Hot on the heels of Mark Alfrey’s stunning volume on the works of 1970's/80's Italian pulp artist Emanuele Taglietti, Sex and Horror (Korero Press, 2015), comes another terrific book devoted to a unique Italian sub-genre of lurid pop entertainment. Authored by Troy Howarth (The Haunted World of Mario Bava and the upcoming Lucio Fulci book Splintered Visions), So Deadly, So Perverse is the first in a planned three-volume examination of the Italian giallo film, that distinct brand of thriller that was usually violent, often lurid and sexually perverse, yet just as often beautifully surreal and hypnotically sexy, powered along by dark themes, pop-mod interior designs, creative camera work and evocative soundtracks that generated both mood and groove, and more than a fair share of dread.
Volume One of So Deadly, So Perverse covers the first significant decade of the giallo, the years 1963 - 1973. After an introduction by prolific screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi (Death Walks On High Heels, Torso), film writer Roberto Curti provides a encapsulated history of the giallo paperbacks and pulp magazines, and their transition from cheap yellow ('giallo') paper to electric shadows. Origins and early examples of giallo cinema are looked at, as well as films that almost-but-not-quite fit the genre, before the book settles down into its meat and potatoes: a massive reviews section, comprising nearly 200 of the book’s 234 pages, in which Howarth chronologically covers many of giallo titles released during this period, starting appropriately with Mario Bava’s The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1963) and taking us through to the 1973 Italian/Spanish/French co-production, Special Killers. In between, of course, are some of the best giallos ever made, including Bava’s Blood and Black Lace, Giulio Questi’s Death Laid an Egg (1968), Dario Argento’s early Cat O’Nine Tails, Lucio Fulci’s uniquely disturbing Don’t Torture a Duckling (1972) and Sergio Martino’s Torso (1973). These titles are just the tip of the stiletto knife, however, and Howarth covers a lot of the more obscure titles, many of which I had not heard of, but have certainly had my interest aroused in after reading about them.
As a reviewer, Howarth doesn’t spend a lot of time breaking down plot, which I really like. A single paragraph synopsis is provided for each film, after which the author gets down to discussing and critiquing the film, its performances and filmmaking merits, and its overall effectiveness as a giallo. Howarth clearly loves and respects these films, but is still able to approach them with a fair critical eye, pointing out a film’s faults without a sneer or condescension.
Published by Midnight Marquee Press, So Deadly, So Perverse has a simple but clean interior layout design, and its pages a filled with many eye-popping illustrations, most of them reproduced in color and featuring beautiful poster art, ad mats and rare stills. The striking cover art was designed by Tim Paxton, editor of Monster!, who really captures that lurid, eye-catching feel of not only the giallo poster art, but the original paperbacks as well.
My only real complaint about the book is that the index only provides the year of production next to each title, and not what page in the book the film is reviewed on. It makes it a tiny bit frustrating having to flip back and forth through the book trying to find a specific title. Fortunately, I believe that page indexes will be included in future volumes. But that is a small gripe in a book which is an essential read for anyone interested in its subject. It provides a near-perfect balance between being a useful reference work for the more knowledgeable giallo fans, and an excellent road map for the more casual viewer who wants to delve a little bit deeper.
I’m already looking forward to Volume Two, which will cover the years 1974 - 2003, while Volume Three will be devoted to giallo-styled films produced outside of Italy.