Gothic to Giallo

The Bloody Chamber is a volume of prose that works around bodily fluids. Blood, sweat, tears and ejaculate are where the money is in any media, to be certain, and Angela Carter’s collection of stories deals with a collection of topics that focus on (and in some cases may invoke) these reactions. It’s telling of the material (and the reader) that they reminded me of giallo film.

Giallo is a genre of Italian film that burgeoned during the 60s and 70s. The name means ‘yellow’, for the pulp paperbacks that served as the foundation for many of the stories. Essentially, these are crime and mystery films with elements of horror and eroticism. Hitchcock’s movies influenced the visual style. They are bloody, sexy, awesomely scored, terribly dubbed (for the English versions at least) and questionably written to say the least. The connection to Angela Carter, at least to me, exists in the warped minds of giallo’s three pioneers: Mario Bava, Dario Argento, and Lucio Fulci.

The films of all of these directors created giallo by taking a similar mixture of high and low culture as The Bloody Chamber, combining a fondness for the finer things in life and a fascination with the viscerally disturbing. Sex and violence are inexorably linked, often through the proclivities of a depraved elite, as in Carter’s prose. The Gothic aesthetic, with its dark, dramatic stories, lends itself well to both. The primary difference between The Bloody Chamber and the average giallo is the unavoidable fact that the latter is, some say inherently, chauvinistic.

A stereotypical giallo plot (used by Dario Argento himself in a recent entry, itself named Giallo) is a black-coated, black-gloved killer, butchering beautiful women (i.e. models) in a very showy, even titillating fashion. The medium ties the emotions of violence with the titillation of sex, and many gialli veer farther into exploitation film territory because of this. Carter is much more ‘involved’ in her subject matter, in that her characters are thoroughly defined and imagined, with the primarily female perspective being the exact opposite of many gialli, which dismiss women as so much meat.

While I cannot defend this characteristic in giallo, especially when it is compared to the progressiveness (and astounding literary quality) of Carter’s work, I do love the genre as a gestalt too much to disown it entirely in the comparison. I can and will recommend films like Deep Red because I find their aesthetic and style undeniable, in the same way that I find the baroque descriptiveness of Carter’s prose to be simply amazing. Before I end, I acknowledge that this perspective comes with the bias of a straight white man, as did the bulk of gialli. Whether Carter did or didn’t successfully subvert this is debatable, but the connection is undeniable.

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