10 - Liz and Helen aka Double Face (Riccardo Freda, 1969)
There'll be a few somewhat controversial choices/borderline cases on this list and this is the first. Apparently, it's also derived in part from the German 'krimi' (though I can't comment on that as I'm currently unfamiliar with them), but it contains more than enough typical giallo elements and imagery to qualify (black gloves, lesbians, hippies and a delightfully casual attitude to sex with strangers, to name a few). Like some other early gialli it also riffs on Hitchcock (in this case with Vertigo), which is always going to earn you extra points with us film nerds... Brian De Palma, I'm looking right at ya! Finally, there's a few wonderfully bad effects in this movie; exploding toy model cars and a rear-projection tobogganing scene are two cases in point. This seemingly carefree approach to artifice is something I noticed when I first watched Freda's Murder Obsession last week... and come to think of it, that movie will probably leap into this list when I revisit it; my initial viewing was very late at night so recollections are somewhat hazy...
9 - Phantom of Death aka An Uncommon Crime aka Off Balance (Ruggero Deodato, 1988)
A much more atypical example of the sub-genre, Deodato's film is also very late to the proverbial party, being released years after the the giallo fever that gripped Italy from the early to mid seventies had subsided. In many ways, I'd be reluctant to call this movie a giallo at all, but seeing as plenty of people have referred to it as one, and I also have quite a big soft spot for it, onto the list it goes. It's occurred to me just now that it certainly shares some specific qualities with many of the more traditional gialli I've seen; a strange, yet intoxicating blend of psycho-sexual madness, infused with a haunting melancholy... oh, and a few good ole' WTF moments thrown in for seasoning... oh, and Edwige Fenech, of course. Donald Pleasence seems a bit elsewhere for most of the movie but gets in at least one awesome scenery shredding scene before the credits roll, and Michael York pretty much carries the film with a compelling, highly affecting performance.
8 - The Cat o' Nine Tails (Dario Argento, 1971)
Being the most underrated of Argento's 'Animal Trilogy', I first approached this one with a certain amount of trepidation; but as is often the case with these things, my somewhat lowered expectations probably helped me to enjoy the film much more (and on its own merits) than I would have if I was expecting something the same as The Bird with the Crystal Plumage. Speaking of Bird... I'm still warming to it, but I enjoy it more every time I re-watch it, where as I was completely sold on Cat with the first viewing. I suppose with the former I experienced the polar opposite of the 'misplaced expectations' phenomenon... that is, it's formidable reputation was always going to be hard to live up to (though don't get me wrong, I still enjoyed it first time round... just didn't love it). This is also something of an atypical giallo, but only in the sense that two of it's principal protagonists are an aging blind man (Karl Malden) and his prepubescent niece (Cinzia De Carolis, who would go on to appear in Giorgio Ferroni's stunning Night of the Devils the following year). James Franciscus plays the other likeable (yet more conventional) lead in the film, and he gets some great scenes, the one with the barber being the standout; it's as delicious a slice of blackly comic, dramatic irony as I've ever tasted.
7 - Torso (Sergio Martino, 1973) and The New York Ripper (Lucio Fulci, 1982) - tie
Yup, this is my list so I can cheat if I want to, so there! Seriously though, I found it impossible to pick between these two... but, they're arguably pretty similar in tone (luridness dial rolled up pretty damn high on both... maybe up to eleven in Fulci's flick) so it makes sense for me to pair them together. Furthermore, as I initially encountered them back to back (as detailed here) and watched them again as a double feature during last week's giallo-thon (write up coming soon), they'll forever be sister films in my mind. If I really had to pick, then I'd say that New York Ripper probably wins out very slightly, but I've seen Torso considerably less times, so this could well change. Finally, as these movies are (in varying ways) closer to the American slasher movie than most gialli, they both make for ideal gateway movies for the uninitiated... though I'd probably advise starting with Torso, which is what I did the first time round.
