The Italian film industry in the 60’s and 70’s (excluding the 80’s for the purpose of this article) produced some of the finest soundtracks ever created for film. No more so than in the giallo genre, that started with the 1963 release of Mario Bava’s classic La Ragazza Che Sapeva Troppo (Aka “The Girl Who Knew Too Much” or “Evil Eye”). Along with their sumptuous sets, saturated colours and seductively enchanting scantily clad female actresses. These psychological thrillers were often driven by Hitchcockian plot twists, red herrings which often involved a police investigation and typified with a mysterious murderer, face obscured and dressed in overcoat, along with hatchet, knife or cutthroat razor.
It was with the creation of the avant-garde free improvisation group known as Gruppo di Improvvisazione Nuova Consonanza (aka “The Group” or “Il Gruppo”) in Rome in 1964, which was dedicated to the development of new music techniques by improvisation on traditional classic instruments along with new electronic music methods, which gave the classic giallo sound that became associated with the genre. The group was formed by Italian composer Franco Evangelisti, along with legendary composer Ennio Morricone and Egisto Macchi, and drew heavily on Jazz, Serialism and Musique Concrete along with different musical philosophies and disciplines.
The giallo film (and soundtrack) emerged during the “Golden Age” of Italian cinema in the early 60’s and stuck steadfast to Mario Bava’s stylish gothic horror inspired suspenseful murder mystery storylines and atmospheric’s until the genre was reinvigorated in 1970 with Bava protege and disciple Dario Argento with his debut feature length film The Bird With The Crystal Plumage (L’uccello dalle piume di cristallo) which managed to turn many of the conventions on their heads by introducing new contemporary themes and experimental techniques that inspired a new generation of Italian filmmakers into creating an ultra-stylish, arthouse cinema for a new type of audience that flourished throughout the 1970’s until the genre’s eventual demise by the end of the decade.
The ensemble of talented performers from Il Gruppo during the 1970’s continued to evolve and embrace different techniques and styles (including prog-rock and funk) and inspire a new generation of highly skilled musicians and composers who were all adept at working on complex scores with multi instruments, and in a variety of different genres and media.
So without further ado, let me present to you a small selection of soundtracks that were pivotal in the history of the giallo film, which defined the genre, and eventually became inspirational to other sub-genres that spawned from it’s grasp. As a rule i decided to use no more than 2 soundtracks from the same musician/composer, so unfortunately i will have to leave out some truly awesome scores that could of easily made the list.
10. The Iguana With The Tongue Of Fire (L’Iguana Dalla Lingua Di Fuoco) Music by Stelvio Cipriani, 1971.
In Dublin, a young Dutch woman is brutally murdered when a maniac throw’s acid in her face, who then proceeds by cutting her throat with a razor blade. The body is later discovered in the boot of a limousine owned by a Swiss Ambassador who was also the dead woman’s lover. With the Ambassador hiding behind diplomatic immunity, enter washed-up ex Detective John Norton, investigating the murder, under a covert operation, and played by Cult Italian cinema veteran Luigi Pistilli.
Directed by veteran filmmaker Riccardo Freda, this is very much a low standard in the giallo genre, and not the directer’s best effort. Freda had been used to working on films with a larger budget and was coming to the end of his filmmaking career (retired in 1972) by the time of making this. But aside from the often clunky, non-coherent aspects to the film, as well as the hilarious Irish dubbing of Pistilli’s character, the film has an extremely nasty side that will appeal to the Gorehounds. The often graphic scenes depicted were a precursor to the latter exploitative filmmakers like Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci.
The other redeeming quality to the film is, of course, the superb soundtrack by prolific musician and composer Stelvio Cipriani. With over 200 film and television scores to his name, Cipriani has built a reputation as one of the best composers in the film industry, and worked in all the genres of Italian EuroCult Cinema. His earlier scores to the 1969 cult classic Femina Ridens (Aka The Laughing Woman) and award winning score to The Anonymous Venetian (Anonimo Veneziano) in 1970 gave him the opportunity to work with esteemed filmmaker Mario Bava on the cult classic A Bay Of Blood in the same year as The Iguana With The Tongue Of Fire. Cipriani’s deft touch with melody and willingness to adopt new techniques with a broad spectrum of instruments, including piano, oboe, synthesisers and guitars is typical of his work from this period. The romantic piano pieces, along with soothing vocals by Nora Orlandi are a pleasurable compensation to a fairly predictable film.
