Schwenkstar

IMDb member since May 2004
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Reviews

Panic
(1978)

This effective thriller was later remade as LEFT TURN (2001) by Sean Ellis
James Dearden, the Oscar-nominated writer for FATAL ATTRACTION and son of directing legend Basil Dearden, crafted this very effective and slick short thriller - his second after 1977's CONTRAPTION.

The film is drenched in atmosphere due to the splashes of saturated, vibrant colors Dearden lights upon the screen, the rainy streets which reflect these vivid and lush illuminations, and the eerie music that is unsettling without being overpowering.

The plot is short and to the point with small twists and turns to keep you interested from beginning to end... it's not a plot that is startling original - it's all based on the fear of hitch-hikers that seems to plague many horror and suspense films - but it's told with style and gusto.

However, the most interesting aspect is that this short film would later be re-made in 2001 as LEFT TURN by Sean Ellis, the Oscar-nominated writer-director of the short film CASHBACK (2004).

The similarities are startlingly - not only is the plot meticulously reconstructed in LEFT TURN scene for scene, but the atmosphere of the film itself is reconstructed - the Mario Bava-inspired lighting, the rainy atmosphere, the British locale, the yellow rain coat of the hitchhiker, and so on.

Which one is better? The remake is certainly more stylish and more horrific - simply because it went more shock and terror - but the original is more restrained and disquieting. It most likely will come down to the taste of the individual viewer.

It would be nice, however, if Sean Ellis gave at least *some* credit (he gave none) to this film for which his remake is based upon...

La morte accarezza a mezzanotte
(1972)

Though convoluted to the point of tediousness, it is still an enjoyable and entertaining giallo.
One of three gialli that Luciano Ercoli directed, and this one is probably the weakest of the set, but nevertheless is still an above average entry into the genre.

The plot is convoluted to say the least, adding an unnecessary amount of elements that add only confusion rather than mystery to the proceedings. Admittedly, the ending does come as a surprise, but this is merely because its revelation is so complex that it borders on ludicrous. The climax also is rather weak and drawn out, lapsing into a violent battle of fist and cuffs that is very much over the top.

Despite this, the characterizations are better than what is usually expected for the genre, and the film does make you want to keep watching if only to see how all the multitude of story elements work together in the end (even if it is preposterous). Another plus is that it avoids depictions of exploitative sleaze that pollutes most films of this particular genre.

On a whole, not a bad watch. Entertaining with some interesting plot twists to sustain your interest, but in the end it isn't too memorable and makes little logical sense.

6 donne per l'assassino
(1964)

Though a flawed thriller, this giallo is important from a historical perspective.
Italian horror maestro Mario Bava establishes the common motifs of the Giallo genre in this landmark film, often argued as single-handedly creating that said genre (I would argue "The Girl Who Knew Too Much" did, but either way it's still Mario Bava as the author and inventor).

From a historical standpoint, this film is very important to film scholars and genre enthusiasts - we see a new genre in the making.

However, if we remove the film from the historical context that surrounds it, the film is admittedly rather shallow as Bava certainly prefers style over substance.

Indeed, the plot's major flaw is that it lacks any protagonist (or any character in general) for the viewer to identify with, thus causing a lack of focus - we are shown a multitude of characters with no real connection to one another, thus no wholeness is established.

However, the visuals are staggering with rooms bathed in bright florescent lighting, costumes given bold hues, sets and props made of singular colors (the red mannequin), and smoothly executed camera shots. It is this visual bravura that elevates the film beyond it's rather exploitative plot to the realm of aestheticism.

The film is at its most enjoyable when viewed within its historical context, but those who are unfamiliar with the giallo genre may be underwhelmed by it's rudimentary plot, but even then the visuals should still keep the viewer engaged.

Essential viewing for giallo aficionados but those who are unfamiliar with the genre should watch a more well-rounded film like "Deep Red" as an entry point.

A Little Trip to Heaven
(2005)

Though certainly flawed, it is still nonetheless an interesting and engrossing thriller.
This film received mixed reviews from critics and viewers alike, some embracing its "arty" and ambiguous sensibilities, while others were displeased with it's disconnection and aloofness. As for me, I find myself edging towards the former group as as certain this as being a rather interesting, intriguing, and fascinating film, albeit flawed.

The visuals are certainly the film's strongest aspect, with its moody lighting, saturated colors, bleak landscapes, and striking camera movements that are all hypnotic and mesmerizing. All of these elements accumulate into a despairing viewing of existentialism and fate - a character stands in a field and sees everything around him, but each direction he faces is the same dreary and gloomy destination.

The acting is also superb from the entire cast, with Whitaker providing a unique accent that adds to the quirkiness of his character. Stiles is actually quite good here as well, giving one of her best performances. Last, but not least, is the criminally underrated Jeremy Renner, who gives a reliable performance as always.

I was nervous after hearing talk of the plot's ambiguity and unsatisfactory nature, but I can happily say that it is fairly solid. The narrative has a strong sense of mystery, with even some plot twists to peak the viewer's interest. The pacing is, admittedly, glacially slow and this will indeed test the patience and attention-span of its viewer (despite being only 87 minutes long). In addition, I wouldn't say the plot was anything original, but it is involving due to its characters and the sense that there's something more lurking underneath the surface.

