As prelude to what will hopefully be a massive ten-part series by Cinemart on the infamous giallo subgenre, here’s a taster with Mario Bava’s The Girl Who Knew Too Much (La ragazza che sapeva troppo, 1962) also known as The Evil Eye and released by American International Pictures for the US market where they also re-edited and re-scored the film. I much prefer the Hitchcock-riffing Italian original, but that’s just personal taste.
If you know anything about horror cinema then you’ll know Bava is both a genius cinematographer and director of some truly freakish movies. He might have worked in a genre ill-treated by high brow critics but his influence can be felt to this day. What is Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow but a Bava tribute dressed up in Hollywood clothing? Even his ultra low budget Planet of the Vampires (1965) would go on to influence Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979). Bay of Blood (also known as Bloodbath, Twitch of the Death Nerve) is so direct an inspiration for Friday the 13th (1980) it’s practically plagiarism.
Before directing pictures Bava was a cinematographer with a hand in landmark (if hardly classic) Italian genre movies involving science fiction and horror. As a director, he delivered lurid atmospheres, bone-chilling moments and iconic scenes. Italian cinema would be late to certain genres but certainly made up for that. In the late 1930s, Bava also worked with Roberto Rosselini on several short films.
Bava, if he wasn’t brilliant enough already, also helped kick-start the legendary ‘giallo’ subgenre which became a boom after Dario Argento’s The Bird with the Crystal Plumage essentially consolidated genre tropes and introduced often imitated new ones. The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1963) is historically important. Although Argento would be dubbed ‘The Italian Hitchcock’ those in know would argue it’s Bava who perhaps deserved the moniker – if need be.
First things first, though. What is giallo and gialli? Here’s a brief answer: giallo – which means ‘yellow’ – was named after book covers published by Mondadori publishing in the 1930s. These mystery novels were published with distinctive yellow covers. The use of colour schemes also went with middle class dramas known as white telephone movies and some neo-realist films where called pink neo-realism. Italians like their genres colour-coded.
Bava’s 1963 film was meant to be a parody/fun homage of the thriller genre but in fact developed its own iconography and plot strands which would be used later in the development of the giallo brand. The title, of course, refers to Alfred Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934 & 1956). The US re-edit heightened the comic aspects of the film but the original Italian, with its moody cinematography – it’s most acknowledged and respected feature – makes it less a goofy flick. Interestingly, Bava never rated the picture despite its historical significance.
Bava has often been noted for his use of dreamlike atmosphere and in The Girl Who Knew Too Much, he presents the idea that what the heroine saw – a murder – is the product of an over-active imagination. The girl, played by Leticia Roman, is thrust into a mystery involving the Alphabet Killer on visit to her aunt in Rome. Again this use of a foreigner stumbling into a murder-mystery would be a notable element of giallo re-worked by Dario Argento in his most famous works.
The first thing you might notice about this original Italian language trailer is a youthful John Saxon. The actor is probably best known for his roles in Enter the Dragon and Nightmare on Elm Street but he also appeared in Bava’s film. Not only that, Saxon would also appear in early proto-slasher, Black Christmas, as well as ride the wave of Italian cannibal flicks with Antonio Margheriti’s ace Cannibal Apocalypse. The man is a genre icon. So if you know him as ‘Nancy’s dad’ from Nightmare on Elm Street you’ll be pleasantly surprised (hopefully) that is career stretches back to other genre defining horror/thriller classics.
The trailer, cut to the Adriano Celentano tune Furore, shows off the brilliant black and white visuals (this would be Bava’s last film in monochrome) and playfully references literary origins (a typewriter is focused upon and the lead character reads a murder mystery novel).
This particular Italian one-sheet imitates a pulp fiction book cover. The red hand draped down across the right hand side recalls the Saul Bass style of movie art – certainly Vertigo’s famous one-sheet – and contrasted with the image of a blonde victim, possibly dead, on the floor. There were slight variations of this poster going around for different markets such as the Spanish one-sheet which used a central image of a woman with a hand over her mouth – as if in shock – and not the blonde victim.
The US poster:
The US poster re-sells the film in a near-completely different fashion. The Evil Eye makes it sound like one of AIP’s Poe adaptations and the use of cadaverous blues and greens make it seem more ghoulish and supernatural than the film actually is. We’re in the realm of exploitation cinema. “Look deep into the EVIL EYE of the twilight world of the supernatural!”
For more editions of Out of the Past, click the link here: Out of the Past.