A beautiful track titled “Tema D’Amore” from the original soundtrack, featuring Nora Orlandi is available to listen Here. Although the original recording is somewhat of a rarity, a 2006 remastered CD version is available (currently sold out!) via Digitmovies. For more information you can check a direct link to their website Here.
9. Who Saw Her Die? (Chi L’Ha Vista Morire?) Music by Ennio Morricone, 1972.
Below. Two tracks from the soundtrack to Who Saw Her Die? (Chi L’Ha Vista Morire?), including Main theme, by Ennio Morricone (1972).
Directed by Aldo Lado, the film starts with the murder of a young French girl, presumably in the Alps, by an unidentified woman dressed all in black. 4 years later we see Roberta arrive from London to visit her father Franco in Venice, a well known sculptor, played by George Lazenby. After his daughter’s body is discovered floating in the canal by a crowd of local market traders, he and his estranged wife (Anita Strindberg) believe their daughter was killed by a maniac, and along with a somewhat insufficient police investigation begin to investigate the crime for themselves.
Who Saw Her Die? is a visually beautiful film to watch with some nice Venetian scenery and an equally impressive soundtrack from the maestro Ennio Morricone. His theme track for the killer, an ethereal sound of a boy’s choir which is accompanied by a jazz inspired percussion and strings manages to encapsulate the feeling of impending dread by the presence of the masked killer, and is combined to create a chilling presence throughout the film.
Ennio Morricone’s influence as a musician, composer, orchestrator, conductor and producer for film and television scores is unquestionably enormous, and rightly deserves the acknowledgement as one of the greatest film composers of all time, it’s incredible that he has only just won his first Oscar for Best Original Score in 2016 for Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight. Having made more than 400 film soundtracks throughout his long and illustrious career, including some of the best known scores in film history, from classic spaghetti westerns like Sergio Leone’s The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (1966) to John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982), Morricone’s music remains a beacon of inspiration to all artists and enthusiasts in the film and music industry, and will forever shine a light of excellence and quality.
His score for Dario Argento’s The Bird With The Crystal Plumage in 1970, helped transform the giallo genre and would rightly deserve to be on any essential giallo soundtracks list. It’s not on this one (i question myself why not?). But fear not intrepid devil hounds!, a complete version is available to listen to Here if you so chose to do so?.
8. All The Colours Of The Dark (Tutti I Colori Del Buio) Music by Bruno Nicolai. 1972.
After suffering a miscarriage caused by an accident. Jane starts to experience terrifying visions of a man committing murder. Along with her troubled relationships she eventually seeks psychiatric help but succumbs to a sadistic and bloody group of devil worshipers and begins to have hallucinations that question her sanity.
All The Colours Of The Dark is a supernatural style thriller that manages to unite giallo with the occult, from one of the finest filmmakers in the genre. Director Sergio Martino has crafted an early 1970’s psychedelic nightmare that draws heavily on the claustrophobic tension and paranoid alienation that audiences first witnessed in Roman Polanski’s seminal classic Rosemary’s Baby (1968), and brings it to swinging London, along with a sterling cast of iconic cult italian stalwarts, including the irresistible Edwige Fenech, and suave charms of a blue-eyed Ivan Rassimov and George Hilton. Similarities abound with Satanic rituals, sexual sacrifice, and a female protagonist, mentally ill and being driven to insanity with haunted memories which blur the line between reality and dreams. This was Martino’s third contribution to the genre, and although not typical to a classic Giallo film, and certainly not the best in his repertoire, still manages to bring some nice Psychedelic chills that are highly atmospheric, with some nice touches of Bava style cinematography, dramatic angle shots, and ornate grandeur.