Those who enjoy character studies and mystery films may enjoy this hybrid of the two genres, which isn't a complete success but is executed in a very effective manner.

More contemplative than thrilling, this gets under the skin more than those adrenaline-pumping, yet hollow, thrillers studios are churching out now-a-days.

Solid Recommendation.

L'assassino è costretto ad uccidere ancora
(1975)

Beginning shows promise, but this giallo ends up being rather pointless in the end.
A sadly disappointing giallo. The film began promisingly enough as it seemed to be playing out as a "comedy of errors" (or rather, a "thriller" of errors) as a creepy killer is paid by a man to murder his wife. The killing is easy enough, but getting...(read more) rid of the body proves difficult.

Despite an interesting premise that's brimming with promise, the film is unable to fulfill it as it screeches to a halt around the thirty minute mark. From this point on, the plot focuses upon the pointless meanderings of a couple who essentially do nothing but make love and argue.

The viewer hopes for the plot to get better once the killer confronts them, but it ends up only getting worse as we witness a brutally graphic rape and a pornographic sex scene, both of which add absolutely nothing to the proceedings. In addition, the characters perpetually make illogical and irrational choices that irritate the viewer, resulting in a film that starts off strong yet ends up being rather pointless exploitative trash.

Skip it.

Gongdong gyeongbi guyeok JSA
(2000)

Chan-wook Park's most politically-charged film tackles the very volatile tension that exists between the North and South Koreans.
Chan-wook Park's most politically-charged film tackles the very volatile tension that exists between the North and South Koreans. This could have easily been propagandistic in nature, with this South Korean film portraying the Northerners as mere caricatures of Communistic ideals, but instead the film happily sidesteps this and portrays both the North Koreans and South Koreans as kinsmen.

In the beginning of the picture, both sides have a skewed view of one another, seeing each through the lens of their political temperament - the border between the two thus is interpreted as a wall that filters and jades each one's perspective. However, once that that wall is finally crossed, the two sides realize that no wall really exists, and they begin to see each other as human beings - The soldiers first call one another "enemies", but soon they are calling one another "brothers".

The characters are richly drawn and dynamic to reflect this - each are humans, with their own unique demeanor, and that their national identity is nothing more than a facade. While the soldiers are alone, away from their government infrastructures, both sides cling to one another in fellowship as they find themselves all the same. Only when the absent governmental element is reintroduced are the soldiers forced to revert back behind their facades, and tragedy results.

A powerfully moving and keenly intelligent analysis of the confusing political situation between the two opposing governmental systems. Despite being slightly marred by a few lapses into melodrama and overstatement, that can not take away from its piercing effectiveness.

The highest recommendation possible.

À l'intérieur
(2007)

Incredibly gory thriller that is surprisingly intelligent and artful!
One of the goriest films I have ever seen. Blood spews, spouts, spurts, and sprays from just about every body part, and the blood is splattered, splashed, smeared, slopped, and sloshed in just about every nook and cranny of the house.

Normally, I would immediately reject the film as nothing more than pure exploitation and try my best to forget about it, but with this picture there was something more to the proceedings than just it's blood soaked surface. Indeed, there was a great amount of intelligence behind the gore, providing ample subtext about motherhood.

For instance, director Bustillo made the strange choice of fogging the mother's home, giving it a dream-like ambiance that suggests an outward manifestation of the character's subconscious. As a result, we begin to question the validity of the proceedings - Is the black-cloaked woman a representation of the protagonist's fear of motherhood? Is the bodily torment and self-mutilation a response to the protagonist's guilt she feels for causing her husband's death? Many questions are raised and the only answer given is rather simplistic and contrived, though still logical enough to be acceptable. However, it is still ambiguous enough at the film's conclusion to allow for further pondering.

In addition to the rich subtext (and on a more visceral level), the film features stylized direction and beautifully executed sequences of creeping dread and pulse-pounding suspense that are simply a joy to behold.

However, despite these wonderful qualities, the film delves into its violent excess to an unnecessary degree, most likely only to provide shocks rather than further develop its potent subtext. Also, the inclusion to the police officers and their rapid deaths seemed pointless, and though one could argue that they were a representation of the husband's own death and her inability to save him, I would argue that there were simply included to increase the body count and add a few more shots of gooey, gunky gore.

If the gore wasn't so repulsive, I might have said this was my favorite horror film of 2007 as the intelligence and skill that went into the making of this film is very much evident. Unfortunately, Bustillo indulged a little too much in adding shock value to his film, causing him to undermine many elements within his own picture.

Flawed yet still a good movie.

La polizia chiede aiuto
(1974)

Yet another solid entry into the giallo canon from director Massimo Dallamano
From Massimo Dallamano, the director of the iconic giallo "What Have You Done to Solange?", comes a pseudo-sequel of sorts, but essentially only in theme. "What Have They Done To Our Daughters?" was actually the second film in a planned trilogy of three "School Girls in Peril" gialli, but unfortunately Dallamano died before he could complete the last one (and was subsequently completed by another filmmaker).

