Giallo is a genre of Italian thriller that developed in the 1960s and 1970s. The name translates as “yellow” and refers to a series of pulp novels that were popular in Italy at the time, which featured yellow-covered jackets.

The term giallo has been broadened in English to describe any Italian thrillers that feature elements of murder, mystery, and suspense.

Many of these films were made during the height of the spaghetti western era and share some characteristics such as violence, gruesome deaths, and plot twists.

 

What Are Giallo Films?

What Are Giallo Films?

Giallo films are a type of Italian crime-horror film that was popular from the late 1960s to the 1980s.

The genre itself combines elements from crime drama with splatter horror, similar to the American slasher subgenre.

The genre combines elements of crime fiction and slasher films with surrealism and bizarre imagery to create unique thrillers.

These films also feature surrealist imagery, dream sequences, and frequent use of red herrings.

 

 

Best Giallo Films

Giallo films are often characterized by their use of bright colors, especially red and yellow. They often focus on women who encounter danger from a killer or psychopathic stalker.

Deep Red (1975)

This is a thriller from 1975, directed by Dario Argento and co-written by Argento and Bernardino Zapponi. It stars David Hemmings, Daria Nicolodi, and Macha Meril as well as the legendary Gabriele Lavia.

The story is narrated by Nicolodi’s character, Daria Nicolodi. Interestingly, she also plays a psychic who uses ESP to help catch a killer in one of Argento’s other films (Tenebrae).

The story is about an American director named Thomas (Hemmings) who is living in Rome.

He has written a book about a serial killer named “M”. The book has been made into a film by a young director played by Alberto de Mendoza and Thomas has agreed to help supervise the dubbing for it.

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Deep Red (Special Edition) [Blu-ray]
  • David Hemmings, Gabriele Lavia, Daria Nicolodi (Actors)
  • Dario Argento (Director)
  • Audience Rating: NR (Not Rated)

Blood and Black Lace (1964)

Watching Blood and Black Lace is like stumbling across a trove of lost treasures, untouched for decades. It’s a rare film that captures the cinematic style of the 1960s but also transcends it to become a unique statement about the horror genre.

The film has been restored to its original glory and re-released by Troma, which means you can now see this gem digitally or on DVD..

There are some well-known actors in the film. However, their performances are overshadowed by the lead actress, Daliah Lavi. 

She’s like a blonde Kim Novak or Marilyn Monroe, with a kind of menacing sexuality that instantly grabs your attention. 

Lavi plays the headmistress at an exclusive girls’ academy where the students have been disappearing at an alarming rate.

The police are baffled by the lack of evidence and each girl’s disappearance seems unrelated to the other. 

Blood and Black Lace (1964) (Region B) [Blu-ray]
  • Castilian, Portuguese (Subtitles)
  • Audience Rating: Unrated (Not Rated)

Tenebrae (1982)

Tenebrae is a 1982 Italian horror film written and directed by Dario Argento.

The film was the first in a series of three made by Argento that features the supernatural character “The Three Mothers”. 

The Three Mothers are based on the ancient concept of the three evil witches, known as the “Mater Suspiriorum”, the “Mater Tenebrarum” and the “Mater Lachrymarum” from the author Thomas De Quincey’s essay of the same title.

In this story, they are three ancient and powerful witches who are worshipped by a modern cult.

They live in Rome, Berlin, and New York City respectively. The film stars Anthony Franciosa, Daria Nicolodi, John Saxon, Stefania Casini and Veronica Lario.

The film was followed by two sequels: 1987’s Opera and 1989’s Trauma.

The original poster for this movie is called “Stabat Mater Dolorosa” and was made by a Swedish artist named Carl Norac. The painting is based on the famous Pieta statue by Michelangelo.

A young Franciscan monk, Father Ben is believed to be suffering from demonic possession. When he claims that the demon within him is actually an angel of light, Father Lamont, the head of the monastery, decides to call in the help of a renowned exorcist, Father Merrin.

As time passes, however, Father Lamont begins to suspect that there may be more at work here than an insidious spirit.