Below. Sabba- Bruno Nicolai. From the soundtrack to All The Colours Of The Dark (1972).
The soundtrack by one time Morricone collaborator and right hand man Bruno Nicolai manages to throw everything into the kitchen sink for this one, and create a kaleidoscopic myriad of jarring, often difficult, and unsettling bass driven beats that fuses into wild free form jazz with penetrating shrill’s of intense terror, that cresendo’s and drifts into a harmonised psychotropic dreamlike trance of grace and tranquil.
Nicolai crafted some truly astonishing giallo soundtracks throughout is illustrious career, and it’s difficult to chose his best work from this period. A limited edition 2004 CD can be obtained (via Digitmovies). For more details click Here. There is also a 2014 double LP version that is also available at Finders Keepers Records (UK).
7. Five Dolls For An August Moon (5 Bambole Per La Luna D’Agosto). Music by Piero Umiliani, 1970.
When a wealthy industrialist invites five business friends and there wives to a weekend gathering at his secluded island home on the Mediterranean, what starts as a relaxation soon turns sour when the group start to fall out and go behind one another’s back’s to obtain information on a guest’s brilliant investment plan. When the body of one of the guests is discovered washed up on the beach the following morning, and without an escape route available to leave the island, the group, featuring an early performance in the genre by Giallo Queen Edwige Fenech, find themselves being killed off one by one by an assassin.
5 Dolls For An August Moon. Directed by master director and cinematographer Mario Bava, isn’t generally regarded as one of his finest achievements in film (described by Bava himself as his least favourite), and often degraded as incoherent due to script problems with a disorderly and unfinished quality throughout. Bava chose to avoid showing graphic violence on the screen and abandon traditional suspense technique in favour of an experimental and improvised approach to narrative structure, that plays more like a black comedy than a thriller with Bava’s comical side on display as the body count is shown in recurring scenes of each of the killers victims being hung up in a freezer like slabs of beef.
Below. Scenes from 5 Dolls For An August Moon, including the track Cinque Bambole (Versione Coro) from the original soundtrack (1970) by Piero Umiliani.
The addition to the film with a gem of a soundtrack by composer Piero Umiliani, the very man behind the light-hearted and humorous “Mah Na Mah Na” song first recorded in 1968 and turned into a number one hit by The Muppet’s on their tv series in 1976, brings an eclectic mix of hazy psychedelic grooves, with elements of prog rock that are accompanied by an entrancing jazz infused lounge atmosphere that delivers an outstanding feverish tempo to compliment Bava’s characteristic of vibrant primary colours, lavish backdrops and exquisite eye for detail, make the film (and soundtrack) an underrated Cult Classic.
A complete version of the soundtrack is available on everybody’s favourite video and music sharing site!.
The original vinyl was released in 1970 and is a highly sought out edition to any serious aficionado’s collection. There was however a Remastered 2001 version at Cinevox Record. made in CD format that is more readily available to purchase. For more info on obtaining this beauty then click Here. For fans of the film a recent Dual Format High Definition Edition is available to own, complete with audio commentary by Bava’s biographer Tim Lucas, along with the documentary Mario Bava: Maestro of the Macabre, plus extras, via Arrow Films.
6. Strip Nude For Your Killer (Nude Per L’Assassino- Translates as “Strip Nude For Your Assassin”). Music by Berto Pisano. 1975.
For fans of the sleazier side of Giallo’s, Strip Nude For Your Killer is a nice trashy example of the sexually depraved, politically incorrect and nasty side of the genre. Directed by Andrea Bianci, who went on to direct the cult zombie film Burial Ground (1981), delivers an interesting foray into the murky world of the Giallo films. The directer has managed to craft a psychosexual thriller which starts with the nasty death and botched abortion of a fashion model in a back street, and proceeds through the film like an abusive and misogynous tidal wave of salacious implication, that is never going to win the Germain Greer outstanding Female achievement award anytime soon. There is plenty of gratuitous disrobing, mostly from genre favourite Edwige Fenech, along with several comical moments, that have a twisted sense of humour which is liable to offend the most puritanical and prudish of spectator. But of course if your reading this article then the chances are that your not one of those boring types, and you just love a good old fashioned act of depravity and violence towards (either of) the sexes on camera, and delight’s at the very nature of a 70’s sleazefest of epic proportions. Strip Nude For Your Killer delivers exactly what it promises, an entertaining semi-suspenseful giallo with some nice touches of cheesy sex scenes, along with some enjoyable graphic and brutal murders by a switchblade wielding motorcycle-helmeted psychopath, dressed all in black, that will please and satisfy any viewers voyeuristic expectations.
