I’ll start with a controversial confession – I don’t like Giallo films all that much.
Giallo movies dominated Italian cinema for a good two decades between the 60s and 80s, launched the film careers of such legends as Dario Argento and Mario Bava, and influenced generations of non-European, modern horror directors like Eli Roth, John Carpenter, and Wes Craven. Cornerstones of the genre like Profondo Rosso and Tenebrae still stand the test of time. So-called Giallo, they were based on the yellow covers of the pulp crime fiction novels that formed their initial plotlines.
But the nonsensical titles – Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue – and the endless “is he or isn’t he” black-gloved killer in the shadows plots don’t do it for me. I’ve tried.
What I adore is the music.
And just as two decades’ worth of Giallo films exist, I get to listen to a juicy two decades’ worth of soundtracks as well and shine a spotlight on the legendary composers behind them. This is by no means a comprehensive list!
*BRUNO NICOLAI – Met fellow Giallo composer Ennio Morricone whilst studying at Rome’s Santa Cecilia Conservatory, and enjoyed a long working friendship with him.
- Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key (1972) – Urgent staccato keyboards morph into soft orchestration that could either be a tender love scene or a European soft-core porn. Percussion and bass burst back through and horns sound out a profound distress call before a wash of violins sweeps it all away again. A keeper.
*ALESSANDRO ALESSANDRONI – Multi-instrumentalist and childhood friend of Ennio Morricone Alessandroni played the twangy guitar riff on The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, and was the whistler on the soundtrack to multiple Sergio Leone films.
- Killer Nun (1979) – lush, sweeping, and profoundly funky with the organs set somewhere between ecclesiastic and prog. Unmistakably European in tone with that beautiful jet set combination of blended vocals and grand pianos. One of the many instances where the music far outweighed the film.
*NICOLA PIOVANI – One of the most prolific Italian soundtrack composers with a hefty 130+ albums to his credit, Piovani has also worked with Fellini.
- Il Profumo Della Signora in Nero (1974) – The deepest piano chords anchor the sharpest of rapidly plucked strings and melancholy high flutes, and the slow yet steady pace never lets up. Discordance breaks in and disappears again, and the register creeps ever higher as the ticking clock of the percussion grows ever more dramatic.
*RIZ ORTOLANI – Former jazz band leader Ortolani has an even more impressive 200+ soundtracks on his resume, and worked in the US and the UK as well as his native Italy. In addition to his Giallo soundtracks, he also scored Ruggero Deodato’s controversial movies Cannibal Holocaust and The House at the Edge of the Park.
- Don’t Torture a Duckling (1972) – Soft prog as organs swoosh over yer more organs and plucked out piano notes harmonise with picked out chimes, bells, and drums. It’s all very childlike and all very dreamy. This could easily be the underscore to a late 1960s Euro-pop song.
*STELVIO CIPRIANI – Another graduate of the Santa Cecilia Conservatory, Cipriani had a prolific career scoring spaghetti westerns and poliziottesco soundtracks alongside Giallos.
- Bay of Blood (1971) Cipriani always manages to convey the action of the crime drama in his music, and here exotic moods intertwine with the deep urgency of chases and drama and heartbeats galore. He’s such a master of low-key percussion and evocative keyboards that the entire soundtrack snakes and twines and grips.
*ARMANDO TROVAJOLI – Trovajoli was also a jazz man, and part of Italian movie royalty through his marriage to noted actress Pier Angeli.
- Vedo Nudo (1969) – Big sexy drums, low sensuous vocals, and a gorgeous and pounding Hammond line underneath that just conjures up the grooviest of red light nightclubs in a back alley somewhere off the Cinecitta lot.
*CARLO RUSTICHELLI – In a career spanning five decades Rustichelli worked most closely with director Pietro Germi. Mario Bava’s Blood and Black Lace is considered to be on of the first of the Giallo genre.
- Blood and Black Lace (1964) – Some seriously cool jazz horns make out with some equally serious lounge drums and bongoes as the orchestra smokes an exotic perfume down and around the proceedings. Nice boys and girls don’t come to this joint to play that’s for sure.
*ENNIO MORRICONE – Simply one of the most influential composers of all time with countless film and television scores to his credit.
- Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion (1970) – Wordless vocals scatter over the kind of expansive orchestration that simply screams the Italian Riviera and clandestine meetings and hints of affairs and shadows. Funky little organ breaks whisper of capri pants and stilettos on dusky beaches. Morricone, perhaps better than anyone, seems to be able to cast a beautiful musical spell of promise of lush safety at the precise moment when the action on screen is anything but.
*GOBLIN – Mention Giallo soundtracks and most people will cite Goblin, the Italian prog rock band who have scored movies for Dario Argento, George A. Romero, and more. No Giallo compilation is complete without at least one Goblin track.
- Tenebrae (1982) – Nobody conveys approaching menace quite like Goblin with futuristic slashes of synths and guitars and mad crashes of kettle drums and the deepest of basses. And then it’s back to a pulsating electronic phrase gripping and winding and retracting on itself, like a chord lost in a maze.If I had to make a choice to keep just one Giallo composer – and it would be a hard choice – I’d probably lean toward Goblin!