Anyways, returning to the film in question, I actually prefer this installment to the much more praised "Solange". The main reason being that the first felt much more exploitative in nature, and thus was not as effective in my mind.

"Daughters" seems to take a more realistic approach, not focusing on the shocks found in nudity and gore as the first one seemed to revel in, but rather focusing upon the actual investigation of the crimes and how the events cause traumatic and emotional infliction upon the characters involved. Indeed, this film is much more socially minded, conveying how society often tries to exploit innocence for its own gain, and how the emotional disconnection and distance that is between the parents and their children often is what leads to their children becoming seduced by the society's malice.

In addition, the direction is solid with well executed sequences of suspense. The musical score also is terrific, giving it even more emotional dissonance.

However, despite the subtext it gives and the visual aura is possesses, the film lacks in having a strong narrative. The story adapts a police procedural formula, thus making it rather clear and focused, but unfortunately it isn't really focused on all that much. It doesn't lead to much of anywhere as we are given all the detail up front, thus causing it to feel rather dragged out. The ending is also anti-climatic.

Despite this, it's a solid entry into the giallo canon, thanks mainly to its social commentary, strong direction, and solid musical score, but the story itself is very thin and dragged out... if only it had more plot to it this could have been one of the better gialli.

La coda dello scorpione
(1971)

Another solid entry into the Giallo canon from Sergio Martino
Sergio Martino may not be *the* best director of gialli, but compared to most directors who work within the confines of the genre he is certainly at least *one* of the best.

This film is one of Martino's strongest efforts, featuring a rather clever and well-constructed plot, decent characterizations (which nearly all gialli lack), a solid musical score, and well-directed suspense sequences.

In reference to the plot, the film starts are conventionally, but the film takes a surprising turn when it changes its main focus onto an entirely different character (ala "Psycho"). At this point, the narrative begins to go in more interesting directions, with plot twists referring back to the film's opening reels, thus making it more focused and tight. There is also a rather clever red herring that proves quite effective (it threw me off for a second), but unfortunately it wasn't enough to keep the ending form being so obvious as it is (to me, at least).

The suspense sequences are genuinely suspenseful, especially the sequence in the apartment building (which features a slow motion sequence to heighten the suspense) and the climax (which I will refrain from commenting on to minimize spoilers).

The film is certainly a solid entry into the giallo canon, in fact I would as go as far as saying that it's one of the better examples of the genre.

However, like the genre itself, the film suffers from lack of almost no subtext to speak of. As a result, everything is fairly shallow and not emotional evolving, despite it's well produced surface.

Still, this is nearly essential viewing for fans of giallo. For fans of thrillers I would give a recommendation. For others with only a passing interest, I actually would suggest skipping it and watching an Argento film instead.

L'uomo senza memoria
(1974)

"Puzzle" is a solid entry into the Giallo canon
This little seen thriller is a solid entry into the giallo canon that was directed by Duccio Tessari (who did the equally good "The Bloodstained Butterfly") and written by Ernesto Gastaldi (who is the iconic writer of the giallo genre).

The narrative features an interesting narrative hook (a man can't remember who he is and now thugs are after him for something he hid... and he doesn't know where it is, let alone *what* it is). Unfortunately, the film doesn't utilize its intriguing plot premise to the fullest, with essentially the amnesia element pushed aside for most of the movie, and instead relies on more conventional means of telling the story. Fortunately, the writer manages to more successfully integrate the amnesia element towards the end which allow for a few plot twists, but not to the degree it could have achieved.

The direction is fine but nothing exemplary, and the performances are all solid but not particularly memorable. In other words, everything is competent and efficient, but it doesn't really standout from the majority of thrillers that saturate our viewing repertoire.

However, it certainly is an above average example of the giallo genre, with narrative that is better than most gialli and even has a terrific climax, but it's also certainly not a classic film in any respect.

Highly recommended for giallo fans, a solid recommendation to thriller aficionados, but others may wish to simply view a better example of the genre, such as "Deep Red".

Also, the film references Stanley Donan's film "Charade", see if you can catch it...

I corpi presentano tracce di violenza carnale
(1973)

Sergio Martino's "Torso" is a half-good and half-bad giallo
Sergio Martino is often considered one of the better Italian directors of the Giallo genre, but honestly his films are generally hit or miss... and by that I mean within a single film he will have both hits and misses.

"Torso" is no exception, and is quite possibly the film that has the most extreme hits and misses.

The first half of the film is rather exploitative, with gratuitous nudity and violence that really has no purpose other than to shock you and give you that "visceral thrill". Unfortunately, there are no thrills here as it is all just purely mindless and uninteresting - more off-putting than thrilling.

However, after this long stretch of unfocused sloppiness, Martino treats us with a superbly suspenseful game of cat-an-mouse between the killer and one of the young college girls locked up in a house. The catch here is that the killer is unaware of her presence and she must constantly avoid detection as he goes about her... uh... "business".