Below. The trailer for the restored 2012 High Def Blu-ray version of Strip Nude For Your Killer (1975). Complete with music from the original soundtrack by Berto Pisano. For more info click Here.
The soundtrack is a sublime mix of jazz infused euro lounge with some nice touches of Isaac Hayes inspired blaxsploitation funk and soul. From composer, conductor arranger and jazz musician Berto Pisano, who was more associated with pop songs and working with Italian soprano singer and pop sensation Mina on a variety of her performances. The music to Strip Nude For Your Killer is just about as groovy as giallo scores ever get, with some extremely effective disco string work and jazz trumpet that has enough freaky energy to satisfy any enthusiasts taste buds. The films terrific main theme is also modelled on Motown songwriters Norman Whitfield and Barrat Strong’s psychedelic soul classic “Papa Was A Rolling Stone” (1971).
Unfortunately this “bad boy” soundtrack is has never seen the light of day since it’s release in 1975, apart from a 1997 bootleg version on a compilation CD titled “Murder For Pleasure: Giallo Thriller Themes.” So with a bit love and support let’s all make sure that it gets a nice 21st Century make-over very soon!.
5. Blood And Black Lace (Sei Donne Per L’Assassino- original title translates as “Six Women For The Murderess”). Music by Carlo Rustchelli. 1964.
What more can i say about Blood And Black Lace apart from that this is the film that defined the giallo genre. Ok it wasnt the first giallo film, but it was the blueprint to what flourished into the Yellow Beast of Death that flourished throughout the rest of the 60’s and 70’s, and influenced countless directors from Scorsese to Tarantino, and what also inspired Dario Argento to craft his ultra-stylish cinema of beauty and horror through pure cinematic visual experience.
Below. Trailer from the restored (dual format) 2015 version of Blood And Black Lace, along with music from the soundtrack (including main theme).
I will be exploring the career of Mario Bava in finer detail in the near future so i will try and focus on the soundtrack for the purposes of this article. Carlo Rustichelli was a hugely influential film composer who reluctantly got into films through a close association and friendship with the great filmmaker Federico Fellini in the late 1930’s. Blood And Black Lace was the second score Rustichelli worked on with Bava, having worked together on the darkly gothic and sexually provocative The Whip And The Body (1963). The sumptuous score he provided for the film meant that the pair worked together on Bava’s next project which proved to be a masterpiece in cinematic history.
Rustichelli’s versatility in composition and his dizzying array of styles fused with Bava’s visually breathtaking excessive use of colour, wildly baroque set pieces and contrast of light and shadow allows the scenes to flow with a visual style that manages to paint a glorious hue of enchanting technicolour. While ditching the customary orchestral approach to the score and playing around with tempo and structure, his supreme bossa nova fusion of samba, sultry rhythms and lounge style jazz, which are soaked in harmonious sentiment along with themes of erotica and dark tension filled strings manage to set a luxurious and sultry backdrop to the films narrative, which exudes style and sophistication into every frame.
A 2005 edition is available (currently sold out) with the complete scores to The Whip And The Body and Blood And Black Lace together on a double CD, via Digitmovies. For more information click Here.
