Forgotten European Giallo Films Find New Life from Vinegar Syndrome

Bring these gloved killers, possessed dolls, and vampires home!

Forgotten Gialli

They’ve been around for less than a decade, but Vinegar Syndrome has quickly become one of the top specialty home video labels. They’re a genre label focusing on exploitation fare like horror, porn, action, and all manner of weirdness, but the one constant is the attention and affection they give to each and every release.

Box-sets are a relatively recent expansion for them, and as expected, they’re knocking it out of the park. They’re already released The Angel Collection and Amityville: The Cursed Collection, both stellar box-sets with slickly attractive designs, and now they’ve gifted the world with a three-movie collection focused on little-seen giallo films. That’s fantastic news, especially as it’s just the first volume, and we’re stoked to eyeball the set and its three films. Keep reading for a look at Forgotten Gialli – Volume 1.


The Killer Is One of Thirteen (1973)

House parties are fun, and that’s especially the case when the host owns a large mansion in a remote and beautiful locale. Of course, it’s maybe a little less fun when you realize she’s invited you and other friends to determine who among you is responsible for murdering her husband. And it only gets worse when the guests start dying one by one.

Clearly inspired by the likes of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, this is something of an atypical giallo in that it’s devoid of nudity and gratuitous violence, and the first kill doesn’t even occur until an hour into its running time. It teases plenty of flesh but always cuts away before the underwear drops, and I’m unsure if these were choices made or cuts after the fact. The PG-13 approach doesn’t hurt the film, though, as instead the focus is on a strong script and a more deliberate whodunit nature. Paul Naschy has a supporting role as a weirdo/suspect, and it’s a good-looking film too that takes great advantage of the house and its grounds. The structure makes for a slower paced giallo than many fans are probably used to, but it’s still a winner.

The film has been newly scanned and restored in 2K from its original 35mm negative, and it looks as brightly fantastic as we’ve come to expect from the label. The disc also includes a single extra.

  • Commentary with author Kat Ellinger

Police Are Blundering in the Dark (1975)

When a saucy model is murdered in broad daylight the killing leaves the fashion world stunned. Well, one small pocket of that world anyway as she’s just the latest nude model to be killed with all four sharing a connection — they last worked with the same photographer. An unfaithful boyfriend goes looking for his unlucky lady and soon finds himself embroiled in the hunt for the killer. Also, there’s a camera that can photograph people’s thoughts?

The sole Italian entry in this box-set offers an immediate counterpoint to the more sedate film above as it features an abundance of boobs and not a single bra. The murders are almost as frequent as the nudity, though, making for a more traditional giallo entry. It’s not necessarily an attractive or stylish film, and it’s more than a little sloppy at times — the killer is glimpsed for a few frames during the first kill, and it’s not actually anyone in the movie (and probably the film’s director) — but it makes up for the nonsense with an embrace of all things exploitative. And while the third act zaniness doesn’t quite work it’s still a welcome change-up from the norm making this well worth a watch.

Vinegar has scanned and restored the film in 2K from its original 35mm negative meaning all of the blood and skin pop off the screen for your viewing pleasure. The disc also includes the following extra:

  • Historical audio essay with film historian and critic Rachel Nisbit

Trauma (1978)

Daniel’s looking for a little peace and quiet so he can focus on writing his book, and he thinks he’s found it in a remote bed & breakfast run by a seductively odd and oddly seductive woman and her unavailable husband. He’s mistaken, though, as the retreat is anything but peaceful. Newcomers arrive and are brutally slaughtered, and through it all the inn’s hostess grows increasingly stranger. Is she a killer? Is it her unseen husband? Or maybe Daniel is doing a little extracurricular research?

