Entries in Giallo (2)

Sunday
Feb032013

Franco February: THE FIFTH CORD (1971) Review

I’ve talked about nineties giallos a lot on here, but I’ve actually never talked about the real deal. So, to coincide with Franco February, I’ve chosen a somewhat well known giallo from the golden age of Italian murder mysteries, which just so happens to star Franco Nero! Based on a book by D.M. Devine, here we have a little spaghetti shocker originally called Giornata nera per l’ariete (which translates to The Black Night of the Ram), but was retitled to The Fifth Cord when given a US release. Is this one for the books, or is the presence of Nero not even enough to save it?

THE FIFTH CORD (1971) Review

Andrea Bild (Nero) is an alcoholic journalist who’s pretty much hit rock bottom. After attending a New Year’s Eve party, one of the guests is attacked with a pipe, leaving him in a neck brace and convinced it was a murder attempt. Soon after, members of that party begin getting killed by a mysterious madman, whose trace is only marked by a leather glove left at the scene with fingers of the glove cut off according to which victim it is. Bild finds that he’s the primary suspect, so to clear his name and stop the killings, he begins digging deep into the case and uncovers a web of sex, scandals, and murder. Can he catch the psycho before he himself becomes a victim?

My attempts to find a copy of the novel this film is based on were unsuccessful, so I really can’t say anything about how faithful this movie is to the book. Even without knowledge that this is based on a novel, it’s still apparent that there are some cuts made to the story. Plot points that should have probably been elaborated on further come and go faster than Bild’s dignity as the movie progresses, and a lot of it doesn’t have too much to do with the proceedings. The Fifth Cord is directed by Luigi Bazzoni, who also directed the mind-bending (and very rare) semi-giallo Footprints on the Moon. Alongside Nero is Edmund Purdom from Italian classics like Absurd and Pieces and giallo veteran Renato Romano from Argento’s debut The Bird with the Crystal Plumage.

I guess the problem with The Fifth Cord is that it feels a little too summarized. In the end, everything makes sense, yet it still feels like there’s something missing. There’s some sort of subplot involving some characters involved in a pornography business, and when the killer is revealed, the motive doesn’t even involve it. And when looking back, a lot of the scenes in this movie are really uneventful. There are only four murders in the 90-minute runtime, and most of the dialogue pieces between them amount to nothing. Whereas in something like Deep Red, every scene between the murders builds on the clues before all the pieces come together and it’s awesome. Here, it’s Nero running around talking to red herrings until the killer is revealed. The murders aren’t very impressive either, and it isn’t helped by the near-absence of music (surprising, as Ennio Morricone was responsible, but the score here feels almost like an afterthought).

But that’s not to say this is a bad giallo. In fact, it’s quite good! The cinematography is as stunning as you’d expect it to be, maybe even more so. It’s not on Argento or Bava levels, but there are moments where I thought to myself, “That’s a really nice shot!” It’s a slow movie, but the talky scenes are enjoyable just for the visuals. I only wish the Morricone score could match it. Nero is as great as he’s ever been, and this is certainly more of an emotional role than I’m used to seeing him in. He’s a drunk, so he has a few mood swings and isn’t the most likable protagonist, but I found myself rooting for him by the end of it. Most of the other characters just serve as red herrings or cannon fodder, but that’s how it usually is. The Fifth Cord houses some really great suspense moments, like when a crippled woman is crawling on the floor in the dark and the entire time we’re just waiting for the killer to strike. Then when a child is being chased around his house by the murderer who actually attempts to strangle the kid! The coup de grace of awesomeness is the final five minutes when Nero is chasing down the killer. In a typical giallo, the killer is hunted down, unmasked, and stopped in a matter of about two minutes. But not here! Here, the two have it out in some wicked fistfights and an intense chase around a factory until the motive is revealed and the end comes.

For a movie released during the golden age of the giallo, The Fifth Cord could’ve been better. But I had fun watching it. It’s not Franco Nero’s finest hour either, but his presence and rugged charm give the movie a much-needed boost. It’s got all the trademarks of a great giallo, with striking camerawork, a good score, a surprising amount of suspense, an extraordinary finale, and Franco Nero! All the drivel in the plot gets to be a drag, though. Blue Underground put out a DVD complete with interviews with Nero and cinematographer Vittorio Storaro. It’s also being re-released as part of BU’s Midnight Movies series on a triple-feature with fellow giallos Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion and The Pyjama Girl Case. I haven’t seen those two yet, but if they’re as good as The Fifth Cord, it’s worth the money. It’s an average giallo, but even an average giallo is an above-average movie.

