American Giallo Shots

  • videoarchives
  • October 10, 2022

The doors are open at the Video Archives Podcast, and for the first time, we have a customer!

Eli Roth, director of Hostel and Cabin Fever and one of the Inglourious Basterds, joins Quentin and Roger for a two part Video Archives event, all about American giallo films. This week we’re releasing the first half of this discussion, where the crew slice open Brian De Palma’s Dressed To Kill, then take a close look at the movie that got Irvin Kershner the Empire Strikes Back gig, Eyes Of Laura Mars! I’ve got VHS boxes, some further reading and more on today’s Counter Talk, so let’s get started…

Dressed To Kill, the marquee film of this American Giallo series, is an impeccably crafted thriller that Quentin, Roger and Eli had a blast rewatching together. The film has always been controversial in director Brian De Palma’s canon, but over time, the reasons for the controversy have changed. Most of the stir at the time of Dressed To Kill’s release concerned Nancy Allen’s call girl character Liz Blake, but in the modern era, it’s impossible not to think about the psychopathic Bobbi in the context of trans rights and trans representation in film. From Anthony Perkins’ dual-identity role in Psycho (a film practically remade in Dressed To Kill, as Quentin points out) to Ted Levine’s Buffalo Bill in The Silence of The Lambs, there’s a long history of gender-fluid serial killers on screen, a history that many trans people worry paints them as freakish or dangerous.

As Gala referenced on the episode, there’s been some excellent queer and trans writing about Dressed To Kill, particularly around its 40th anniversary in 2020. I really enjoyed this piece from Jessica Crets, on the (possibly) unintentional empathy De Palma brings to Bobbi. This conversation between two trans film writers praises De Palma’s craft while critiquing the film’s twist, comparing it to the far goofier Sleepaway Camp. And this piece from Justin McDevitt appreciates how De Palma draws a distinction between trans people writ large and Bobbi in particular. I’d also recommend this 2015 retrospective from Keith Phipps, placing Bobbi in the context of other horror films with trans (or debatably trans) characters. It’s truly rewarding to dig into the ongoing discussion around Dressed To Kill, from a master filmmaker whose work still inspires intense debate 40 years later.

The original Video Archives Dressed To Kill tape is a classic early Warner Home Video – like most of these releases, it features a thick graphic border surrounding a movie still, and an essay-style description on the back:

Our second copy, a Warner clamshell, features a nearly identical back, but the front photo has been replaced with the film’s striking, suggestive poster - and the genre has been updates from “Adult Drama” to Horror”:

I also have to mention this fascinating Japanese Dressed To Kill poster, which is nearly identical to the American poster…but the gloved hand poking through the doorway is now brandishing a razor blade…the hosiery the unseen woman is putting on (or taking off) is much sheerer…and the heels are red instead of black. What does it all mean?

Finally, here is an actual Dressed To Kill screenplay Roger brought to the taping (which happened to take place on Quentin’s birthday)...signed by Eli and the whole Video Archives team.

By the way – I hope you’ve been enjoying our ad reads! We had a new sponsor this week, Old Chattanooga beer…I may just crack open a can while watching some F.B.I. tonight.

Speaking of posters with very small differences, the entertainingly nuts fashion-world horror Eyes Of Laura Mars really leaned into the “eyes” aspect with their newspaper ad campaign. Over the course of a few weeks of advertisements, star Faye Dunaway’s face slowly emerged over time; the first ad started with bright white eyes against a black backdrop, then each subsequent ad brightened Dunaway’s face a little bit until she was completely visible. Not all these ads have survived, but you can see some of the different stages across the various Eyes of Laura Mars posters and tape covers:

This Columbia VHS box cover uses one of the middle Fayes from the campaign, slightly colorized…and a few stills on the back, showcasing one of the gorgeous Helmut Newton-led photo shoots, and Tommy Lee Jones’ glorious mullet.

This is only the first half of our American Giallo special, running all month - check back in in two weeks for our final two films, Alice Sweet Alice and Happy Birthday To Me. And next week, Eli will be joining Gala and Roger on the After Show to share his own history with horror, VHS, and the Video Archives crew.

To finish this week’s Counter Talk up, here’s a listener who looks forward to the next Video Archives Podcast every Tuesday, NYC filmgoer and First View writer Christopher “Captain” Bligh:

Did you know when you review Video Archives on Apple Podcasts, it really boosts the show and helps new listeners find it? It only takes a few seconds! Here’s a recent one I really loved, from Timaaa:

Here’s the Apple link to the show – meanwhile, follow us on Twitter and Instagram for more updates (check out the Facebook group some fans created too!), and we’ll see you next week for the After Show with Eli.