This Spanish entry is a straightforward giallo as a gloved killer slices his or her way through the characters with a straight razor and with abandon. What we do see of the killer makes it very clear who it is even if the film still tries to play it close to the chest with diversion and a third-act reveal, but the lack of a mystery doesn’t hurt the exploitation and fun. We get plenty of bloodletting, nudity, and POV shots of a creepy voyeur too, but the real charm of it all is Henry Gregor’s turn as Daniel. He’s far from typical leading man material, and that makes for a more interesting and charismatic watch seeing him deal with the growing weirdness. It’s a fun one.

As with the other two films in this set, Vinegar Syndrome has scanned and restored the movie in 2K from an original 35mm negative, and the results are quite good. The disc includes the following extra:

  • Commentary with author Troy Howarth

Vinegar Syndrome also released two stand-alone titles this month — Pale Blood (1990) and Dolly Dearest (1991) — so keep reading for a look at both.

Pale Blood (1990)

Pale Blood

Los Angeles is no stranger to murderers and weirdos, but authorities aren’t quite sure what to make of a recent string of odd killings involving victims left drained of their blood. Cops are stymied, and the tabloid press — including Van Vandameer (Wings Hauser) — are suggesting it’s a vampire, but the truth is a little bit stranger. Michael Fury (George Chakiris), the only man who might now the truth, has just landed at LAX. And boy, are his wings tired.

This directorial effort by V.V. Dachin Hsu (and maybe Michael W. Leighton?) is an odd one. Hong Kong stands in for LA, but the illusion is completed with stock footage and radio DJ snippets while being obfuscated with sheer style. It’s a soft, breezy, neon-lit thriller that sends its various players into the night, and while it drags at times and never quite delivers real oomph, there’s more than enough reason to give it a spin. For one, Hauser is always a good time, but even better is the fun enough twist that the film puts on the vampire genre. How? Well if you must know, Fury is… a vampire! So one vamp is investigating sketchy murders committed by someone who might not actually be a vamp at all, and the results are a nice change up from the usual.

Vinegar Syndrome has scanned and restored the film in 2K from a 35mm interpositive, and it looks great while keeping the soft, smoky haze intact. It also includes the following special features:

  • Understanding Immortality: An Interview with V.W. Dachin Hsu [15:21] – The director talks about changing her name to Jenny Funkmeyer, the fulfilling experience of making the film, touring with Yul Brynner and The King and I, and more.
  • Acting with Eggs: An Interview with Darcy DeMoss [7:30] – The actor recalls the joy of working with a female director and the even greater joy that is Wings Hauser.

Dolly Dearest (1991)

Dolly Dearest

Eliot Wade (Timothy Bottoms) loves his family so much that he buys an abandoned factory in Mexico that once Dolly Dearest dolls. He hopes to get it up and running again, but his plans are interrupted when a newly released spirit inhabits one of the dolls and takes control of Eliot’s daughter. Soon bodies are hitting the floor as the doll goes on the kind of murdering spree that Teddy Ruxpin can only dream of.

I’m going to be honest and admit that killer doll movies, much like killer kid movies, have to work extra hard for me to actually care about a pint-sized threat that anyone should easily be able to drop-kick. Child’s Play (1988) has personality to spare, Dolls (1987) has variety and gore, and Dolly Dearest has… nothing of real value. She’s never creepy, the kills are lacking, the little girl is annoying, and the tone never quite comes together leaving it feeling like an unfunny comedy. I may be in the minority on this.

The film has been newly scanned and restored in 2K from its original 35mm interpositive, so fans should absolutely pick up this release.

  • Playing with Dolls: An Interview with Denise Crosby [14:52] – The Pet Sematary (1989) star recalls the production from her casting and her fellow actors through her love of the shots showing the doll walking.
  • Dressing the Part: An Interview with Ed Gale [8:11] – The diminutive performer talks about his performance in the film, and he never misses an opportunity to name drop his other films, the filmmakers who love him and the size of his ego. It’s in good fun, but it’s still impressive seeing his confidence even decades later.

Check out more of our Vinegar Syndrome coverage here.

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