Italian horror cinema has never shied away from gory violence and sexual imagery-often depicting the genre's female leads in an arguably misogynistic fashion. Even though the Italian thrillers showed a considerable amount of naked female flesh on screen, the women of gialli played a pivotal role in making the subgenre a vital part of Italy's cinescape for several decades.

Dario Argento's Tenebre, itself a fine example of the form, has a line where one female character ironically condemns giallo's ladies as "victims, ciphers," before becoming a victim herself. They're much more though--not merely fetishistic objects to be slaughtered by iconic black-gloved killers, but also heroines, murderers and yes, sometimes victims and ciphers too. Lucio Fulci's Seven Notes in Black poetically demonstrates how these women could be everything. The eerie chime of Virginia's wristwatch echoing behind the wall that holds her prisoner signals to the audience that even though she's doomed, she will still be heard. Virginia spends the majority of the film being victimized, but she's also proactive in trying to save herself and unravel the mystery that surrounds her. Even though she's not entirely successful, she refuses to just fade away.

For the next several days, I'll be highlighting the careers of gialli's finest leading ladies, in celebration of February being Women in Horror Month. Read more about the woman credited as Argento's muse, Daria Nicolodi, after the jump.

When Dario Argento's 1970 film The Bird with the Crystal Plumage was released, 20-year-old actress Daria Nicolodi vowed to meet the director after having been greatly impressed by his work. Five years later Daria would star in the first of many roles for Argento in Deep Red (Profondo Rosso), where she played reporter Gianna Brezzi.

In the film, she's a supporting character to jazz pianist Marc Daly, played by David Hemmings. Marc witnesses a brutal murder in the film's opening, but doesn't see the killer. Nicolodi joins Marc in his hunt for the murderer and becomes a vital component of the story. Her performance is memorable not solely because of her striking appearance, but also because she's the antithesis of the foppish Marc. Gianna is a woman of action, saving Marc at one point in the film and even getting stabbed near the climax. Deep Red may be Marc's story, but it wouldn't be half as interesting without Nicolodi's presence.

That same year, Daria also gave birth to Argento's daughter, Asia Argento, who followed her mother's lead into acting and would later work with her on screen. Daria would be Argento's muse for years to come. The actress even assisted the maestro with the screenplay for his other masterpiece, Suspiria, having been influenced by childhood stories that her grandmother (who happened to dabble in the occult) shared with her. She went on to write a few screenplays of her own and reunited with Argento for the 2007 film, Mother of Tears.

During her long career, Daria collaborated with a veritable who's who of Italian horror cinema, including Mario and Lamberto Bava and Michele Soavi. Thanks to her countless memorable performances and numerous writing contributions to some of the greatest genre films of the era, Nicolodi's place in the pantheon of gialli icons is assured.

Now check out this badassery.

CATEGORIES Features, Horror