Indeed, the suspense and tension is potent and very much palpable, with several close calls that will get the viewer's heart thumping, with several genuinely chilling moments (the key sequence is especially creepy).

Yet it's not as effective as it could have been. If the first two-thirds developed a clearer focus, developing the characters and building up a more sufficient mystery, the ending would be all the more thrilling. Unfortunately, as it stands with the meanderings of the opening reels, the end becomes only a technically well-executed accumulation of suspense sequences that admirable but not emotionally involving.

For fans of Gialli, I would recommend it, but to others they would do best either watching one of Sergio Martino's better films ("The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh" being one) or, more preferably, simply watch something by Dario Argento, such as "Deep Red".

Sette note in nero
(1977)

Not only Fulci's best, but also one of the best Giallo!
I must confess: I do not like the cinema of Lucio Fulci. Although he is often considered a top tier director of Italian horror/gialli, I found his films to be nothing more than exploitative and shameless, capitalizing on violence and sex to appeal to nothing but the viewer's carnal desires while providing little (if any) intelligence for the viewer's mind and cognitive thinking.

Imagine my surprise when I found this not only to be a *good* movie, but also quite possibly one of the best gialli I have ever seen (second only to some of Dario Argento's best work).

Despite a rather unnecessarily violent and gory opening (which is more laughable than shocking), the film is very subtle and restrained, with no nudity and very little violence, focusing upon its labyrinthine mystery to provide the thrills rather than anything visceral.

And the mystery is superb, playing out very much like a jigsaw puzzle. The main character (Jennifer O'Neal) sees a barrage of images in the opening of the film, like pieces of a puzzle, and as the film progresses we see the pieces beginning to come into place and form a whole picture. All of this creates a very engrossing experience as we get en-wrapped within he mystery.

That is not to say the film is totally devoid of visceral thrills. The suspense sequences are genuinely suspenseful, with the chase scene in the run-down church being almost unbearable in its potent tension. Not to mention, the very last sequence in the house will also have you on the edge of your seat.

And the story isn't the only thing that makes this giallo work so well - the direction by Fulci (I can't believe I'm saying this) is magnificent, with such stunning sequences of camera movements and edits that just draw the viewer into the action. Also, the music by Bixio, Frizzi, and Tempera is hypnotic, creating a very much palpable atmosphere of dread and ominous foreboding.

However, I don't mean to sound like this is a masterpiece of Italian cinema - it's not. I am merely so shocked at how good this film is considering its film-making pedigree. The opening scene, as mentioned earlier, is entirely out of place, and the plot, while complex, is strangely predictable once you begin to understand what's happening.

Despite this, the plot is tight, focused, and clever, with genuine suspense, which makes it one of the best giallo films ever.

Essential viewing for not only giallo fans, but also any lover of a good mystery.

Una sull'altra
(1969)

Surprisingly restrained and more subtle giallo from Lucio Fulci
I must admit that I do not care for the films of Lucio Fulci - his horror films are filled with repulsive gore and devoid of intelligence, and his gialli (murder mysteries) are better but filled with unnecessary perversion and debauchery - so suffice to say I was apprehensive when viewing this giallo by the "godfather of gore". To my surprise, I actually enjoyed this quite a bit.

Admittedly, there was the unnecessary nudity that littered the film, but luckily it was neither maliciously exploitative (instead, it was tastefully done) nor was it overwhelming in content (most of it is localized only in a few key scenes in the beginning of the film).

However, the factor that truly made the film work was its focus upon its narrative rather than attempting to provide cheap thrills (as Fulci often does). The plot is obviously borrowed from "Vertigo" but not to the degree that I would call it a blatant rip-off (like Brian DePalma's "Obsession" was) as it had its own unique twists and turns to the proceedings. It does seem to plod somewhat in its initial reels as it focused on the lavish lifestyles of a stripper and a photography model, but once the twists begin at the half-way point the viewer's interest is perked and it manages to hold onto it until the end.

The direction is surprisingly subtle and aesthetic for a Fulci film, focusing upon images of mirrors and reflections on glass windows the reflect upon the duality of the characters (each often have two sides to their beings, such as the doctor who is married but is having an affair, but also the fact that the doctor believes his wife has a doppelganger).

I wouldn't necessarily recommend this film to many as its material is lurid (despite Fulci's admirable restraint), and the plot isn't anything unique, but it's all done in a very sufficient and stylish manner with just enough intelligence to make it a pleasant watch. Recommended for giallo fans, a slight recommendation to mystery/thriller aficionados, but others not really interested in the genre should just watch Hitchcock's "Vertigo" again.

La casa dalle finestre che ridono
(1976)

A Gothic horror film made terrifying by a foreboding atmosphere and genuinely surprising revelations in the plot.
The film is not a categorical giallo as it is often suggested as being, but rather it's more of a entry into the Gothic horror canon, with a incredibly strong sense of mystery that keeps the viewer intrigued even when the pacing becomes sluggish. The film is not exploitative (as most giallo films are) but mature, intelligent, and effective. Indeed, there is no nudity and little violence is present as the picture's primary focus is its complex, labyrinthine mystery that truly surprises the viewer with its unexpected turns of the plot. The film is also heavy on atmosphere, artfully directed by the award-winning Pupi Avati (of "The Story of Boys and Girls" and "Incantato" fame), which really intensifies the mystery, making it not only it spellbinding by also horrific and terrifying at times(especially near the end). The debits I perceive is that the narrative is a tad drawn out and some of the characters aren't as developed as one would hope, but the mystery is so good that it's easily to look past all these minor quibbles. Highly recommended to those who liked slow-burning Gothic mysteries such as "Don't look Now".

