Here’s a giallo gem that I hadn’t caught before. I’ve talked a lot about the characteristics of giallos in previous posts, so I’ll limit this one to the specific material at hand.
The first worthwhile (depending on your definition) is that The Bloodstained Shadow actually gave me a timeline for the changes within the Catholic mass. Bear with me. Apparently the Catholic church recently went back to some language from an earlier iteration of the ceremony. A noteworthy change was that the response “and also with you,” was changed [back] to “and with your spirit.” Why an outmoded institution would do this is beyond me. Is it to help out the printer’s with whom they hold significant contracts?
Anyway…there’s a line in The Bloodstained Shadow where the response “and with your spirit” is said aloud. Note to selves: the Catholic church hadn’t yet changed its format in 1978.
Now, onto much more compelling things.
The Bloodstained Shadow features, as with most giallos that I like, an underwhelming plot and an oozing style. It’s hypocritical of me to like giallos in some way – I frequently criticize hollow films that value style first. But I can’t help it here – the style is so rich and lush (I hate that word) and to its – a fair generalization – credit, there’s a consistent sense of creeping dread.
The Bloodstained Shadow opens with a weirdly slow-motion murder. It jumps ahead to Stefano’s (Lino Capolicchio) return to a small Italian island where he is reunited with his brother, Don Paolo (Craig Hill), the local priest. Murders and shadowy figures abound.
There’s a scene in The Bloodstained Shadow very early in that is worth a second look. Don Paolo looks out his window and is convinced that he sees a murder.
We start with a medium close-up as Don Paolo looks out the window:
Cut to his POV. A struggle on the lower right of the frame:
Back to Don Paolo (‘what’s that?’):
A cut to behind the murder. That’s Don Paolo in the upper right of the frame:
Then to the murder victim:
Closer on Don Paolo, perhaps from victim’s POV:
Back again to Don Paolo. This is significant – he’s still looking:
A repeat of the second shot – his POV:
And finally Don Paolo reacts:
There are a few noteworthy things here.
First, is how long it takes for Don Paolo to react. From the first frame above to the last is about a full minute. Yet the first two images clearly show what is happening – shot of Don Paolo looking, shot of what Don Paolo is looking at. This is a great example of the image not matching the image’s logic.
The shots tell us that Don Paolo, from the second shot of the sequence, can see what’s going on. Why? Because it’s set up as his POV (the camera where he is, looking down on the angle he is looking at), and because we can see what’s happening. If he can’t see, as the length of time it takes for him to react indicates, why doesn’t the image reflect that? Obscure the struggle by the rain. Put it out of focus. Make it more vague.
The second thing, which is related to the first, is the third shot, which brings us down to ground level and leaves Don Paolo’s POV. Giallos love POV. These films are all about how believable a character’s vision is. The problem here is that, by leaving it, we’re told objectively what is happening. It’s no longer a case of ‘did we just see what we think Don Paolo saw?’ Instead, it’s director Bido telling us, ‘in case you aren’t sure that you trust Don Paolo, here’s what’s going on.’ This is problematic as it immediately destroys some of the suspense.
The last noteworthy element from this sequence are the fifth and sixth images. That is – the close-up of the victim, and what we can assume is the victim’s POV. Here, Bido switches allegiances. We relate to the character who owns the POV (which is why an untrustworthy POV is problematic…and fun). Bido is throwing us back and forth between sympathies. Are we in the person of Don Paolo? Or the victim? Who are we supposed to be (read: who/what matters to the narrative more – that Don Paolo sees something, or that someone sees Don Paolo?)? It’s a clever trick that both helps and hurts. It helps by sidestepping the two above issues (if the second issue hurt the suspense, this cut adds an extra element of it). It hurts by endowing one too many characters with a critical POV, thus lessening its power.
There’s another sequence that is both hilarious and well-manufactured. It again involves the POV.
In a horror trope, there’s an unknown stalker following a helpless female. The score – some techno with an old-world feel – is blasting during the following shots.
First, some standard stuff popularized in the US by Halloween. The unseen stalker follows the woman. We’re in his/her POV as the camera creeps behind:
Cut to the would-be-victim. It’s important to note that the score is still going full force:
And then suddenly, as though part of the score, and for a great scare, a random accordion player appears from right. His instrument contributes directly to the score – making it a diegetic moment:
It’s hilarious because it makes us jump as much as the female character here. It’s also funny to think that the scare – manufactured on the soundtrack – is to be considered real within the world of the film. It’s a nice in-joke – the music cue will make things tense, but it’s as much for us as for the woman here.