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  Girl Who Knew Too Much, The there's always room for giallo
Year: 1962
Director: Mario Bava
Stars: Leticia Roman, John Saxon, Valentina Cortese, Milo Quesada, Dante Di Paolo, Chana Coubert
Genre: Comedy, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: On a flight to Rome, naïve American tourist Nora Davis (Leticia Roman) inadvertently samples a marijuana cigarette. The following night her Aunt Ethel (Chana Coubert) suffers a fatal heart attack. Dazed and traumatised, Nora stumbles onto the street where she witnesses a brutal murder. A policeman finds her the next morning, but she fails to convince him of what she saw since the body has vanished. Poor Nora is sent to a mental hospital, where she is rescued by her aunt’s physician, Dr. Marcello Bassi (John Saxon). Although sceptical of her claims, Marcello helps Nora follow the trail of clues that lead to a suspicious aristocrat (Valentina Cortese), several threatening phone calls, a haunted journalist (Dante Di Paolo), and a series of murders dubbed ‘the Alphabet Killings’.

Mario Bava’s giallo-comedy-thriller is unique in that it is both a send-up and progenitor of its genre. Although conceived as a comedy, both the shadowy world woven by Bava and the intensity of Leticia Roman’s frightened heroine leave it less a laugh-fest than a nightmare punctuated by bursts of humour. Indeed, co-producers American International Pictures were so perturbed over the uncertain tone, they had Bava shoot several additional comic scenes for the drive-in version, which they inexplicably re-titled The Evil Eye and tried to market as a straight horror film. Among the additions was a scene where Nora undresses for bed whilst trying to evade a leering portrait of her uncle hanging on the wall - a cameo from Bava himself! Sadly, this amusing scene is absent from the version most commonly available on DVD.

The film shows off Bava’s strengths as a filmmaker, mainly his ability to create a uniquely surreal and compelling atmosphere on a low budget, but also some of his weaknesses. Nora is drawn as a frigid, neurotic heroine whose troubles stem as much from her over-active imagination as any outside threat. Several critics view the story as a parable about a young women’s fears over losing her virginity, evidently because Nora is distrustful of men. Nonetheless, and through no fault of John Saxon’s, Marcello comes across as rather smug, a self satisfied hero who seems to think his strained patience with her neurosis entitles him to sex. His repeated entreaties that nothing so sordid as murder could happen in a city as beautiful as Rome, grow rather tiresome. Interestingly, this argument was cited by Bava himself as the reason why Italian audiences held his horror films in contempt.

Its few faults aside, The Girl Who Knew Too Much is an engaging and historically important film, a loose homage to Agatha Christie’s “The ABC Murders”. Several truly ingenious sequences lend a dreamlike air to proceedings, including Nora’s investigation of a glowingly white apartment led by a tape recorder that issues death threats. It climaxes with a speeded-up, Chipmunks-style version of the film’s theme song: “Furore”, sung by pop star/actor Adriano Celentano; a song Bava reportedly hated, although it’s quite catchy. Film fans should also note the scene where Nora fashions a crude burglar alarm made of string, since Martin Scorsese worked in a neat homage in Cape Fear (1991). The story flows beautifully and features standout performances from the supporting cast - especially Dante Di Paolo - and a fine prototypical, wide-eyed, giallo heroine in Leticia Roman.
Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam

 

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Mario Bava  (1914 - 1980)

Italian director/writer/cinematographer and one of the few Italian genre film-makers who influenced, rather than imitated. Worked as a cinematographer until the late 1950s, during which time he gained a reputation as a hugely talented director of photography, particularly in the use of optical effects.

Bava made his feature debut in 1960 with Black Sunday/The Mask of Satan, a richly-shot black and white Gothic gem. From then on Bava worked in various genres – spaghetti western, sci-fi, action, peplum, sex – but it was in the horror genre that Bava made his legacy. His sumptuously filmed, tightly plotted giallo thrillers (Blood and Black Lace, Hatchet for the Honeymoon, Bay of Blood) and supernatural horrors (Lisa and the Devil, Baron Blood, Kill, Baby...Kill!) influenced an entire generation of Italian film-makers (and beyond) – never had horror looked so good. Bava’s penultimate picture was the harrowing thriller Rabid Dogs, while his last film, Shock, was one his very scariest. Died of a heart attack in 1980.

 
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