4. The Red Queen Kills Seven Times (La Dama Rossa Uccide Sette Volte). Music by Bruno Nicolai. 1972
Two sisters inherit a castle, followed by a string of murders committed by a mysterious woman in a red cloak. The killer may be an ancestor known as the “Red Queen” whom legend has it kills seven people every hundred years. This is a very interesting giallo, with many twists and red herrings. Directed by Emilio P. Miraglia, who only made 2 giallo films in his career, this being his second after “The Night Evelyn Came Out Of The Grave” (La Notte Che Evelyn Usci Dalla Tomba) in the previous year. In both films the directer combines gothic horror with the giallo to great effect that is both atmospheric and stylish to watch. And with the stunning Barbara Bouchet in the lead role, a very enjoyable film in the genre.
Another outstanding soundtrack by Bruno Nicolai that makes a nice enhancement to the film. The distinctive piano-led theme that accompanies the suspense sequences, along with the composers trademark heavy baseline are memorable, dynamic and full of atmosphere and beauty. Nicolai was able to elevate any film he worked on, and the Giallo genre was no exception. It was tough to chose the best 2 soundtracks that Nicolai made for this article. So consideration needs to be made to “Eyeball”, directed by Umberto Lenzi in 1975, and “The Case Of The Bloody Iris” (Giuliano Carnimeo) in 1972. Both fine soundtracks that would of been worthy contenders to add to the list.
To listen to the complete soundtrack to The Red Queen Kills Seven Times click Here.
The original recording of the soundtrack was released in 1972. A remastered 2015 LP edition is available on Dagored Records website. Alternatively fans of the film will be pleased to know that a Dual Format edition of “The Red Queen Kills Seven Times” along with “The Night Evelyn…” are soon to be available (as of writing this!) on a double box set titled Killer Dames:Two Gothic Chillers by Emilio P. Miraglia on 23 May 2016, via Arrow Films (UK). For more info click Here.
3. Lizard In A Woman’s Skin (Una Lucertola Con La Pelle Di Donna). Music by Ennio Morricone. 1971.
The daughter of a prominent politician has recurring nightmares of making love to a bisexual nymphomaniac who lives below her apartment. The dreams start to become violent and eventually the neighbour is discovered dead. The woman (played by Forinda Bolkan) becomes the main suspect and begins to question her own sanity as to whether she actually committed the murder or just dreamed it?. The plot unfolds with plenty of red herrings, plot twists and outlandish dream sequences featuring some LSD induced sex orgies.
Another Giallo set in swinging London, directed by cult filmmaker Lucio Fulci who proves capable of producing a stylish, suspenseful and highly polished film with minimal use of gore, some nice set pieces and wild camera work which helps reinforce the sense of illusion throughout the film. The soundtrack by Legendary composer Ennio Morricone is one of his most experimental scores to date and mixes some post sixties funk and jazz with some unusual effects to provide a dreamy montage and haunting backdrop to the film.
This is one of Morricone’s rarest records, and extremely hard to find an original, although there was a CD released in 1996 (Screen Trax) and since been reissued on vinyl on Dagored in 2000. Your best bet though is a 2014 double vinyl remastered limited edition version is available, via Death Waltz Records (UK). For more information click Here.
2. A Bay Of Blood (Reazione E Catena- original title translates as “Chain Reaction”). Music by Stelvio Cipriani. 1971.
Another classic film by Mario Bava which trailblazed the way forward for the American slasher films in the 1980’s. The script is pretty incoherent with a deliberately confusing storyline that flits between characters, and without consideration for the need to build a profile on the array of victims/perpetrator(s) that are on screen. Despite some flaws in the films ability of storytelling at times (often described as a bit of an endurance test) Bava’s ability of turning low-budget movies into beautifully shot atmospheric masterpiece’s, that are visually engaging and unique in his strength as one of the greatest cinematographers in the history of filmmaking, A Bay Of Blood is a masterclass in horror as a visual form that oozes style and atmosphere to create an aesthetically pleasing contrast between the violence and depravity of mankind with the lush surroundings of the natural locations. This was Bava’s most gory film, with a high body count of creative slayings, and some nice effects by Carlo Rambaldi, which are ahead of their time and predate the work of effects specialist Tom Savini.