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Tenebrae (1982) ( Tenebre ) ( Under the Eyes of the Assassin (Unsane) ) [ Blu-Ray, Reg.A/B/C Import - Spain ]
  • Tenebrae (1982) ( Tenebre ) ( Under the Eyes of the Assassin (Unsane) )
  • Tenebrae (1982)
  • Tenebre
  • Under the Eyes of the Assassin (Unsane)
  • John Steiner, John Saxon, Giuliano Gemma (Actors)

The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970)

The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (Italian: L’uccello dalle piume di cristallo) is a 1970 Italian giallo film directed by Dario Argento, co-written by Argento and Franco Ferrini, and starring Tony Musante and Suzy Kendall.

The film’s title refers to the common phrase “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.”

It was released in the United States as Deadly Bird, a literal translation of its Italian title, though it was sometimes shown with an altered title card containing the new title in Italian.

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The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (Special Edition) [Blu-ray]
  • Tony Musante, Suzy Kendall, Eva Renzi (Actors)
  • Dario Argento (Director)
  • Spanish (Publication Language)

Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion (1970)

Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion is a 1970 giallo film directed by Luciano Ercoli and starring Dagmar Lassander, Pino Caruso, and Simón Andreu.

It was written by Ernesto Gastaldi and Dardano Sacchetti. The film features an Ennio Morricone score.

A female writer (Lassander) is stalked by a murderer after witnessing the death of one of her models.

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The Forbidden Photos Of A Lady Above Suspicion
  • Dagmar Lassander, Pier Paolo Capponi, Susan Scott (Actors)
  • Luciano Ercoli (Director)

A Bay of Blood (1971)

The film opens with a group of five friends playing around and swimming in the sea, before two of them decide to go for a walk.

They happen upon a man in the woods, who is disemboweling himself with a hunting knife, the blood flowing into a nearby stream. The two young men watch in fascination as he finishes off his gruesome self-mutilation and then drag him back to their getaway boat.

The three men take turns stabbing him with the knife, attempting to commit an act of murder that they blame on an unknown party. The bloodied corpse is dumped into the bay, but it is not found by the police.

Later that night, we see our four friends sitting at home watching television news reports about the discovery of a freshly killed body that has washed ashore. They know that it could be one of them and try to figure out who committed this murder.

One of them is convinced that they are all being set up by someone else; someone who has been stalking them throughout their holiday.

A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin (1971)

This is one of those movies that really gets under the skin. Lina (Kinski) is a pretty young lady who lives with her parents and works as a salesgirl in a department store.

Then she meets an older man, who is fascinated by her beauty, and they marry. The marriage doesn’t last long, however, because Lina’s husband dies in a car accident. 

She then finds out that her husband had another family with two daughters. Lina decides that she wants to have a relationship with them.

When she meets the other family, she pretends to be their father’s sister. That’s when the trouble begins.

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A Lizard In A Woman's Skin
  • Stanley Baker, Florinda Bolkan, Jean Sorel (Actors)
  • Lucio Fulci (Director)
  • English (Subtitle)
  • Audience Rating: NR (Not Rated)

The Case of The Scorpion’s Tail (1971)

A millionaire who has been poisoned hires a private detective to find the killer. The detective discovers that the millionaire’s wife and his lawyer are the culprits.

The Case of The Scorpion’s Tail (Italian: La coda dello scorpione; aka The Scorpion’s Tail) is a 1971 giallo film directed by Sergio Martino and starring George Hilton, Anita Strindberg, and Luigi Pistilli. The film is also known as Island of the Fishman in the United States.

It was one of several gialli produced by Luciano Martino, Sergio’s father. In this case, Sergio took over from director Romano Ferrara when he left after only two weeks shooting.

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The Case of the Scorpion's Tail (Special Edition) [Blu-ray]
  • George Hilton, Anita Strindberg, Alberto De Mendoza (Actors)
  • Sergio Martino (Director)
  • English (Subtitle)

Short Night of the Glass Dolls (1971)

With her now legendary performance in Short Night of the Glass Dolls, Soledad Miranda proved that she was a star in the making. In this irresistible little thriller, Miranda plays Lili, a coquettish young woman with a taste for designer labels and champagne.

