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This article is about the literature and film genre. For the 2009 Dario Argento film, see Giallo (film). For the Italian wine grape also known as Giallo, see Verdicchio.

Giallo (Italian pronunciation: [ˈdʒallo], plural gialli) is an Italian 20th-century genre of literature and film, which in Italian indicates crime fiction and mystery. In English, it refers to a genre similar to the French fantastique genre and includes elements of horror fiction and eroticism. The word "giallo" is Italian for "yellow" and comes from a series of cheap paperback mystery novels with trademark yellow covers.


The term giallo derives from a series of crime-mystery pulp novels entitled Il Giallo Mondadori 'Mondadori Yellow (books)', published by Mondadori from 1929 on, and taking its name from the trademark yellow cover background. The series consisted almost exclusively of Italian translations of mystery novels by British and American writers, such as Agatha Christie, Ellery Queen, Edgar Wallace, Ed McBain, Rex Stout, and Raymond Chandler.

Published as cheap paperbacks, the success of the "giallo" novels soon began attracting the attention of other publishing houses, who began releasing their own versions, mimicking the yellow covers. The popularity of these series eventually established the word giallo as meaning a mystery novel.


For Italian audiences, giallo has come to refer to any kind of thriller, regardless of its origin. Thus, American, British or other thrillers such as Psycho, Vertigo or Peeping Tom are considered gialli. For English-speaking audiences, however, the term has over time come to refer only to a very specific type of Italian-produced thriller which Italian audiences have historically referred to as "thrilling all'italiana" or "spaghetti thrillers."

The film subgenre that emerged from these novels in the 1960s began as literal adaptations of the books, but soon began taking advantage of modern cinematic techniques to create a unique genre which veered into horror and psychological thrillers. The giallo film genre proved to be a major influence on the later slasher film genre.


Giallo films are generally characterized as gruesome murder-mystery thrillers that combine the suspense elements of a Hitchcock film with scenes of shocking horror featuring excessive bloodletting, stylish camerawork, and often jarring musical arrangements. The standard plot, used in countless films, involves a mysterious, black-gloved psychopathic killer who stalks and butchers a series of beautiful women. The killings are invariably violent and gory, including throat-slashings and decapitations. These murders often occur when the victim is most vulnerable (showering, taking a bath, or scantily clad). The literary whodunit element is retained, while being filtered through Italy's longstanding tradition of opera and staged grand guignol drama. There are also stories that involve supernatural forces, ghostly spirits, etc. Giallo films often include liberal amounts of nudity and sex, with several actresses becoming strongly associated with the genre such as Edwige Fenech, Barbara Bach, Daria Nicolodi, Barbara Bouchet, Suzy Kendall, Ida Galli, and Anita Strindberg.

Gialli typically introduce strong psychological themes of madness, alienation and paranoia. For example, Sergio Martino's Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key was explicitly based on Edgar Allan Poe's short story "The Black Cat". A typical giallo finale will reveal the killer to be a mentally disturbed madman (or woman) posing throughout the film as a very normal, even subdued, individual, while the more obvious suspects turn out to be red herrings. Typically the killer is well-hidden with a hat, sunglasses, gloves, and/or trench coat to conceal their features, and even their gender.

One reason this film genre remains unique is its expressive use of music, most notably Dario Argento's collaborations with Ennio Morricone and his musical director Bruno Nicolai, and later with the band Goblin.

Gialli often feature titles based on animal references or the use of numbers. Examples of the former trend include Giornata nera per l'ariete, La morte negli occhi del gatto and La tarantola dal ventre nero; while instances of the latter include Sette note in nero and Sette scialli di seta gialla.[1]


As well as the literary giallo tradition, the films were also initially influenced by the German "krimi" phenomenon—originally black and white films of the 1960s that were based on Edgar Wallace stories. A particularly good example is The Monster of London City (1964) which seems almost like a prototype of the Italian giallo in every aspect. The Swedish director Arne Mattsson has also been pointed out as an influence, in particular his film Mannequin in Red (1958).

The first giallo film is Mario Bava's The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1963). Its title alludes to Alfred Hitchcock's famous The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), again establishing strong links with Anglo-American culture. Bava's stylish and influential Blood and Black Lace (1964) introduced elements that became emblematic of the genre: a masked stalker with a shiny weapon in his black-gloved hand who brutally murders a series of glamorous fashion models.[2]

Dario Argento's first feature, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970), was greatly influenced by Blood and Black Lace and introduced a new level of stylish violence and suspense that helped redefine the genre. The film was a box office smash and was widely imitated. Its success encouraged a frenzy of Italian film makers to shoot more colorful and gory films. Soon the giallo became a genre of its own, with its own rules and with a typical Italian flavour: adding additional layers of intense colour and style. The term "giallo" finally became synonymous with a heavy, theatrical and stylised visual element.

The genre had its heyday from 1968 through 1978, with dozens of films released. The most prolific period however was the three-year timespan between 1971 and 1973, during which time 65 different gialli were produced (see filmography below). Among the directors represented with notable works in this genre are Mario Bava, Dario Argento, Lucio Fulci, Sergio Martino, Paolo Cavara and Umberto Lenzi.

Pupi Avati went as far as satirizing the genre in 1977 with a slapstick giallo titled Tutti defunti... tranne i morti.

Although often based around crime and detective work, gialli should not be confused with the other popular Italian crime genre of the 1970s, the poliziotteschi, which refers to "tough cop", action-oriented films (largely influenced by Dirty Harry, The Godfather, and The French Connection). Directors and stars often moved between both genres, and some films could be considered under either banner, such as Massimo Dallamano's 1974 film La polizia chiede aiuto (What Have They Done to Your Daughters?).


The giallo cycle has had a lasting effect on horror films and murder mysteries made outside of Italy since the late 1960s. This cinematic style and unflinching content is also at the root of the gory slasher and splatter films that became widely popular in the early 1980s. In particular, two violent shockers from Mario Bava, Hatchet for the Honeymoon (1970) and Twitch of the Death Nerve (1971) were especially influential.

Early examples of the giallo effect can be seen in the British film Berserk! (1967) and the American mystery-thrillers No Way to Treat a Lady (1968), Klute (1971), Pretty Maids All in a Row (1971, based on an Italian novel), Alfred Hitchcock's Frenzy (1972), Vincent Price's Madhouse (1974) and Eyes of Laura Mars (1978). Berberian Sound Studio (2012) offers an affectionate tribute to the genre.

Giallo filmography[edit]




1990s – to present[edit]


  1. ^ Giovannini 1986, pp. 27–28.
  2. ^ Rockoff 2002, p. 30.

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