Short story collections with a specific theme can be tricky to pull off. Many of them fall into the trap of being either too generic and going over the same old tropes, or too specific, resulting in endless variations of the same concept. This is why Giallo Fantastique is such a joy to behold. It’s an unusual idea, an anthology of stories that are influenced by the Italian horror and crime films that flourished in the 60s and 70s. For the uninitiated, giallo films often featured certain key elements, including unseen killers wearing black leather gloves, operatic murder scenes, primal colour schemes, gorgeously duplicitous women sipping J&B, ridiculously convoluted plots, random acting greats sluming it in the Cinecittà studios (John Saxon, Irene Papas, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Stanley Baker, David Hemmings), glorious soundtracks by Morricone and Goblin and other sadistic and stylish delights. They partly evolved from the sharp, austere aesthetic of the German Krimi films and have arguably influenced the rather more disreputable slasher movie. Mario Bava, Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci have all made famous giallos- and that’s all you need to know to be a fan. It’s a hell of an idea for a collection and it works because, like noir, giallo has a literary ancestry that originated in the lurid paperbacks of the era to begin with. As for the individual pieces, well, let us take a look:
Minerva by Michael Kazepis
The setting for this story is Athens in the summertime and it captures that dangerous, hazy intensity perfectly. I know because I read it in Athens last August so there was some sort of synaesthesia thing going on. It’s interesting to see how well the traditional giallo tropes work in a Greek setting and the result reminded me of Nikos Nikolaidis’ transgressive masterpiece Singapore Sling- a movie that is technically not a giallo, but it’s close enough.
In the Flat Light by Adam Cesare
A reclusive Italian film director is guilt- ridden over a fatal accident that happened on his set. Haunting and somewhat elegiac- hardly a quality that one associates with giallos, but there you go.
Terror in the House of Broken Belles by Nikki Guerlain
Neat reversal of the sexism that is often present in the work of Bava and Argento. I found it oblique and challenging, but it’s also one of the better stories in the collection.
The Strange Vice of LZA-313 by MP Johnson
A classic murder mystery, the difference being that it’s set in a world of pleasure robots. Shades of A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin. Great fun.
Sensoria by Anya Martin
One of the best, this story of a rockstar, his girlfriend and their dalliance with hallucinogenic scarabs channels Argento from when he was actually good (especially Suspiria and Phenomena). Bonus points for actually being a great rock ‘n’ roll story. In fact, I’d go as far as to suggest that Sensoria is worthy of John Skipp and Poppy Z. Brite in its’ portrayal of a specific musical subculture.
The Red Church by Orrin Grey
Grey’s stories have a primal, candy- colored sensibility that goes very well with the giallo aesthetic and The Red Church is no exception. The plot is somewhat slight, but the real fun is in the writing and the macabre, stylish imagery.
Balch Creek by Cameron Pierce
Closer to a slasher than a giallo, the Oregon- set Balch Creek has an air of supernatural menace that’s hard to shake. It’s the sort of subject that I can imagine middle- period Wes Craven doing something with. The ending is way too abrupt, but the story is scary and that counts for a lot.
Hello, Handsome by Garrett Cook
A twisted Valentine to the genre’s most iconic object- a pair of black leather gloves. Of all the stories in this collection, Hello, Handsome is the one that’s closest to the anthology’s theme.
We Can Only Become Monsters by Ennis Drake
Fascinating premise but it falls apart in the execution. We Can Only Become Monsters is a riff on the 1974 Amicus / American International co- production Madhouse, a cool little Vincent Price / Peter Cushing movie which was in turn based on a book called Devilday*. Drake conflates the book’s protagonist Paul Toombes with Roman Polanski and attempts to make a comment on misogyny and entrenched power structures from the 70s onwards. Problem is, the story is far too satisfied at its’ own cleverness and the endless McSweeney’s– style footnotes diffuse the overall impact.
The Threshold of Waking Light by E. Catherine Tobler
Stylish noir tale, literally splashed with giallo colors. A bit florid for my tastes but a gem of a story nonetheless.
The Communion of Saints by John Langan
A washed- up detective is investigating a serious mysterious disappearances in Albany NY. Disappearances that seem to be perpetrated by someone dressing- up as Hannibal Lecter, the xenomorph from Alien, Freddy Krueger and other later- day horror icons. Could these crimes be part of something far more sinister? While not quite one of my favorite Langan stories, The Communion of Saints is a creepy pleasure, best read around Halloween.
Exit Strategies by Brian Keene
Exit Strategies is pretty short and not particularly gialloesque. It is however an origin story for Keene’s recurring character The Exit and it’s fucking awesome.
So there you go. Lock the door, pour yourself a drink and start reading. Word Horde has done it again.
* I reviewed that one years ago by the way. You’re welcome: http://www.crowsnbones.com/2012/09/devilday-a-k-a-madhouse-by-angus-hall-a-supercoven-book-review/