On the giallo genre

My (2016) PhD (free online, here) was on the top 20 RoI movies.

So – a question – Why are 10 of the top 20 RoI movies in the Horror genre, and, why are lots of them `slasher’ films? (e.g. Halloween, Friday the 13th, SAW, Evil Dead)…? (Even nearly, the #1 RoI film, Paranormal Activity, given its original ending – where you-know-who does you-know-what to themself. No spoilers here.)

The Top 20 RoI Movies

The Top 20 RoI Movies

And – on the same line of thinking –

Q: Why are procedural cop shows always so popular? (Think of: Hawaii 5-0, Hill Street Blues, The X Files, and Twin Peaks, and all of those CSI‘s, etc etc etc).

Or, put another way – Why do so many people like `Detective’ (including: Murder-Mystery) stories..?

Well – the Evolutionary Psychology and Cognitive Science view suggests that we all get a good strong dose of `feelgood’ drugs mainlined into our brain, whenever we see (or, witness) a mystery being solved. And even moreso, if we also identify (or empathize) with the detective, as in: most detective stories (and, procedural cop shows, and movies).

And – this isn’t a new phenomenon – see: Agatha Christie stories… and, Sherlock Holmes stories… and Twin Peaks (which – was also inspired by Sherlock Holmes)

For an academic explanation of this phenomenon, see the great online article: The Slaughterhouse of Literature (Moretti 2000).

And, see also, `How Problem Solving and Neurotransmission in the Upper Paleolithic led to The Emergence and Maintenance of Memetic Equilibrium in Contemporary World Religions‘ (DiCarlo 2010). (Maybe ignore the religion stuff, and just take note of the drugs he mentions happen when we see problems getting solved. Like: when story plots get resolved.)

In other words, it seems – thanks to Evolution – we’re all `hard-wired’ to be problem-solvers.

And, of course:

`Story = character + problem + (attempted) solution.’

(Gottschall 2012, The Storytelling Animal)

At any rate, I now want to talk about giallo films (and, novels).

Maybe watch this first:

And now, in words:


`Giallo’ means “yellow” – mainly because, the dustjackets of Agatha Christie murder-mysteries (and, other novels, like them) used to be yellow (`giallo’) in Italy, and, that’s where that name came from.

Classic movies that also owe a debt to the giallo film, include: Psycho (Hitchcock), Se7en, and Dressed To Kill, (De Palma). …And – lots of others. Such as, all those slasher films, in the Top 20 RoI movies.

Here’s `the gist’ of a giallo: (thanks to Wikipedia, of all places)

`Giallo (Italian pronunciation: [ˈdʒallo], plural gialli) is a 20th-century Italian genre of literature and film, usually with mystery elements and often with slasher,supernatural horror or crime fiction elements. In Italy, the term simply denotes thrillerhorrors , typically of the crime fiction, mystery, and horror subgenres, regardless of the country of origin.

In English-speaking countries, however, the term “giallo” is used to refer to a particular style of Italian-produced murder mystery film which often includes elements of horror fiction and eroticism (similar to the French fantastique genre).

The genre began in the mid-to-late 1960s, peaked in popularity during the 1970s, and subsequently declined over the next few decades (though some examples continue to be produced). It has been considered to be a predecessor to and significant influence on, the later American slasher film genre.[1]

The word “giallo” is Italian for “yellow”.[2] Its use as a label denoting the thriller genre derives from its association with a series of cheap paperback mystery novels, popular in post-fascist Italy, which were adorned with yellow covers.[3]‘ 

(Source: Wikipedia, online, 2016)

Classic giallo film story tropes include:

– A gloved, overcoated killer – whose identity is not revealed, until the very end.

– The killers almost never use firearms to kill (and – are themselves often killed in an ironic way… See, say: Dial M For Murder, or Se7en, etc)

– An amateur investigator (protagonist); who is often a ‘Joe Public’ type, and who may also be suspected by the police…

Glamorous locations – and, erotic sequences – featuring very glamorous women…

– Numerous plot `red herrings’, all within a complex thriller-mystery plot…

– Usually also, an Ennio Morricone score (…!)

So, the above are just some of the plot tropes (or, memes) that can be traced back, to the (good ole) giallo tradition, in more the recent American slasher films. (Such as, the Top 20 RoI Movies)…

But, hey – that’s creativity for you… (i.e., Combine two old ideas, to get a new one. e.g., Combine: Giallos, and Hollywood movies..! 🙂

And – for more, see: The StoryAlity research weblog Index

Some of the relevant posts would include:

StoryAlity #131 – Why Things (like, some Movies) Are Popular – and – The Anna Karenina principle

StoryAlity #53 – The StoryAlity High-RoI Film Story & Screenplay Checklist

StoryAlity #54 – StoryAlity Screenwriting Guidelines – for any aspiring Writer of High-RoI Films

Also, here’s a cool thing. A History of Horror video essay. It goes for 12 minutes and 8 seconds. One influential horror film a year, from 1895 through to 2016. (And yes, there’s at least one classic giallo film in there. And, a few of the Top 20 RoI Horror Movies…)


JT Velikovsky

High-RoI Story/Screenplay/Movie and Transmedia Researcher

The above is (mostly) an adapted excerpt, from my doctoral thesis: Communication, Creativity and Consilience in Cinema. It is presented here for the benefit of fellow screenwriting, filmmaking and creativity researchers. For more, see https://aftrs.academia.edu/JTVelikovsky

JT Velikovsky is also a produced feature film screenwriter and million-selling transmedia writer-director-producer. He has been a professional story analyst for major film studios, film funding organizations, and for the national writer’s guild. For more see: http://on-writering.blogspot.com/




2 thoughts on “StoryAlity #133 – On the giallo genre

  1. Pingback: StoryAlity #8B – The 10-Year-Rule in Standup Comedy | StoryAlity

  2. Pingback: StoryAlity #153 – Film Production Courses vs. (so-called) `Film Theory’ | StoryAlity

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