While the giallo genre has a fairly rigid set of tropes that most films falling within its parameters adhere to (masked killer with gloves, a murder mystery element, ultra violent killings committed with bladed weapons, etc.), that isn’t to say that some directors didn’t try to do something a bit different within the loose confines of the style, introducing supernatural or surrealistic elements, for example, or making the story less about solving a series of interconnected murders than focusing on one protagonist and the determined madman out to get her.
One film that does both of these things, and with smashing success in my opinion, is the movie we’re talking about today, a particularly gothic and hallucinogenic nightmare that features several actors that will be familiar to anyone versed in giallo, including Edwige Fenech, George Hilton, and Marina Malfatti.
All the Colors of the Dark (Tutti i colori del buio, 1972) was an Italian/Spanish co-production, but set in London, and directed by Sergio Martino, also responsible for such genre classics as The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh, The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail, Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key, and Torso. It’s essentially a groovier, less satirical, and WAY more surreal take on Rosemary’s Baby, with similar themes of black magic, ambiguous reality, and crushing paranoia, centering on one woman who is never entirely sure whether she’s losing her mind or if there’s a concentrated conspiracy of nefarious individuals out to get her.
Beautiful but mentally fragile protagonist Jane has been going through some shit; not only was her mother murdered when she was five years old, but a year before the events of the film, she was in a car accident in which she suffered a miscarriage. Her long-time boyfriend, pharmaceutical rep and condescending jackwad Richard, was driving the car, and sorta feels responsible for that whole “losing the baby” thing, although he still kinda treats Jane like crap anyway, being pretty dismissive of her concerns about her crumbling sanity, and prioritizing work over Jane’s health, leaving her alone incessantly when she begs him not to.
Her main issue, it seems, is not so much the miscarriage and the resentment she feels toward Richard about the car crash. It’s more the fact that, ever since that tragedy, Jane has been plagued with horrific, Fellini-esque nightmares in which toothless old ladies cackle in close-up and a mysterious man with ice-blue eyes repeatedly stabs women in their beds. This may or may not be a recreation of the night her mother was murdered, buried memories of the past bubbling up to torment her.
In true “Yellow Wallpaper” fashion, Richard has been pooh-poohing Jane’s wishes to see a psychiatrist, insisting she just needs to keep ingesting the weird blue toilet-tablet vitamin concoction he’s giving her to flush away the crazy, since he clearly subscribes to the Tom Cruise School of Psychiatry Is Evil and Scientology Solves All the Things With Vitamins and OT Powers. But since playing with the Ty-D-Bol Man doesn’t seem to be doing her any damn good, Jane finally takes her sister Barbara’s advice and goes to see the psychiatrist Barbara works for, a kindly old man called Dr. Burton. Doc seems more understanding, but her nightmares are not going away, and what’s worse, she’s starting to see the blue-eyed man stalking her in real life, or so it would appear.
Fearing she might be going batshit insane, she finally confides in foxy new neighbor Mary, whose first suggestion, literally within a day of meeting her, is for Jane to accompany her to a sabbat, a black magic ritual, which should clear that whole mental illness thing right up, with the well-known healing power of Beelzebub. “It worked for me,” Mary insists, and the desperate Jane gives this course of action about ten seconds of thought before going, “Sounds like a plan,” and after a festive afternoon of dog-blood drinking and gang rape, she seems right as rain again.
But not so fast! In a stunning twist, it turns out that demonic cults headed by fey bearded men wearing fabulous gold press-on nails may not actually be conducive to one’s overall well-being! Who’da thought? From here on out, the movie takes on the aspect of a fever dream, as we’re not really sure who we can trust and what is really happening. The blue-eyed psycho seems to pop up around every corner, stalking Jane constantly, but is he real or imaginary? Is everyone Jane knows conspiring with the cult to push her off her rocker for good? Has Richard fucked every woman in the immediate vicinity, including Jane’s sister? What’s the over/under on how long it would take to murder a couple of German senior citizens and prop them up at the breakfast table as though they’re still alive? Will Jane ever learn to cook bacon and eggs properly? The surrealistic touches come hard and fast, and the viewer will be left confused and on edge until the very end.
While there are murders in the film, the plot isn’t really a murder mystery per se, as we pretty much know that the scary blue-eyed guy is the main villain. The suspense is, rather, generated from the fact that the murders that do occur might not have actually happened, but may have been hallucinations; and further, we’re drawn into the question of the extent to which the people in Jane’s circle—Richard, her sister Barbara, Dr. Burton, her neighbor Mary—are involved in this supposed plot to harm her, and what connection there might be to the murder of her mother many years ago.
I really dug this one a lot; I loved the psychedelic weirdness and the ambiguity, and it had a really unsettling undertone of claustrophobia, as the world seemed to close in around poor Jane, leaving her with no one to trust. The cinematography was also lovely and gloomy and strange, very trippy and grotesque. It’s not a traditional or by-the-numbers type of giallo movie, so don’t expect the usual hallmarks, but it’s definitely unique, and one I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend, not only to giallo junkies, but also to fans of 70s-era, Satanic Panic cult movies as well.
Until next time, keep it creepy, my friends.