There is a fine line between what we consider horror and the movie genre known as the thriller. Horror makes us think of monsters both big and small, ghosts and goblins and the otherworldly. Thrillers tend to be suspense filled movies where a deep plot concerns the future of the known world. But there was a time when thrillers fell into the horror category, stories of murders most foul by killers we thought normal before their acts were revealed.
One group of films captured this style of movie, often made in Italy and given the term giallo, Italian for yellow. This was due to a series of mysteries released in that color and designated by the yellow covers they sported. Many consider the film THE GIRL WHO KNEW TOO MUCH made by Mario Bava as the first movie of this genre. But while he may have begun the genre it was director Dario Argento who mastered it and made it more popular. And his first film as director, THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE, is now available in pristine condition from Arrow Video.
The story is straightforward it seems. Writer Sam Dalmas (Tony Musante) has been in Italy for a few months trying to get over a case of writer’s block. Authoring a non-fiction book to make ends meet he now has the funds to return to the US with his girlfriend, model Julia (Suzy Kendall). Taking a walk through the city before heading home he sees something going in the local gallery. A dark clothed figure is in the middle of trying to stab a woman to death.
Sam runs to her aid but finds himself up against a pane of glass, the doorway into the gallery. As he tries to enter the fleeing killer presses a button and traps him between the two doors this and the pane behind him. A passerby sees him and Sam sends him for help. When the police arrive the woman is still alive and Sam becomes the initial suspect in her attempted murder putting an end to his plans to leave.
Disturbed by what he saw, Sam tries to help the man investigating the attack, Inspector Morosini (Enrico Maria Salerno). It seems that this was not the first such attack to happen. A series of murders of young women has been taking place and frightening the entire city. With alibis for those murders suspicion is lifted from Sam but he continues to investigate on his own, knowing that there is something he is forgetting, something he saw that night that continues to elude him.
The deeper Sam digs into the case the more danger he places himself and Julia in. A phone call from the killer reveals just how much danger that involves. As the clues mount and the victims increase, it is only a matter of time before the killer makes an attempt on Sam or Julia. With each clue he discovers Sam’s memory begins to un-cloud and the killer will be revealed, a killer most will never guess.
All the ingredients of a typical giallo film are here. There is the killer, clothed all in black wearing black gloves we see time and time again. They select the knives he uses to kill, dial the phone and more. The involvement of the police detectives trying to find the killer is there. The gore filled (for its time) murder sequences are there. And the innocent victim accused of the crime who tries to find the real killer is the centerpiece of this film.
Elements of the giallo can be found in numerous movies made since and a few before. But the style was put to the greatest effect by the Italians and Argento in particular. In this and subsequent films his sense of style was such that it was easily recognizable and marveled over by fans of the genre. He went on to not only work in this genre but horror as well, most notably when he created the Three Mothers series of films that began with SUSPIRIA. His use of color and light, of shadows and mysterious visions and the use of electronic music (most often by the band Goblin) all worked together to make some of the most visually arresting movies in the most horrific of genres.
As with previous efforts Arrow has done and amazing job here making this worthy of adding to any collection. The film comes in a brand new 4k restoration from the camera negative making it the best version visually released to date. Extras include Italian and English soundtracks, English subtitles, audio commentary by giallo historian/author Troy Howarth, “The Power of Perception” visual essay by author Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, analysis of the film by critic Kat Ellinger, a new interview with Dario Argento, an interview with actor Gildo Di Marco and a limited edition 60 page booklet about the film. As you can see they jam pack the extras.
As a horror fan I was glad to finally get the chance to see this film and in this condition. As I said earlier, it is one for movie fans to add to their collections and for all others to seek out to watch. Last week I discussed the disappearance of DVD or the question of will it happen. If movies of this caliber are released in this format then the odds of that decrease.