s the common thread running through most of our co-writing projects, and I never knew it.

  11. David Ehrenstein Says:

    Here’s Impatient Maiden Wish the print were btter but it’s plain what Whale was up to — romance with a cynical undertone. Lots of “look Ma No Walls” tracking, a surprisingly slimAndy Devine and Lew Ayres as pretty as ever.

  12. David Ehrenstein Says:

    Polanski’s “Repulsion” is a “Giallo” turned inside out with the traditional female victim in the role of the killer. There are also “Giallo” aspects to “Rosemary’s baby” (with its Argentoesque finale) and “The Tenant” — with Roman donning drag to become a female victim.

  13. Tony Williams Says:

    David E. Thanks for these references especially THE KISS BEFORE THE MIRROR that I watched yesterday. Whale certainly did interesting things outside Frankenstein. I will watch “Impatient Maiden” soon. The image of prancing Walter Pigeon says it all!

  14. A large and lovely chunk of the essay passed through the capable hands of Richard Chetwynd, whose poetry is well worth checking out. Richard gets a credit, since his editing (it’s so much more than that) grants extraordinary dovetailing from writer to writer… to writer. Btw, Mr. Cairns has been a bit too modest and provided far more than bridgework, but again, Richard’s edit has a way of making the character of everyone’s writing seem unfamiliar to the writer. He’s our fourth voice. Hey, Ehrenstein. Call Barbara!

  15. Disclaimer: Mr. Cairns need not accept responsibility for what are, quite strictly, my own criticisms of Barbara Steele’s acting. This was a LONG essay of 10,000 words, which I gradually jig-sawed, trimmed, collaged, etc. — the (collective) attempt here is to concretize “presence”… Tom Sutpen and Keith Sanborn loom huge.

  16. David Ehrenstein Says:

    Very nice tribute to La Steele, Daniel. Like all great stars Barbara Steele begins with herself. The minute she got away from Rank she created an image that directors as different as Fellini, Volker Schlondorf, and Louis Malle — not to mention Bava, Freda, Joe Dante — could feast on. She knew Donald Cammell personally but never got to work with him — which is a shame.

  17. Daniel Riccuito Says:

    Thanks, David E. Being less personally involved with Barbara helps with critIcal distance. She is going to be all over the Poe book David C and I are working on.

  18. David Ehrenstein Says:

    Ah yes, “The Divine Edgar”

  19. I have another Barbara project in the works, currently stalled, but hopefully moving ahead soon…

  20. Tony Williams Says:

    Yes, IMPATIENT MAIDEN with its beginning at the old Angel’s funicular railway seen in KISS ME DEADLY and Losey’s M with lots of Depression references such as Andy Devine’s straitjacket being necessary for all those crazy people affected by the Depression. Another gem from David E.

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