It’s popular on the internet to break down films and genres into their components and tropes and giallo films are very easy to break down. Off camera murderers wearing black gloves, first person perspective from stalkers, women in trouble, knives, and bungling police (and hopefully loud music and a bottle of J&B in the background somewhere) are the key ingredients of most giallo films.
Something else that set the best examples of the subgenre apart from other films though was the use of highly imaginative scene design and filming techniques. Yes, you can create a giallo film by throwing together the more simple components listed above. What can’t be so easily imitated however, is the creative imagination of somebody like Dario Argento.
Here are three great examples of Argento’s creativity realized on film.
Tenebrae tracking shot:
A very long shot by design, expertly building tension. Does the shot even make sense? Not entirely, unless our murderer can float, but that’s not the point. This is another thing that Argento is known for: he is willing to jettison logic for the sake of style. We (the audience) are also represented on screen with the shout to “turn it down!”. I’m also quite convinced that the vestal virgin-esque white draping robe isn’t a mistake at all. Then there’s the close-up of the razor smashing the light blub!
It’s just a great scene overall and not something easily duplicated.
The Bird With The Crystal Plumage window scene:
Here’s a scene that messes with you. Being trapped and helpless is a primal fear. Argento has a thing for people being forced to witness something that repels them, which leads in nicely to the last example.
Opera wardrobe scene:
Another forced witness and another highly stylized scene. Extra points for the sound design here too.
If you’re not familiar with the films here, they all come recommended. The Bird With The Crystal Plumage makes for a good introduction to the giallo subgenre. Tenebrae is one of my three essential Argento films (along with Suspiria and Deep Red, if I’m forced to pick). Opera is the most difficult of the three, as it makes the least narrative sense, but it’s still essential, especially if you’ve developed a taste for this style of film already.