She meets up with four men who are looking to have some fun with a girl like her. They take her back to their apartment, and what happens next is anyone’s guess.

Short Night of Glass Dolls
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • Ingrid Thulin, Jean Sorel, Mario Adorf (Actors)
  • Aldo Lado (Director) - Aldo Lado (Writer) - Enzo Doria (Producer)
  • English (Playback Language)
  • English (Subtitle)

The Black Belly of the Tarantula (1971)

The Black Belly of the Tarantula (Italian: La tarantola dal ventre nero) is a 1971 giallo film directed by Paolo Cavara.

It stars Giancarlo Giannini, Claudine Auger and Barbara Bouchet.

An unseen person is killing women by paralyzing them with scorpion venom injections and then burying them alive.

Police inspector Tellini (Giannini) investigates the murders with journalist Claudia Marnay (Auger).

The Black Belly of the Tarantula
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • Giancarlo Giannini, Claudine Auger, Barbara Bouchet (Actors)
  • Paolo Cavara (Director) - Marcello Danon (Writer) - Marcello Danon (Producer)
  • English (Playback Language)
  • English (Subtitle)

Don’t Torture a Duckling (1972)

Don’t Torture a Duckling is a 1972 Italian giallo film directed by Lucio Fulci. The film was released in Italy on August 9, 1972 where it was distributed by Euro International Film. It grossed a total of 653,988,000 Italian lire on its theatrical release.

The film has been cited as the first in which Fulci addressed the Roman Catholic Church directly and contains several allusions to Catholicism, such as the “stations of the cross” or the role of the priest.

Although Don’t Torture a Duckling was never banned outright in Italy, it did encounter legal difficulties in many countries, either being refused certification or banned. In West Germany, it was initially banned because of its “brutality and sadism”, but this decision was later overturned.

Don't Torture a Duckling
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • Florinda Bolkan, Barbara Bouchet, Tomas Milian (Actors)
  • Lucio Fulci (Director) - Lucio Fulci (Writer) - Renato Iaboni (Producer)
  • English (Playback Language)
  • English (Subtitle)

Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key (1972)

Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key is a 1972 Italian giallo film directed by Sergio Martino in his directorial debut.

The film was written by Ernesto Gastaldi; the plot revolves around Oliviero Rouvigny (Luigi Pistilli), a writer of crime stories who becomes embroiled in an actual murder plot.

The film also stars Anita Strindberg and Eduardo Fajardo, with a score by Bruno Nicolai, which was later released as an LP.

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Seven Blood-Stained Orchids (1972)

Seven Blood-Stained Orchids is a 1972 Italian giallo film directed by Umberto Lenzi.

The film stars Don Backy as a man being stalked by a black-gloved killer who he believes to be his wife, played by Uschi Glas.

However, the killer is a woman named Katherine, portrayed by Rossella Falk. The film was released on December 22, 1972, in Italy.

The film was shot in Munich and Berlin. It marks Lenzi’s first collaboration with cinematographer Gábor Pogány who went on to shoot Nightmare City (1980), Cannibal Ferox (1981) and Ghosthouse (1988) for the director. 

Luciano Martino served as producer under his production company Seda Spettacoli.

Seven Blood Stained Orchids
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • Antonio Sabato, Uschi Glas, Pier Paolo Capponi (Actors)
  • Sinister Cinema (Director) - Umberto Lenzi (Writer) - Lamberto Palmieri (Producer)
  • English (Playback Language)
  • English (Subtitle)

The Perfume of the Lady in Black (1974)

The Perfume of the Lady in Black is a 1974 Italian psychological horror film directed by Francesco Barilli. It was adapted from the play of the same name by Luigi Pirandello.

The film stars Mimsy Farmer as a woman haunted by hallucinations, which lead her to believe she may have been responsible for a murder.