With some classic soundtrack scores already under his belt, this was composer Stelvio Cipriani’s first project working with Mario Bava. Cipriani’s deft score for Bay Of Blood oscillate’s between strangely upbeat and funky rhythms, with some beautifully melodic orchestral music, complete with a bongo-driven lounge score thats delightful in places and ominous and terrifying edgy when it needs to be. There is also some nice touches in the score that encapsulates Mario Bava’s sense of humour which has a wicked and absurdist quality, with a nihilistic streak that is present throughout the film, finishing with with a pleasant upbeat pop pastorale in the end credits. Cipriani went on to score Bava’s next project Baron Blood (1972) as well as his tough crime thriller Rabid Dogs (1974). As well working on some great giallo soundtracks Cipriani was able to adapt to different genre’s with ease (including most of the composers on this list!) and work with some of the great Italian directors of the era, including Ruggero Deodato (The Concord Affair) and Umberto Lenzi (Nightmare City). Some other stand out soundtracks that need a mention are the 1969 classic Femina Ridens (as mentioned earlier in article), The Great Kidnapping (La polizia sta a guardare) in 1973, and Tentacles (1977).
A 2005 double CD and album version, including full score to Bay Of Blood along with Baron Blood is available to purchase (via Digitmovies). For more info and complete track listing click Here.
1. Deep Red (Profondo Rosso). Music by Goblin (with orchestral score by Giorgio Gaslini). 1975
After witnessing the brutal murder of a psychic neighbour, a British musician in Rome (played by David Hemmings) becomes obsessed over the crime, and along with eager reporter Gianna Brezzi (Daria Nicolodi) uncovers a series of clues that lead to further carnage and bloodshed.
This is Dario Argento’s fourth Giallo film and one of the finest in the genre. His debut feature film The Bird With The Crystal Plumage (1970) was an international hit that put Argento on the map and established the filmmaker as an emerging talent in horror and the macabre. With Profondo Rosso Argento managed to create a visual style of his own which set a standard for future films in the genre. Inspired by the great Mario Bava’s use of high contrast lighting effects and a transcendent visual beauty with a strong sense of space and depth of field, along with his low angle camera angles, long tracking shots and extreme close-up’s. Argento preferred surrealism over logic and Freudian themes abound throughout the film. The murder scenes are more outlandish and gruesome in Profondo Rosso to any previous incarnations and manage to blur the boundary between murder mystery films and horror.
The cinematography is matched by a fantastic and menacing soundtrack, architected by Italian prog-rock band Goblin. After Argento had originally used jazz pianist and composer Giorgio Gaslini to score the whole film, and was unhappy with the final outcome, and failing to get Pink Floyd to provide the music, managed to eventually persuade Goblin, headed by Claudio Simonetti to create a truly awesome soundtrack which is highly ambitious that blends jazz, psychedelic prog-rock and heavy metal into a distinctive and effective style. In the final score, three of Gasolini’s original tracks were retained.
Goblin and Claudio Simonetti went on to collaborate on further Argento films, as well as other filmmakers (including George A. Romero’s Dawn Of The Dead, 1978). Their most notable soundtrack was on Argento’s next film Suspiria (1977), which is considered by most horror/soundtrack aficionado’s as one of the best horror soundtracks of all time. And although the film contains elements of the Giallo, is not generally regarded as a Giallo film, so unfortunately doesn’t make the list.
There have been many different versions of the soundtrack released over the years. In 1996 Cinevox released a nearly complete version which incorporated parts of Gasolini’s score which was used in the film. Then in 2006 Cinevox released a 2 CD version with the remastered original album, complete with a few unreleased songs. In 2015, and to coincide with the films 40th Anniversary, Rustblade Records have released a new limited edition vinyl version and CD version of the original soundtrack that concentrates more on Goblin’s music (with exception to a small part of a Gasolini track), complete with live recordings and a darker, contemporary edge. For more information Click HERE.
Hope you enjoyed some (hopefully all?) of our choices. I will be doing similar posts on different genres in the near future. Thanks to Giallo fiend and devotee Bethany Venice Wiseblood for making my choices a bit easier.