Tenebre
(1982)

Solid giallo with an interesting subtext to ponder...
Though not quite as successful as "Suspiria", "Deep Red", or even "Bird with the Crystal Plumage", "Tenebre" still is one of Argento's best films due to a surprisingly tight and cleverly constructed plot and artful direction.

However, unlike the other Argento films previously mentioned, this one is more exploitative than the others, relying more on shock and grotesque nudity to provide thrills, rather than relying on mystery, suspense, and intrigue to provide them.

Yet there is another side to this - Argento makes it blatantly clear, in both dialogue and development of the plot, that the film is meant to serve as a critique of violence in the media. In one such scene, a critic condemns an author for the violence he depicts in his works as it negatively affects the reader, making the reader themselves prone towards violence. There are several instances that expound upon this theme, but to cite them would mean to divulge the plot, therefor I shall refrain from doing so.

Perhaps the exploitative nature is then deliberate as these self-reflective scenes seem to suggest... or perhaps it is only just an excuse for Argento to use in order to depict these harrowing images of the grotesque. I tend to accept the former rather than the latter.

Anyways, this film comes recommended namely on the complex plot and the superb direction, but there is indeed a profound subtext lurking underneath its exploitative shell. Whether it was intentional or not is irrelevant - it's there and provides ample food for thought.

L'uccello dalle piume di cristallo
(1970)

Argento first is one of his best... A solid giallo!
Argento's first directorial effort is actually one of his best films, albeit slightly flawed due to his infancy as a director.

The narrative is, oddly, both its strongest and weakest aspect. The strength lies in the construction of the mystery, which is logical and clever with a twist ending that is both surprising yet rational - it isn't a non-sensical afterthought as most "twist" endings in giallos seem to be. In addition, the red herrings (which I often feel is cheating) don't seem forced and illogical - again, they are rational and cleverly placed.

However, the weakness lies in its overall structure of the entire plot, as well as its pacing. The film is too drawn-out, depicting scenes that are almost entirely unnecessary to plot, causing it to lack focus. As a result, pacing also suffers as there are a few "dry spells" within the script. Characterizations also suffer as many of the parts are rather flat and one-dimensional. Fortunately, the lead is nicely rounded and adds weight to the proceedings.

Despite these issues within the plot, the direction by Argetno is masterful. He creates a very palpable sense of dread that saturates the atmosphere, and the suspense sequences he constructs are truly effective and genuinely... well, suspenseful. Admittedly, the direction isn't quite as aesthetic as his later works, but the term "masterful" still applies to it.

My opinion: Argento's third best, after his masterpiece of surreal horror "Suspiria" and his iconic giallo "Deep Red".

Profondo rosso
(1975)

Argento iconic giallo! A clever and complex plot raises this giallo above all others!
In terms of narrative, "Deep Red" (aka "Profondo rosso") is Dario Argento's most accomplished work. The plot is indeed tight and focused, but the most significant aspect is that its logic flows seamlessly, with no lapses in rationality (which is a rare quality amongst horror films). The story does offer a bevy of red herrings that seem to present only to deceive us, but in retrospect they too make logical sense.

Though the plot does utilize some tried-and-true motifs found in other mystery films, it does so in a very unique, clever, and effective way, making them feel fresh and unconventional. Indeed, its main "surprise" element isn't necessarily new but it's handled in such a brilliant manner that it's truly surprising (again, a rare quality this day and age)! Admittedly, the atmosphere is not on par with the brilliance of Argento's own "Suspiria" - the visuals are still pleasant but are more traditional, and the score (provided by "The Goblins") is more intrusive to the mood than amplifying the terror.

Despite this, the narrative is so strong and the suspense so potent that it literally carries the film by itself.

My opinion: Argento's second best feature film (after "Suspiria") and quite possibly the best giallo ever produced.

Suspiria
(1977)

Argento's masterpiece! A surreal fairy tale that reflects upon femininity and the transference to womanhood.
Director Dario Argento designed the film not as a categorical horror film, but rather as a surreal fairy tale. Its construction is purposefully unreal and fabricated in order to create a dreamlike, fabled storybook semblance that manifests the perspective of the Suzy, a young girl leaving the security of domesticity for the first time in life. Her child-like innocence becomes juxtaposed with the harshness of reality that she has never encountered before, and as fairy tales did for children, she tries to interpret the unfeeling world while trying to maintain a sense of that said colorful innocence. Indeed, within the film characters are child-like and naive with their world is awash in iridescent luminosity that seems wholly fabricated. The dialogue is simplistic (as if a child was speaking) and the narrative is both uncomplicated and elementary with lapses in logic (as fairy tales often contain). The mystery, however, is potent as if reflects the mystery of a new life that Suzy is encountering. The music is ominous and foreboding, with a palpable dread that mirrors her apprehension in this transitional period within her life. These motifs lie buried just underneath the surface of what falsely appears to be a facile tale of horror. Indeed, it is the presentation of the film itself that is the main focus of the filmmakers as it creates a rich critique of femininity and the transference to womanhood. This is truly one of the most artful horror films ever to be produced.

