January Giallo is Denver's Best Film Series for Horror Fans | Westword

January Giallo is Denver's Best Film Series for Horror Fans

The influential genre is known for its stylish murders and hypnotic soundscapes.
A still from The Strangler.
A still from The Strangler. YouTube
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Italian giallo films first flourished in the late 1960s, taking their name from the distinctive yellow (giallo in Italian) covers of the popular Mondadori pulp novels, reprints of American and British mysteries. They're known for their lurid style, violence, amazing music and significant influence on international horror and suspense cinema, while the plots typically resemble Agatha Christie-style "whodunits," but with a lot more flesh and blood.

For the next month, this unusual and entertaining movie category is getting a fresh look at the Sie FilmCenter, home of cinema nonprofit Denver Film, in a series aptly titled January Giallo. Each Saturday night from January 6 to 27, audiences will journey into all the colors of the dark with hosts and horror experts Keith Garcia and Theresa Mercado on hand as guides.

Garcia is the Sie's artistic director and head programmer, while Mercado is the creator of the long-running horror screening series Scream Screen, which can be found at the theater quarterly. Both are giallo fans dating back to their early days of exploring cinema, and they happen to share an entry point for the genre, the landmark 1970 Dario Argento film The Bird With the Crystal Plumage.

The current series is an offshoot of a program developed by James Branscome, creator of the Los Angeles-based Cinematic Void film party. The Denver version, now in its second year, has its own unique lineup selected by Garcia and Mercado, allowing them to flex their creativity with an international range of films dating from the 1970s to the 2010s. Both programmers gratefully acknowledge Branscome — who came to Denver for their inaugural edition last year — for sharing an opportunity to explore one of their favorite film flavors.
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January Giallo hosts James Branscome and Theresa Mercado posing with gialli at the Archive Videostore.
Theresa Mercado
"He started this program a few years back and invited other theaters to participate," explains Garcia. "With Scream Screen's Theresa Mercado along for the ride, I knew we had to give it a go, and last year we took a stab and it was a huge hit."

"I really admire [his work]," adds Mercado. "A mutual friend connected us with the hope of bringing him to Denver in 2023, and due to the positive response last year, we're thrilled to bring it back to the Sie again." Although the duo has programmed gialli before, this is a chance to cast an especially wide net.

"I've shown a few gialli at Scream Screen over the years, like the Giallo Films of Dario Argento series in 2015," recalls Mercado. "But teaming up with Cinematic Void for January Giallo has inspired me to show some of my personal favorites that might not be the first many think of," she says, citing last year's underseen The Corruption of Chris Miller.
It's arranged as something of a co-production, with each programmer taking lead hosting duties for two of the four films. Mercado will bookend the series with A Blade in the Dark on January 6 and Berberian Sound Studio on the 27, while Garcia will oversee the middle with The Strangler on January 13 and Eyes of Laura Mars on January 20. The screenings are all standalone films that can be enjoyed individually, but they've also been chosen in a way that emphasizes the links and tropes within the genre — as well as its many variants.

For Garcia, that means centering non-Italian examples. "Watching other countries pull off movies with deep giallo inspirations is where I like to look these days," he says. The Strangler, by Paul Vecchiali, is an obscure 1970 Spanish film recently restored by preservationist label Altered Innocence, and 1978's Eyes of Laura Mars is a slick, big-budget thriller from The Empire Strikes Back director Irvin Kershner. Both showcase vintage looks at metropolises (Paris in The Stranger and New York in Eyes of Laura Mars) being terrorized by tortured serial killers.
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A still from A Blade in the Dark.
"I love that both films are definitely not straightforward giallos," says Garcia. "They both show such inspiration from their Italian cohorts, and really do their own thing and don't paint by numbers, but instead use their own colors and style to thrill. ... Both offer queer little twists of their own, be it literally with characters and plot points, or campily in their style."

Mercado's picks also have strong parallels with each other. "I specifically chose A Blade in the Dark and Berberian Sound Studio because they are very similar stories," she says. "Both are films about films featuring somewhat reluctant composers hired to create giallo scores, both feature secretive directors as characters, and both are very heavily based around music. I think they complement each other really well."

Their differences are perhaps even more striking. Blade is a classic, brutal giallo, in a new 4K restoration from Vinegar Syndrome, that comes from the end of the first wave, directed by Lamberto Bava in 1983. Berberian is a contemporary and atmospheric slow burn that brims with experimental touches, sonic homages and dread, from director Peter Strickland in 2012.

The full blood-spattered journey spans four countries and almost five decades, but with hundreds of films to choose from, the pair is just getting started, Mercado says: "Hopefully this can become a longstanding annual tradition between Cinematic Void, Scream Screen and Denver Film, celebrating all things giallo!"

January Giallo, 7 p.m. every Saturday from January 6 to 27, Sie FilmCenter, 2510 East Colfax Avenue. Admission is $14 at denverfilm.org.
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