All the Colors of the Dark (1972)
Dir. Sergio Martino
31 for 31 is a curated film program for the month of October. Conceived of as a compilation mixtape, the program explores the historical and cultural legacy of Horror cinema. Consider this my billet-doux to the genre.
No horror mixtape would be complete without a note of operatic Italian. Before there were American slashers, giallo pictures were pushing the envelope of cinematic conventions—and political correctness. Italian for “yellow,” giallo is a term for a wave of exploitative horror films that were popular in the 1970s. The name derives from the cheap yellow-bound paperbacks that many gialli drew their thrilling plots from. Films of the giallo tradition are marked by their graphic violence, explicit eroticism, and a tendency to trip balls; all of which make Sergio Martino’s All the Colors of the Dark a potent gateway drug for this provocative subgenre.
Colors is an edgy fever dream that plays out like a grimier Rosemary’s Baby. Edwige Fenech, one of giallo’s most imitable Scream Queens, plays our heroine Jane. Jane is recuperating in London with her lover, Richard, after losing her unborn child in a car accident. The trauma has had an understandably negative impact on their relationship. Their once joyous union now drags on lovelessly. And to make matters worse, Jane believes her sanity is slowly slipping. Every night she is plagued by violent dreams and while awake, she fears a man with piercing blue eyes is stalking her. Her paranoia begins to overwhelm her, and previous sources of comfort like Richard and her sister, Barbara, soon become vectors for suspicion.
As her nightmares worsen and her mental health continues to deteriorate, a mysterious new neighbor offers a solution: an invitation to a shadowy group who claim they can cure Jane of her anxieties. With no other options, Jane accepts. It’s not long before she finds herself in bocca al lupo by way of these Eyes Wide Shut cosplayers.
It is obvious from its opening frames that Colors operates on different end of the spectrum. Like many gialli, Colors is an exercise in style over substance. The story is an unfocused mess, but the visuals and music are brilliantly exaggerated. It’s a psychedelic trip that has more in common with the arthouse than the grindhouse. Viewers would be hard-pressed to not see similarities between Colors and something like Buñuel’s Belle de Jour. There’s no question Colors is a campy experience, but underneath the exploitation lies a cinematic virtuosity that should be admired.
Martino’s film is far from the most recognizable giallo film, but it is suitable as an introduction. I can’t claim you’ll learn a damn thing about any “colors of the dark,” but viewers will at least walk away cognizant of yellow when they see it.
Available on Shudder