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Published by David Carter on 2015/6/7 (787 reads)
Directed by Mario Bava
Review by David Carter

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Released by Kino Classics
Running Time: EE: 92 mins, TGWKTM: 85 mins
Rating: Not Rated
Color format: Color
Audio/Subtitles: 2.0 English or Italian Stereo/English Subtitles
Region Code: 1, NTSC
Aspect Ratio: EE: 1.78:1, TGWKTM: 1.66:1
16:9 Enhanced: Yes
Special Features: American & European cuts of the film, Commentary by Tim Lucas
Trailer Online: Yes

It should come as no surprise to students of the genre that the giallo film owes a great debt to the works of Alfred Hitchcock. Mario Bava, the originator of the giallo and perhaps its most accomplished practitioner, was a huge fan of Hitchcock’s films and put his unique spin on those mystery films to create the violent and sensual gialli for which he is best known. Bava arguably perfected the genre in 1964 with his BLOOD AND BLACK LACE, but it wasn’t his first attempt to synthesize Hitchcock into Italian exploitation cinema. That distinction goes to 1963’s THE GIRL WHO KNEW TOO MUCH, released as EVIL EYE in America. In addition to the titular nod to Hitchcock, Bava incorporated the British master’s Kafka-esque “American swept up into a mystery abroad” plotline that would become the standard for all subsequent gialli. Both the American and Italian cuts of the film are now available on a beautiful Blu Ray from Kino Classics.

Much like its namesake, EVIL EYE/TGWKTM sees an American swept up in intrigues while abroad. Pretty American Nora Davis is huge fan of mystery novels who is visiting her ailing friend Ethel in Rome. Ethel’s handsome doctor Marcello Bassi (John Saxon) warns Nora that she is very ill, but she isn’t prepared for the shock when Ethel dies later that night. A distraught Nora decides to walk to the hospital but is mugged and knocked unconscious along the way. She awakes to another shock, seeing a woman stumble out of the darkness with a knife in her back. She then sees a man dragging the body back into the darkness, and promptly passes out from fear.

When she’s found the next morning, the police write off her story as delusional and not even Marcello believes her. Nora remains obsessed with getting to the bottom of the murder despite this and curiously, she finds some compelling clues in the home where she’s staying. She believes what she saw was part of the “Alphabet Murders,” a crime spree from a few years ago where women were killed in alphabetical order. The killer has made it up through “C” and Ms. Davis realizes that she has to find a way to stop the murderer before she’s the next victim.

Bava crafted THE GIRL WHO KNEW TOO MUCH in a way that each revelation is surprising. He makes sure that the audience always has the same amount of information as Nora, even throwing a few red herrings out there to throw us off the trail. As a proto-giallo, the film does prefigure many of the tropes that would become staples later, although some only briefly. The main connection is seen through the fact that Nora is a fan of pulp novels and therefore begins to see her situation in that context. Gialli films are named after the Italian term for pulp novels and this overt connection is both foundational and metatextual. Because of this, Nora as a protagonist is better equipped to deal with her situation than later gialli heroes and her dual portrayal as hero and potential victim would be hugely influential over subsequent gialli.

Sexuality and violence are considered key elements of giallo, and while EVIL EYE contains less than is the standard, both make an appearance here. The psychological is given a priority in the film over living or dead body counts. Gialli typically depicted the killer’s motivation as some type of psychological malady, rather than a sane person murdering for revenge or personal gain, something that is present here and would later be incorporated in the giallo progeny the slasher film. Balancing out these proto-giallo elements is a romantic subplot and some occasional comedy, making THE GIRL WHO KNEW TOO MUCH one of Bava’s most well-rounded and enjoyable films of his early sixties output.

Kino Classic’s Blu Ray marks a substantial improvement over previous releases of the film. Both prints are gorgeous, and an audio commentary track by Bava expert Tim Lucas only makes this presentation more enticing. Although shorter, I personally consider THE GIRL WHO KNEW TOO MUCH to be the superior version. Bava purists may likely feel the same, but doubtlessly will jump at the chance to have both in a single collection.
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