The Verdict: The Fifth Cord serves as a successful giallo venture that’s only marred by disposable dialogue sequences and some choppy storytelling.

Score: 7/10

Saturday
Dec152012

A Bad Case Of College Burn-Out: ALL-AMERICAN MURDER (1991) Review

Even though the giallo really isn’t my favorite of horror subgenres, I have to give it credit for sticking around as long as it did. It seemed to start in the sixties, and didn’t really die out until the nineties. While the later ones weren't going to reach the heights of quality that they had reached in the seventies, that didn’t stop some entries that came a bit late in the game to see release. One such film, while not a full giallo, also saw a straight-to-video release in the early nineties. Yes, I am talking about…

ALL-AMERICAN MURDER (1991)

Review

Artie Logan (Charlie Schlatter) is a troublemaker who has been kicked out of school multiple times due to his reckless behavior (and always being bailed out by his father, who is a judge), but now, he is determined to finish college. While at his new school, he meets and falls in love with the sweet and popular Tally (Josie Bisset). However, the romance doesn’t last long when Tally is set ablaze and burns alive. Naturally, Artie gets fingered, but loose cannon detective P.J. Decker (Christopher Walken) gives him an ultimatum: find the real killer in 24-hours, or get the chair. Artie sets out to find the real killer, but as he digs deeper into the mystery, he finds that Tally, as well as other people at the university, aren’t as squeaky clean as they appear…

While it may be hard to see under all the American early-nineties stereotypes (the hair! The music! The clothes!) this is indeed a giallo. We’ve got a lengthy murder investigation, a black-gloved killer, LOTS of red herrings, some vicious kills, scandals, and a twist ripped right out of an Italian murder mystery. My one real problem with the giallo subgenre as a whole is that they’re either going to be really, REALLY great, or they’re going to be boring and middle-of-the-road. While more entertaining than others of its kind, I would have to say that All-American Murder falls into the latter category. The film does have a lot of merits, but I feel it spends a little too much time, as most gialli do, on investigation antics.

The one reason I won’t completely shrug this movie off is due to one actor: Christopher Walken. Walken must have been strapped for cash (or maybe he thought the movie had potential), but nevertheless, he brings his deadpan charm to the role of the maverick detective. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that there’s actually some really witty dialogue and the chemistry between him and Schlatter’s character is effective. Yeah, with lines like, “What’s Doug Sawyer doing on my coffee table with a knife in his back?” and “Any more surprises before I open the oven…find my Aunt Harriet?”, it’s hard to hate this movie. The rest of the cast do a fair job as well, and Mitchell Anderson, who starred in one of my favorite underrated slashers, Deadly Dreams, even makes an appearance!

But not even some clever writing and good performances can save this movie from its ultimate fault: tedium. The tagline for the movie (“He’s about to enter a jungle of sex, sleaze, and murder…he’s going to college”) is quite fitting, considering that for almost thirty minutes all we do is follow Artie as he uncovers that Tally wasn’t as clean-cut as he thought. The first twenty minutes aren’t very exciting either, with Artie putting the moves Tally before she is eventually set on fire. The last half-hour is when most of the murders come out, and they’re not very impressive. A lot of killings with little-to-no build-up to them, although one near the end was surprisingly gory (and awesome) when compared to how dry the rest of the movie was. The reveal of the killer wasn’t terribly surprising (I had considered it would wind up the way it did early on), but it does feel very much in tune with the giallo elements of the movie.

All-in-all, All-American Murder is far from terrible. It’s better than other thrillers from this time, with some funny writing, a solid cast (believe me when I say Walken really makes this movie), a twist that at least attempts to be original, and one great death. Unfortunately, the monotony of the rest of the movie anchors it in the sea of indifference and prevents it from continuing to better things. Despite Walken’s appearance, this one remains unreleased on DVD, but VHS tapes of the movie can be found very cheaply online. Or you can watch it on YouTube. Not too bad; not fantastic, either. If you enjoy '70s gialli, this is one I would definitely recommend you seek out.

The Verdict: Despite some very boring and superfluous moments, All-American Murder is still decently fun with some good Christopher Walken action and giallo elements. Check it out.

Score: 6/10