6 Modern Giallo Inspired Films to Follow Up James Wan’s ‘Malignant’
Birthed from film noir and murder mysteries of the 1940’s and 1950’s, the giallo film’s rise began with Mario Bava’s 1963 feature The Girl Who Knew Too Much, which many consider to be the first cinematic entry into the genre, and has since had countless films from a whole slew of directors enter the playing field. These productions typically took the standard murder mystery formula and applied graphic sexual violence (which was considered highly subversive at the time) before closing things out with a shocking twist. The genre’s peak happened across the 1970’s, before filmgoer’s taste began to shift towards the campy, supernatural slashers that were popular throughout the 1980’s. During the shifts the giallo genre went through we saw various interpretations, ranging from the more traditional gory and stylized entries to whodunit wild west features and boarding school killing sprees that often included paranormal aspects. One of my personal favorites is Giancarlo Santi’s 1972 giallo western The Grand Duel starring Lee Van Cleef, who plays an ex-sheriff trying to help exonerate a man that’s been falsely accused of murder.
The genre seems to have recently began a small resurgence and James Wan’s latest giallo-inspired feature Malignant, which we covered in episode thirty-three of the Void Video podcast alongside Prano Bailey-Bond’s Censor and Maximiliano Contenti’s The Last Matinee, has poured fuel on the fire. If you’re someone who’s found yourself thirsty for more mystery-laden bloodshed then you’ve likely already explored some of the more influential classics of the genre (i.e. Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key, Deep Red, Bay of Blood, All the Colors of the Dark, Lizard in a Woman’s Skin, etc.) and are interested in seeing some contemporary offerings. There’s been significantly less of these types of films made over the last couple of decades but indies have kept the genre alive, accompanied by many other works that are influenced by or involve a narrative based around the production of giallo films, such as the aforementioned Censor. I’m currently putting together a comprehensive Letterboxd list of classics as well as some more loosely inspired works (I’ll add a link here when it’s complete) but for this list I’ve compiled a few often overlooked modern entries that I find to be some of the most interesting, unique, or well made the genre has to offer, while differentiating the entries enough that there’s a little something for everyone. If you have further recommendations or want to shout at me for excluding your favorite, you can do so in the Void Video Discord!
Probably the most accessible film on the list, Simon Barrett’s directorial debut is an homage to the classics with an updated, socially conscious narrative and a Gothic face-lift having been applied to the signature genre setting of an all-girl boarding school. The story follows Camille Meadows (who one would imagine is named after Camille Keaton, given that her debut performance was in the film What Have You Done to Solange? whichhas been cited by Barrett himself as a major inspiration for Seance), a young woman who’s recently transferred to the Fairfield Academy following the violent death of another student.
It’s made clear from the start that there’s something weird and mysterious happening at this school, and the film does a great job from the first act of providing the viewer with a slew of motive-filled characters whose interactions begin building the tension very well. We’re also presented with a paranormal angle concerning the Fairfield ghost, who has quite the reputation among the staff and students, being considered as much of a suspect as anyone by many during the ongoing murders and disappearances happening at the school. It’s all excellently shot with great performances from all involved (especially Suki Waterhouse in the lead role) and the whole thing is brought to life by an absolutely mesmerizing score by German producer Sicker Man. It doesn’t necessarily do anything radically different, but it’s slight nuances to the formula accompanied by slick production make it worth a watch for any horror fan.
We also did an episode of Void Video podcast on Seance and Simon’s inspiration thread on Twitter, which you can listen to on your podcast service of choice here.
Available On: Shudder, VOD, Blu-Ray/DVD
Watchlist on Letterboxd: https://letterboxd.com/film/film:567517/
Knife + Heart (2018)
Easily the most colorful of the lot, Yann Gonzalez’ visually striking feature leans way more into the erotic side of the genre with a story set in Paris during the summer of 1979 that’s centered around a gloved killer stalking the actors of a third-rate gay porn production. It follows one of the producers, Anne, who’s been recently abandoned by her girlfriend and the editor of her films, Loïs. When the star of her films, Karl, is murdered Anne is forced to find a new leading man. Knowing that her time is limited she decides to go with a young man named Nans, who despite being a heterosexual agrees to star in the film. Anne does some rewrites after deciding to frame the story around Karl’s murder, and as they resume shooting the body count continues to climb, where we see Anne thrust into the middle of a strange investigation.
This film is a tried and true giallo: it’s neon-drenched, hyper-sexual, shockingly violent, beautifully shot, and scored masterfully by the French electronic band M83. It’s most powerful aspect though, is the tragic love story we’re unknowingly see unfold throughout the film, revealed in the final act with great effect. I was recommended this one by a friend earlier this year, and it’s a shame it doesn’t get more attention because it’s an extremely well-made and very timely foray into the genre.
