Nora has a very bad first night in Italy. The relative she is visiting dies of a heart attack right in front of her. A storm cuts out the phone call to the hospital. She runs out only to be almost immediately mugged and knocked to the ground. When she finally comes to, it’s only to see a man dragging a stabbed woman through the courtyard. That’s not what she was looking forward to on her nice little vacation.
Worse, when she wakes up in a hospital, the doctors assume she imagined the whole thing. She’s got to prove a crime even occurred before anyone will help her find the killer. Nora (played by the fetching Leticia Roman) eventually enlists the help of Dr. Marcello (John Saxon) who is more interested in her than in solving murders.
But soon they discover the long-solved Alphabet murders: a serial killing where women were being murdered in order of their last names. The killer got up to C, and Nora’s last name is Davis.
Evil Eye, under the Italian title translated as The Girl Who Knew Too Much, was directed by Mario Bava. It is credited with being the first giallo film. It set much of the template for many Italian thrillers to follow. An outsider (often a foreigner) stumbles upon a crime. The local authorities have doubts, so she investigates the crime herself. This, then draws the attention of the killer. And everything is shot in as stylish a fashion as technology and budget allows.
What it does not have that most giallo’s have, and Mario Bava’s in particular, is stylized (one might say garish) colored lighting. Evil Eye was shot in black and white. But it still uses shadows and light to create constantly involving images. The camera is rarely still, and Bava (who was his own cinematographer) rarely used a boring camera set-up or framing.
Evil Eye is the American release of The Girl Who Knew Too Much, one of several films director Mario Bava made that were released in the states by American International Pictures. The American version is several minutes longer than the Italian, and is an instructive demonstration of the power of editing. Some scenes have been deleted from the Italian, and many have been added. This changes the tone of the film appreciably, bumping up the “comedy” and, for most of the running of the film, seriously draining the tension.
At just 92 minutes, I found Evil Eye to be a slog. Scenes ran on too long, the dialogue didn’t always make sense. The “comedy” largely relied on John Saxon falling down or bumping his head. In the third act where the machinations of the plot have to come to the fore, it’s closer to the Italian film and more impactful. But most of the film takes too long, is too unfocused, and leaves you too much time to think about what is a mostly preposterous (if fun) plot.
The Girl Who Knew Too Much is much tighter and focused. It has a brisker pace, and yet also manages to more coherently convey the story. Both edits of the film, of course, are leavened with Mario Bava’s visual style. He was a talented cinematographer and was able to craft evocative images and scenes from very simple materials. The set for a scene in the morgue was probably a bare room with a couple of cabinets, but Bava’s extreme shadows and lighting make it convincing, and spooky.
As long as one doesn’t think too hard about the particulars of the increasingly preposterous story, The Girl Who Knew Too Much is a tight little thriller. It lacks some of the pyschosexual aspects of later giallos, and has very little graphic violence. But it does have the sense of paranoiac dread that’s pervasive in the genre. The American version, Evil Eye, undermines both the mood and the feeling of tightness with an overlong and underfocused edit. Watch the Italian version.
Evil Eye plus The Girl Who Knew Too Much has been released on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber. Extras include a commentary by Bava expert and film critic Tim Lucas, and theatrical trailers.