Opera
(1987)

Another solid giallo from Argento, albeit slightly flawed...
Often considered Argento's last "great" film, this entry into the giallo canon is unquestionably better than any Argento film that has followed it (though I have yet to see "Mother of Tears"), but to call it his last "great" film might be stretching it a bit.

The directorial and stylistic flourishes - the hallmark of all Argento films - is indeed present, with some of his sequences of suspense ranking up with his best (the "peephole" sequence is especially memorable), and the cinematography by Ronnie Taylor is outstanding (the fluorescent lighting is beautiful).

However, the narrative - which is hit and miss in all of Argento's films - is missing here. There is indeed a potent sense of mystery and intrigue, but the plot resorts to what is essentially a string of murder sequences, with one following the another, leaving no real time to fully construct a right, focused mystery to be solved. All of this results in a climax that is... well... anti-climatic, as the film did not invest enough interest to make us truly care.

Regardless, this is recommended simply due to the masterful direction and beautiful imagery that Argento evokes. I wouldn't' recommend this as a starting point for Argento's films, however (for that, I would recommend either "Deep Red" or "Suspiria"), but if you enjoyed those, or even any giallo, then this is a very good addition to your viewing repertoire.

Hyeol-eui-noo
(2005)

A cleverly constructed murder mystery, amplified by a unique setting: 1808 Korea
This period murder mystery is very reminiscent of the Sean Connery film "The Name of the Rose", which was also a period murder mystery. That film's quality, though flawed, was immensely amplified by its locale (a monastery in medieval Europe) which is indeed a rare setting for the mystery genre. In this film, we find a similar circumstance: a good but flawed mystery that is greatly aided by its thoroughly original surroundings (in this case, 1808 Korea).

The mystery itself is, on the whole, cleverly constructed. The film opens with a series of incidences that seem, at first, to be unrelated to one another. However, as the story progresses, it is revealed that these events are outgrowths of one another.

The plot is also very devious in manipulating the audience, leading the viewer to believe one thing, only to subvert that assumption and reveal what is truly occurring. These red herrings does not cheat the viewer since they are entirely logical and, upon a second viewing, completely obvious if one only watched the scenes in the correct frame of mind. Indeed, the cleverness of the plot is what hooks the viewer and keeps him watching.

Yet all the threads do not tie together as effectively as they could; indeed, the narrative's last events is where the film stumbles. Here, the plot begins to introduce too many new elements, which only complicates and confuses the narrative rather than layer it with complexity. In addition, the film's final revelation, though not obvious, is a small disappointment due to the plot not effectively building upon the killer's character, and thus seems slightly random. It is only after the revelation that his motivations and background is explained.

*Very slight spoiler in the next statement*

Another major debit is the introduction of a supernatural element at the film's denouement that is out of tone with the rest of the film. This element appeared to be haphazard in its inclusion, since the rest of the narrative doesn't really support this event. If this small scene simply was omitted, the film would have ended on a much satisfactory note.

*End of spoiler*

Regardless, the film was very good overall, thanks to a stellar first hour that really envelops the audience in its mystery and genuinely surprises the viewer with each revelation.

And one cannot ignore its totally unique setting. Never have I seen a film that focused on such a time period in Korea, nor have I seen a film that presented the manufacturing of paper in such detail. All these touches really add an air of originality to the proceedings, perhaps presenting the film better than it really is. Luckily, this lush locale is reinforced by an intelligent script that, though imperfect, manages to integrate the elements of the period brilliantly into its story.

Essential to those who love period mysteries and a high recommendation to those interested in the mystery genre as a whole. To everyone else, a solid rental.

Sang gong kei bing
(1984)

A Rather Mediocre Effort Despite A Terrific End Shoot Out
When I came across this film on IMDb I found the comments here to be very positive, portraying the film as one of the milestones of Hong Kong action cinema. With these glowing reviews I decided to make a "blind buy" purchase and order it on DVD through an online retailer. It was only $8.00 and I figure it was worth the gamble, especially since I had such admiring reviews to back me up. This aura of positive reviews, however, made me ask the question, "If this film is so essential to Hong Kong cinema, why hasn't anyone seen it? Or better yet, why is it completely unknown?" After I received my DVD and watched it, I found out.

The film is rather dull in all accounts. The film tries to build back story for the characters in the beginning of the film, but it only spends approximately ten minutes here before thrusting the characters into a clichéd action story. Ten minutes isn't enough time to build characters, especially when there is about six characters to develop.

And the film doesn't spend time on their relationships or internal psyches throughout the rest of the film. Instead, it concentrates on a fumbled heist, a few murders, torture, and whorehouses, totally devoid of any human emotion.