6 - Deep Red/Profondo rosso aka The Hatchet Murders (Dario Argento, 1975)
As with Bird with the Crystal Plumage, this is another seminal giallo that I've been gradually warming to, and also one that gets richer and more satisfying with every viewing. There's really not a lot I can say about this movie that hasn't been regurgitated to the point of cliche, but I suppose what I could say quite happily is that if someone unfamiliar with gialli was told that they can only ever watch one (before they get fired out of a canon or whatever), then I would strongly advise them to choose Deep Red... for sheer bang for your buck (and running time alone), said hypothetical person really couldn't do better.
5 - A Lizard in a Woman's Skin aka Schizoid (Lucio Fulci, 1971)
This used to be my favourite Fulci giallo, and depending when you next ask me, it could well reclaim this title. I'd say that this is another good gateway movie for the uninitiated, but definitely not for the squeamish or easily freaked out (though I think we can probably say that about gialli in general). Containing perhaps the most labyrinthine plot of any film on this list, Lizard is not particularly one that I go to for its narrative (again, I can probably say this of gialli - and Italian horror - in general). However, for a heady blend of erotic and often nightmarish imagery, I've yet to see a giallo that surpasses it.
4 - Don't Torture a Duckling (Lucio Fulci, 1972)
Though I prefer his later gothic, apocalyptic films, this is arguably Fulci's masterpiece; it's certainly the most affecting of the ones I've currently seen by him. A rich, fascinating story concerning child murders, the potentially corrupting power of religion and the dangers of vigilante 'justice', this is also surprisingly entertaining, considering how sad and harrowing it is at times. Everything in this movie is pretty much pitch perfect, but Florinda Bolkan (from Lizard and Luigi Bazzoni's underrated, unique giallo Footprints, which very nearly made this list) practically steals the film as the Gypsy witch La Magiara. I really don't want to say any more, to avoid the risk of spoiling anything for those unfamiliar. All I'll say is this... it contains a piece of music that's haunting my brain as we speak and will probably refuse to leave for days now... if you've seen the movie, you know exactly what I'm talking about.
3 - Suspiria and Inferno (Dario Argento, 1977 and 1980) - tie
I should probably issue another slight 'controversy alert' here, but as plenty of lip service has already been paid to the notion that these two sister films are gialli, such a disclaimer is no doubt unnecessary. In fact, they arguably form the zenith of that sub-sub genre known as the 'supernatural giallo', or what Kim Newman (I think) refers to as the 'giallo-fantastico'. Now really I should probably have thought of doing a separate list of such titles (Phenomena and Fulci's The Black Cat are two that are currently springing to mind), but frankly it's a bit late for that (oops!) and furthermore, I don't think I've seen enough of em to collate such a top ten yet; I'll no doubt put one together when the time is right though and revise this list accordingly. Again, I find it nigh on impossible to pick an actual favourite here; Suspiria was the gateway drug (as I explained in my first ever blog post here), so will always be hard to beat, but currently Inferno has the slight edge for some reason (it actually having a decent Blu-Ray release no doubt plays a big part). Sure, neither is exactly perfect (I know story is pretty much irrelevant here but I do have slight problems with the pacing of both movies) but for sheer transporting, otherworldly power they remain almost unsurpassed.
2 - The House with Laughing Windows (Pupi Avati, 1976)
1 - Four Flies on Grey Velvet (Dario Argento, 1971)
Anyone who's read this previous post will no doubt have seen this coming, but for sheer re-watchability alone, this is still my number one giallo. As I've discussed the film in detail before, I'll try and be as brief as possible, as I'll no doubt end up repeating myself. I think what really makes this one so endlessly entertaining to me is its sense of sheer, sustained eccentricity. After watching a few gialli, you come to expect (hell, even demand) a mix of the sometimes wacky, occasionally implausible and often downright freaky, and this movie has generous helpings of all three. There's kooky characters galore, a dash of pseudo-science, sprinklings of psycho-sexual trauma and dreamlike imagery, and to top it all off, a thick, tasty coating of technical show-off-ery from the mad maestro himself, Signor Argento (with due respect to everyone else of course, and especially Ennio Morricone). And the ending (even though I'm not exactly sold on the revelation/motivations of the killer) is perhaps the single most sublime scene that I've so far encountered on my travels through Italian genre cinema.