Mario Landi's 1979 giallo, Giallo in Venice, has earned a spot in the subgenre's hall of fame. Unfortunately, this distinction hasn't been bestowed upon the film based on technical merit or the compelling nature of its script or performances. Instead, it's remembered by fans of the form for one reason: it's pretty sleazy. In fact, if not for Lucio Fulci's New York Ripper and Camillo Teti's The Murderer is Still with Us, Giallo in Venice might be the grimiest giallo to ever emerge from Italy. Instead it has to settle for being second best to Fulci and Teti's exercises in brutality. Either way, there's enough of an exploitation vibe going on here to appease fans who like their giallo on the nasty side. Drugs, sex and violence dominate this story about a young couple (naturally their names are Fabio and Flavia) who are found dead on the Venetian island of Giudecca and the lurid events that lead up to their demise.
Inspector DePaul (Jeff Blynn and his hair) is the hard boiled detective -- literally too, he constantly eats hard boiled eggs throughout the film -- who investigates the mysterious and seedy deaths of the couple (played by Gianni Dei and Leonora Fani). As the hard-headed inspector interviews the late couple's friends, we learn how they came to be fish food and that there's a psychopath with a penchant for aviator sunglasses and vagina stabbings (no, not that kind) on the prowl. During the flashbacks to the young couples' time together, we learn that Fabio has trouble keeping little Fabio at full attention. He's an exhibitionist, a sadist and an all around pervert who thrives on kink -- so he rapes his girlfriend, forces Flavia to whore herself out to strangers and lets guys get grabby with her in movie theaters. It all sounds much more interesting than it actually is -- I was amazed at how bored I was watching a ten-plus minute sex scene, but then again the giant 70's bush was terribly distracting and off-putting for me. I think I was more excited by the groovy electronics featured in the film, like an answering machine that had so many buttons it looked like it could really be a time machine.
Coupled with Fabio and Flavia's antics are those of our mysterious killer who sticks it to a hooker in a dump -- literally, as he twists a pair of scissors into her lady parts. Soon after, he commits two other gruesome acts, but I don't wanna give away all the gore or you won't get much more out of this film. In the end, we learn the who and the why and although it's kind of a snoozefest most people don't watch this flick for its outstanding plot devices.
The acting is sub par at best but I will say that Gianni Dei's athleticism is kind of hilarious. He pounces on his co-star like a giant (scrawny) puma before he rapes her and makes all sorts of goofy faces while watching her get it on with guys from afar. The actresses here haven't been hired for their talent and spend most of the time masturbating and enduring humiliating sex scenes, which peter out to softcore porn basically. There are several lookalikes who make an appearance: Kojak, Sonny Crockett and Michael Landon. Despite all the vagina stabbings, Blynn's character seems awfully nonchalant throughout the film -- especially for an Inspector. He even says things like, "Too bad for her," in response to women being tortured and murdered. Also, he probably has the most wicked egg breath ever.
If you read this column then you know how I love to wax poetic about giallo, but Giallo in Venice is simply not on par with most of the Italian greats. It seems to be a film full of happy accidents that worked well in the way that the low-tech effects and shoddy film quality reinforces that great illicit, exploitation feel, but fails in almost every other area. However, Landi sneaks in a few decent shots, like the reflection of a bound and gagged woman about to be slaughtered on a kitchen table in the killer's aviator glasses. Also compelling is the way that Landi transforms the oft portrayed romantic city of Venice into a rotting and putrid place, where sex and drugs can be found around nearly ever corner. Berto Pisano's score is a completely inappropriate accompaniment for nearly every scene in the film, but that's what makes it so great. If you like your sleaze with a side of lounge and big band, then you've come to the right movie!
Clearly, Giallo in Venice isn't a good film, but it is one worth seeing for fans of the subgenre if for no other reason than because it will enable them to say they've seen one of the most unpleasant films in the entire field. That being said, if you'd like to see something directed by Landi, featuring lots of sleaze and that's kinda fun too, grab a copy of Patrick Still Lives instead.