Available On: Shudder, VOD, Blu-Ray/DVD
Watchlist on Letterboxd: https://letterboxd.com/film/knife-heart/
A recent find for me, this entry is a heavily comedic but highly faithful homage to the genre staples directed by Adam Brooks and Matthew Kennedy, who you may know from their various work on Father’s Day, Psycho Goreman, The Void, or Manborg. The primary structure of the film follows the giallo formula to the letter, as Brooks and Kennedy are big fans of classic genre cinema, which clearly shows here. They’ve sprinkled their trademark humor throughout, though, which surprisingly works fairly well despite removing some tension at times. For a film that’s far more interested in nailing the style and being funny though, the mystery is still very well crafted.
The story follows acclaimed film editor Rey Ciso (a great performance by Brooks) who after a tragic accident is left with a set of wooden fingers on his right hand and his legacy tarnished. He’s working on director Francesco Mancini’s latest giallo film when Claudio, the star of the production, and his girlfriend are brutally murdered while viewing a cut of the movie at the studio late one night. When they’re discovered to be missing the same fingers as Rey, he becomes the primary suspect and for the remainder of the film comedically attempts to prove his innocence as the murders get more and more gruesome while continuing to point to his guilt.
Available On: Shudder, AMC+, VOD, Blu-Ray/DVD
Watchlist on Letterboxd: https://letterboxd.com/film/the-editor/
Death Drop Gorgeous
This is easily the wildest and most over-the-top film on the list, but one that stays quite faithful to the traditional giallo format while managing to make it arguably the most wacky it’s ever been. Brought to life by a directing trio consisting of Michael J. Ahern, Christopher Dalpe, and Brandon Perras, this feels like a giallo that’s been given a heavy dose of John Waters’ campy, subversive, low budget style. The film follows a gay bartender who’s returned to his sleepy hometown in Rhode Island only to be greeted by a string of gruesome murders committed by a mysterious gloved killer. In an odd turn of events, the victims are all being drained of their blood in what appears to be part of a sinister ulterior motive the killer is carrying out.
There’s so much great queer representation here, with marginalized actors and crew being used in almost every possible aspect of the production. The films boasts a massive cast consisting of some well-known talent like scream queen Linnea Quigley and drag queen Complete Destruction, as well as the directors themselves popping up in some fairly prominent roles. There’s some big laughs and great kills, including one particular death involving a portable meat grinder and a set of genitals, so there’s heaps of darkly comedic fun to be had here. It lingers a little too long on ultimately irrelevant character interactions at times and could’ve used some technical polish, but there’s enough really good stuff going on here that it’s pretty easy to overlook those minor shortcomings. So if it’s a darkly comedic, highly violent, drag-centric giallo you’re after, look no further.
Available On: VOD
Watchlist on Letterboxd: https://letterboxd.com/film/death-drop-gorgeous/
Berberian Sound Studio (2012)
Peter Strickland’s sophomore feature is related to giallos in the same way that Prano Bailey-Bond’s Censor was: it’s centered around someone working closely with films from the genre, which it borrows stylistically from but is not directly a part of. This story has us following Gilderoy (played by Toby Jones, who delivers an outstanding performance as always), a British sound engineer who’s working on location for an Italian film studio on their latest giallo slasher film where he’ll be in charge of creating and mixing the macabre sounds required by the producers. Most of his time is spent rotating dials and smashing various vegetables in order to obtain the necessary sounds for the job, but in the process he begins thinking something isn’t quite right about this place or the people around him.
There’s a severe lack of blood and guts here, which might disappoint some potential fans, but there’s a dreamlike, surrealist quality to the film which will surely please fans of psychological, slow burn horror affairs. It at times has a Lynchian quality to it, especially once the small flame that’s present the entire film ignites in the final act. It’s not entirely successful at tying together it’s themes and it takes longer than many will like to get to the point, but it’ll surely leave you with a lot to think about as well as provide some fantastically disturbing imagery along the way.
Available on: Shudder, AMC+, VOD, Blu-Ray/DVD
Watchlist on Letterboxd: https://letterboxd.com/film/berberian-sound-studio/
Cry Wolf (2004)
Purists might scoff at this entry, as on the surface level it appears to be a standard American slasher, but under the hood Jeff Wadlow’s debut feature has all the innards of a giallo film. There’s a mysterious gloved killer, red herrings as far as the eye can see, and it’s set entirely at a boarding school where the students are being systemically murdered by the aforementioned killer who’s wielding a hunting knife. The killer design in this film is incredibly basic, consisting of items you could purchase at any local store, but that’s really what makes it so effective. This killer could be anyone, anywhere that decided to spill a little blood.
It’s all tied together with a brilliant subplot about a game the students play in secret late at night involving a randomly chosen “wolf” hiding itself in a pack of “sheep” who are trying to locate the imposter, and the use of era-appropriate tech like chat rooms, text messages, and social media really adds some depth to the paranoia. Throw in some young, rising talent from the time (with supporting performances by legendary rock star Jon Bon Jovi and veteran actor Gary Cole) and you have yourself a violent, highly enjoyable early 2000’s slasher that will keep you guessing until the credits roll.
Available on: Cinemax, VOD, DVD
Watchlist on Letterboxd: https://letterboxd.com/film/cry-wolf-2005/