Giallo Essentials [Red Edition] Blu-ray Box Set Review: Mixed Bag, Solid Box

Just in time for the holiday gift giving season, Arrow Video has repackaged three individual Blu-ray releases from 2018/19 into a new box set. The set is the first of a planned multi-volume collection of giallo essentials, intended to provide neophytes and connoisseurs with a treasury of classics. If you already have the individual films, there’s nothing new here aside from a sturdy box and slipcase, with the films remaining in their original individual release cases and artwork. All three films feature immaculate 2K restorations from the original camera negatives, with original lossless mono Italian and English soundtracks. Each film also boasts well over an hour of intriguing bonus features, mostly interviews with surviving cast and crew members.

The Possessed leads off this set, a fine place to start since its 1965 production date and black and white format makes it more of a proto-giallo than the lurid, sensational films that would come later and truly define the genre. The film has a Hitchcock feel to it, with a writer exploring the mystery of a vanished paramour while on holiday at a remote hotel. The photography is remarkable, made even better by the restoration that boasts incredibly defined contrast with no hint of murkiness in any scenes. The story is mesmerizing, anchored by a tortured lead performance by Peter Baldwin as the lovelorn writer. The Possessed isn’t just a good giallo, it’s a great film that transcends its genre. Bonus features include a lengthy and highly informative video appreciation by a giallo expert, as well as interviews with the film’s makeup artist, assistant art director, and an actor/director friend of one of the writer/directors.

The Fifth Cord has two standout selling points: a lead performance by legendary actor Franco Nero, and surprisingly impressive cinematography that gives the horrific tale a bit of an art house feel. Nero plays a reporter named Andrea who works a story about a serial killer. Since all of the victims are in Andrea’s orbit, he becomes a prime suspect in the police investigation so is forced to stay one step ahead of them to break the story and clear his name. The film is awash in characters and long stretches of dialogue-free sequences, making it a bit difficult to keep track of the story or care about any of the characters other than Andrea, but it does reach a satisfying conclusion. Bonus features include a passable if somewhat monotone video essay about the cinematographer’s stunning use of architecture and space, as well as intriguing interviews with the very forthright Nero and the film’s editor. The disc also includes an interesting deleted sequence, also restored from the original camera negative.

The Pyjama Girl Case bears the distinction of being the only giallo filmed and set in Australia, which is the most distinctive aspect of the production aside from the odd participation of veteran Hitchcock actor Ray Milland (Dial M for Murder). Milland plays a retired detective called back into action when a dead woman washes up on the beach with a burned-off face. The film bounces haphazardly between past and present as we watch the events that led up to the murder as well as the subsequent investigation, making for some viewing confusion trying to keep track of the timeframe for each scene. It’s fun to see rumpled old Milland engaging in racy dialogue he probably thought would never be seen back home, but the rest of the cast is fairly weak and unmemorable. Bonus features are led off by a rewarding look at the internationalism of the giallo, exploring the many productions that were set outside of Italy and established the travelogue aspect of the giallo movement. Along with recent interviews with one of the actors and the editor, the disc also includes an archival interview with the composer.

If you’re curious about giallo or an aficionado looking to boost your collection, this handsome set is a fine starting point for what promises to be a highly entertaining series.

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Steve Geise

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