The film was shot at Incir-De Paolis Studios in Rome and on location in Trieste and Venice. It was a co-production between Italy and France.

The Perfume of the Lady in Black
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • Mimsy Farmer, Maurizio Bonuglia, Mario Scaccia, Jho Jhenkins (Actor)
  • Francesco Barilli (Director) - Francesco Barilli (Writer) - Giovanni Bertolucci (Producer)
  • English (Playback Language)
  • English (Subtitle)

The House With Laughing Windows (1976)

The House with Laughing Windows is a 1976 Italian horror film directed by Pupi Avati. The film was adapted from a short story of the same name by Giorgio Scerbanenco.

In a small town in the Veneto, a church-restorer stumbles across a fresco that has been covered up for many years.

As he begins to uncover it, he finds that it depicts a truly horrific scene; one that leads him to believe something terrible happened in this church many years before.

While uncovering the fresco, his life takes an unexpected turn as he notices increasingly disturbing phenomena around him.

Rush Hour
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • Jackie Chan, Chris Tucker, Tom Wilkinson (Actors)
  • Brett Ratner (Director) - Roger Birnbaum (Producer)
  • English (Playback Language)
  • English (Subtitle)

The Bloodstained Shadow (1978)

A string of murders takes place in Venice, on the island of Giudecca. A journalist who is investigating the case becomes a suspect.

When his girlfriend is kidnapped by the killer, he must look for her and try to clear his name.

Bloodstained Shadow [Blu-ray]
  • Horror 1978 by Antonio Bido with Lino Capolicchio and Stefania Casini.
  • Stefania Cassini (Actor)
  • Antonio Bido (Director)
  • English (Subtitle)
  • Audience Rating: Unrated (Not Rated)

What Have You Done To Solange? (1972)

What Have You Done to Solange? is a 1972 giallo film directed by Massimo Dallamano, starring Fabio Testi, Karin Baal, Camille Keaton, and Cristina Galbo.

The plot follows the stalking and murder of schoolgirls in London by an unknown assailant. The film was produced by Alfredo Leone and released on 15 September 1972.

The film’s title was inspired by the song What Have They Done to My Song Ma? written by Melanie Safka and first performed by The New Seekers.

A Quiet Place In The Country (1968)

A Quiet Place In The Country is a 1968 Italian gothic horror mystery directed by Elio Petri.

The film is based on the novel of the same name by Giuseppe Berto and stars Franco Nero and Vanessa Redgrave.

Leonardo Ferri (Franco Nero) is an artist who has just moved with his wife Flower (Vanessa Redgrave) to a house outside Rome. He has rented the house for a year to paint, but after three months he’s still not started any work.

He is haunted by dreams of an old woman with a cat and seems unable to settle down to anything other than drawing sketches of his wife.

Leonardo’s doctor suggests that perhaps he should take up painting again, but when he returns home Leonardo finds that someone has smashed all his paintings.

A Quiet Place in the Country [Blu-ray]
  • Vanessa Redgrave, Franco Nero (Actors)
  • Elio Petri (Director) - Alberto Grimaldi (Producer)
  • English (Subtitle)
  • Audience Rating: R (Restricted)

How To Identify A Giallo Film

The Giallo subgenre has a slew of impressive features, including bold colors and striking imagery, but it’s sometimes difficult to identifysince there are no specific characteristics that every Giallo movie has.

Details such as the plot or cast don’t necessarily matter, but colors and imagery do play an important role in helping you tell if you’re watching a Giallo film.

The term “Giallo” comes from the Italian word for yellow, which references the color of crime-scene tape.

Essentially, Giallo films are mystery thrillers that have a noir style to them.

Many people who are new to the genre often mistake it for an action or suspense film due to its violent nature.

For instance, many scenes usually include some sort of torture or murder, but the central focus is on solving the mystery at hand.

The first Giallo films were released in 1964 and were influenced by Alfred Hitchcock’s psycho-thriller Psycho, which was released two years prior. Many of these early films were written by famed author Giorgio Scer.