And the acting doesn't doesn't help in any way either. Most of the characters seem to be assigned one emotion and each must play that emotion to the fullest. As a result we witness over-the-top and occasionally irritating performances (some of the characters seems to be be on the verge of tears every time they are in a mess, causing the audience to groan at their complaining and constant whining).

As for that narrative portion of the film, it is greatly unfocused. The film is more of a culmination of scenes rather than a solid plot thread and the audience becomes confused trying to figure out how these scenes are related.

Also, the film places focus on irrelevant and unimportant scenes that do not further the story nor the development of the characters, such as the time spent on scenes at the whorehouse. These scenes seem pointless since they merely show the sexual intercourse between the men and prostitutes and do not add any commentary on anything.

However, the film does contain one noteworthy merit and that is the final shoot out that takes place in the back alleys of Hong Kong.

The sequence lasts about ten minutes and is indeed well executed. Here, the fugitives are running away from what appears to be an unending force of police officers through a labyrinth of hallways. The narrow passages and maze-like structure reflects the claustrophobic nature the characters are feeling and as more and more officers propagate within this tight locations, the fugitives are squeezed into a smaller and smaller area until they must make a final stand.

However, this scene is only well made on a technical level. Since the characters and story are so underdeveloped, we don't really care what the results of the shootout will be. Instead, the viewer will take joy in the sequence on a purely visual level, making the scene an experience but not a satisfying dénouement.

I don't see how this could possibly be a cornerstone of Hong Kong cinema when it has been so sloppily made. Most likely the film has simply received a small cult following thanks in part to the well executed final sequence, and thus have been over-praised in some areas.

The film isn't a totally lost, but it really isn't worth seeing. I would recommend this to only those who are Hong Kong Action (Heroic Bloodshed, Gun-fu, Bullet Ballet) completests, and even then it would only be to see that final scene.

Paradise Villa
(2001)

While this slasher is told in a unique manor, It is still only average
A thriller from Korea that adds another entry to the ever expanding Asian horror genre. The genre, which first began as an invigorating and fresh addition to the canon of horror, now is becoming rather typical and predictable. However, these titles are generally more successful than horror films being made else where in the world, if only for at least aspiring to be different and original. "Paradise Villa" is an example of one of those films in that it aspires to be unique, but sadly becomes derivative despite the effort.

What makes the film different is the perspectives the movie portrays. The film concentrates on several different characters within a apartment complex and they all have their own story lines that somewhat overlap with others. This intertwining relationships and complex system of focus may have led to a rather refreshing story about how all our lives are interwoven with one another, and how actions we take will not solely effect us but rather impact everyone around us. Sadly, this is not the case.

The story line is essentially an excuse to link characters these characters and nothing more. The focus is not the relationship but the characters themselves which makes the film into a series of vignettes rather than an complexly structured narrative. So ultimately the way is told is unique, but unfortunately the opportunity to take full advantage of that was never materialized.

The characters, however, are strongly written and each are unique. The actors playing them play their parts to the fullest and, as a result, the characters are lively and fresh. However, since no relationships have been established between them, we are simply seeing a series of character studies with no direction.

The violence also seems out of place with this direction the film takes. The movie is told in a rather light tone and the gory violence seems like an abrupt deviation from the overall tone the movie set.

Also, by the end of the film, no progression has been made since throughout the movie we essentially only saw characters going about their day to day lives. When it ends, we learn nothing new and our last impression is that it was all pointless.

It very sad that a film missed such a big opportunity to explore something profound, but instead it is rather flat and aimless. I would recommend this to only fans of the slasher genre since it is different than the typical entry to this sub-genre, but to anyone else I would recommend you skip it since there are better examples of the Asian horror genre out there.

Penny Gold
(1973)

A Rather Dull Mystery
Jack Cardiff is an academy award winning cinematographer (for 1947's "Black Narcissus") but is an uneven director (Though his 1960 film "Sons and Lovers" garnered him an Oscar nomination). In this film, he moves away from the viewfinder of the camera and into the seat of the director's chair.

The DVD Cover provides this synopsis for the film: This dramatic indie thriller, set in the intriguing world of high-stakes stamp collectors, is directed by acclaimed British cinematographer Jack Cardiff. A detective (James Booth) is assigned to investigate the murder of a young woman, whose body is found in the shadow of Windsor castle. In the course of his inquiry, he stumbles onto a plot to steal a rare and valuable stamp called the Penny Gold--and encounters a woman who appears to be the dead girl's lovely but dangerous evil twin (Francesca Annis).

This description paints the film in a better light than it actually is, which is obvious since it comes from those trying to market the picture on DVD.The film's narrative has the quality of something one may see on a made-for-TV program rather than something one would consider "theatrical." While the set up and initially beginnings of the mystery are captivating, the rest of the film is dreadfully dull and uninteresting. The story is totally unfocused as we are presented with scenes, such as random flashbacks, that seem totally out of place and irrelevant.

The mystery itself is not at all that mysterious as the audience can predict its outcome from the very beginning and thus makes the film a big build up to nothing.

