Mario Landi’s long unavailable Giallo a Venezia (1979) is a truly nasty piece of work, so it won’t surprise anyone who knows of my endless love for Fulci’s New York Ripper (1982) that this puts a similar sort of twinkle in my eye. The completely bananas plot begins with the standards beats of a typical giallo, such as a gruesome murder, a detective inspector on the case, red herrings, and too many suspects galore, but goes completely off the fucking rails in every way possible. The film follows a murdered married couple—Fabio (Gianni Dei) and Flavia (Leonora Fani)—who are discovered on the banks of a canal in Venice. Inspector Angelo De Paul (Jeff Blynn) is ordered to find the killer, and fast, because it’s smack in the middle of tourist season. He soon learns from their friends that the couple were into cocaine, as well as some shocking sexual practices. It seems that Fabio forced his wife to submit to his perversions—everything from orgies and anal sex to whippings, rape, prostitution, cuckolding, and exhibitionism—and someone in their circle clearly wanted revenge. But the couple’s friend, Marzia (Mariangela Giordano), reveals that a jealous former boyfriend is stalking her, widening the circle of perverse suspects.
Director Mario Landi’s (Patrick Still Lives) only giallo film, Giallo a Venezia, has been notoriously difficult to see (though that is changing, which I’ll address below)… and notoriously difficult to stomach. But boy is it worth the search, if an exploitation film masquerading as a giallo is the kind of thing that floats your gondola. It’s so delightfully sleazy, ranking somewhere between New York Ripper and Massimo Dallamano’s What Have You Done to Solange? (1972). Allow me to paint a quick picture: Lengthy soft porn flashback sequences (and by lengthy, I mean this takes up literally half the film) contrasted with shots of a a ridiculously coiffed and mustachioed but knowing detective who constantly eats hard boiled eggs. Oh, and jarring moments of extreme violence.
The violence here is about on par with New York Ripper, in the sense that not just one, but two people are stabbed viciously and repeatedly in the crotch, and a man is shot and then set on fire. And if you thought Mariangela Giordano had it rough in Burial Ground (1981), here she has one of her legs sawn off. Her body is found crammed in her own refrigerator—the half-size so popular in ‘70s apartments—in a scene that borrows from Short Night of the Glass Dolls (1971). The ridiculous level of violence is contrasted with almost constant nudity—both male and female—and a wider variety of sex acts than arguably any giallo film. Most of them are carried out by the sweet and innocent-looking Leonara Fani (of the similarly neglected and also quite lurid Pensione paura, 1977) and Gianni Dei (Patrick Still Lives), who are on screen for much of the film’s running time, despite the fact that the film is about solving their murder.
Giallo a Venezia really has the flimsiest excuse for a plot—the script constantly comes to a halt for relentless sex scenes—though in a sense it reminds me of something like The Pyjama Girl Case (1977), another similarly tragic and sex obsessed film that introduces a character as deceased and then spends a lot of its running time on flashbacks of that person’s life. The mystery essentially hinges on two elements. First, the Inspector can’t figure out why Flavia was drowned in the canal, but then pulled from the water and left on the banks. It is this unanswered question that propels the case forward, because the murder itself is apparently not enough. Later, what leads the detective to the truth is a pretty stupid plot reveal—an intrusive neighbor knew the location of two key witnesses all along—but these kinds of flaws, particularly in convoluted giallo films—excite me to no end for some reason and add a surreal quality that I absolutely love.
Compared to a number of other giallo films set in Venice—such as Who Saw Her Die? (1972), Don’t Look Now (1973), and The Bloodstained Shadow (1978)—this is the seediest Venice has probably every looked. And I don’t mean just because of the sexual content. This is sort of drab and ugly as far as giallo films go and it lacks the hyper stylized elements of early classics like Blood and Black Lace (1964), or the later era atmospheric, oneiric works like Footprints on the Moon (1975). With that said, there are some likable performances, namely from the two leading ladies and Jeff Blynn (Cliffhanger), who looks like a strange combination of Hall and Oates. The Inspector’s second in command, Eolo Capritti of Joe D’Amato’s Emanuelle’s Revenge (1975), is sort of a poor man’s Italian Kojak—and thus automatically beloved to me. As some of you may know, I have a bizarre passion for Telly Savalas, who does appear in a number of giallo and Italian horror films (Death Smiles on a Murderer, Lisa and the Devil, etc). In the beginning of the film, when Capritti is visible from the side only, I though for a second that Savalas was costarring and was nearly crushed when it turned out not to be him—though Capritti is quite likable in Giallo a Venezia.
Unfortunately, I have to take a moment to address the somewhat recent Scorpion Blu-ray. Giallo a Venezia is a film that should have a stunning home video release packed with extras, but this version sadly is not it. It looks alright—certainly much better than any previous releases or bootlegs—but my main qualm has to do with the commentary track, which is the sole extra included, and is one of the most inept and offensive tracks I’ve ever heard in my life. Because I’m someone who is regularly hired to contribute to Blu-ray releases—whether liner essays or commentary tracks—I try to be sympathetic to my fellow critics and I understand how difficult it can be to say something new and to try to please everyone who buys the release. Genre fans can be cruel and territorial, with very high expectations. But the apoplectic rage I’m currently experiencing has perhaps made me take leave of my senses.
What I don’t understand is why a Blu-ray company would bother hiring a critic who not only insults the film and its director, but who frequently makes the kind of sexist, embarrassing comments clearly meant to be humorous. They belong in a frat house and not on an authoritative commentary track. I understand that this is an exploitation film replete with nudity, sexual violence, and plenty of lurid content, but that’s no reason to act like you’re reporting from a locker room. It’s incredibly disrespectful to the filmmaker, the film itself, and the people actually paying money for the release, particularly for a film that has lurked in the shadows for so long. Giallo a Venezia deserves better.
Giallo a Venezia is either going to be your new favorite movie or you will be completely horrified. Really, the best I can do to prepare you is to compare it to my beloved New York Ripper, that paragon of filth and misanthropic violence. Though unlike that film, and basically any other giallo in existence, sexy saxophone music plays for pretty much the entire film. If that doesn’t sell you on it, I don’t know what will.