There are a few good traits, such as the wonderful location shots of Windsor Castle and the surrounding rural areas (courtesy of Mr. Cardiff), and a well-photographed car chase (which, unfortunately, seems out of place).

The DVD was a blind buy given its cheap price of merely $4 (most online DVD stores carry it between $4-$6), but I certainly wouldn't pay a cent more. The film, admittedly, is attractive at that price but it is suggested you save up your money for more quality films.

Not recommended except those who are fans of Jack Cardiff or those who don't mind squandering $5 to add a title to your collection.

Solamente nero
(1978)

A Good, Solid Giallo
Directed by Antonio Bido, this is by far his best film of his career (Though, admittedly, his only other film of any note is the 1977 Giallo "Watch Me When I Kill").

The film's narrative is relatively typical of a giallo: Someone is killing people in a small village and a priest tries to unravel the mystery of the killer's identity. What's atypical is the film's tone. The film is noteworthy for being one of the more serious and mature of the giallo genre. Bido avoids the giallo's often sleazy nature and embraces the Gothic and religious aspects instead.

Another interesting point is how the film focuses on two main protagonists, the priest and his brother, and how they collaborate with one another to discover the killer. Interesting narrative method having two focal points rather than one, not original but unconventional.

The performances are generally good with Craig Hill as giving an impressive performance as the priest. He exhibits a broad range of emotions from anger to sorrow, from determination to helplessness, and makes it totally convincing.

The cinematography is main feature of the film because it is its strongest trait. The visuals portray a wet and muggy Italy, with fog and mist enveloping the landscapes and rain falling, creating pools of water. This all builds a gloomy and foreboding atmosphere that conveys feelings of isolation, loneliness, dread, anguish, and death.

The characters are generally good as well, each with a strong history and believable relationships between one another. The greatest of which is the relationship between the priest and his brother, which is totally believable because not only of both of their performances, but also the development of their characters.

And lastly, the film features some wonderful aesthetic qualities through it's use of editing. Bido inter splices Catholic and Religious imagery to make comments about the characters and the religious institution as a whole.

The film has a few problematic issues. First of all, the narrative isn't clearly focused. The film appears to be more concerned with the visuals and the individual, isolated events in the film rather than the mystery as a whole. Thus, this damages the film's impact as it approaches the end, because here the mystery plays center stage but is underdeveloped.

The narrative also suffers from several of the genre's conventions and clichés, thus leading to a sort of predictability of the story. The film features the typical gloved killer, the extended stalking sequences leading to a gruesome death, the multiple red herrings, childhood traumas, and a host of other archetypes of the giallo.

Also, the final revelation stretches plausibility and thus may become unacceptable to some viewers, especially when one recalls the events that have transpired throughout the film.

Never the less, this is one of the better giallos out there.

Recommended to those who enjoy the mystery/thriller genre, though it is not essential unless you are a fan of the giallo genre. For the casual film viewer, there are better examples of the giallo genre and thus would recommend that you skip this and view one of the apexes of the genre such as Suspiria.

Ye shou xing jing
(1998)

An effective Hong Kong thriller, A typical story well told
Interestingly, half of the comments listed here state this film is a complete disaster and the other half call it an action masterpiece. The film is neither of these extremes and its quality really is a compromise of both stances.

The begin with, the story it tells is rather straight forward with a typical flow of narrative we have seen in several other Asian thrillers. The story, however, is not a complete carbon copy of these other films and does have its own unique flavor, but the similarities can not be ignored.

What does set it apart from these other Asian thriller is the way it is told. The film is disclosed in a terrific and unique visual flair. The film features some savvy cinematography and flashy lighting to really add a wonderful ambiance and atmosphere to the proceedings which does help elevate its otherwise mundane plot.

The narrative also is infused with a good amount of comedy, causing the film to operate more as an action comedy rather than a straight action thriller. However, this is both to its advantage and disadvantage. The comedy does add a refreshing spin on the genre, making the film feel fresher than others of its ilk; but the comedy and serious violence is presented too unevenly making the film have a crisis in identity. At one moment the audience is expected to laugh and the next we are to cringe at the intensity and brutality of the action. This leads us to assume the film wasn't quite sure which direction to embrace.

However, the acting really is a key point that aids in its overall success. Anthony Wong is on hand to give another terrific performance. Many critics cite this as one of his best roles, if not the best one he ever had. The reasons are quite clear as Wong can both exemplify a tender heart in softer scenes and a determined, vengeful soul in harder scenes. On account of his performance, some of the uneven issues in tones are brought to an equilibrium, but are unfortunately not entirely resolved.

The acting form the supporting cast are adequate but nothing noteworthy. Some of the performances are rather over the top but that seems to be often the case in Asian thrillers, The rest are fortunately competent.

Overall, if the script had greater focus and didn't conform to several conventional elements, then this film would have been one of the better thrillers to come out of Hong Kong. As it is, the film is a rather typical action thriller told in an invigorating manor. Recommended for anyone interested in thriller genre, but if you are a causal film viewer or if the genre isn't your forte, then there are better examples out there.

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