The Italian giallo

Authored by: Alexia Kannas

The Routledge Companion to Cult Cinema

Print publication date:  December  2019
Online publication date:  November  2019

Print ISBN: 9781138950276
eBook ISBN: 9781315668819
Adobe ISBN:


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Giallo means “yellow” in Italian, but in cult cinema discourses the term refers to a group of violent, highly stylized Italian crime films. The roots of this strange trajectory are literary. In 1929, Italian publishing house Mondadori released the first book in their series of pulp crime and mystery novels called Il Giallo Mondadori: the covers of the books in this mass-marketed series were predominantly yellow – a marketing ploy that was so successful, it meant that in Italian, the word giallo came to describe the crime/mystery genre as a whole. The first installments in this series were mostly translations of pulp crime novels by writers like Agatha Christie and Edgar Wallace. Film scholar Gary Needham tells us that the types of stories published as part of this original series were typically derived from two sub-genres of mystery fiction: British Sherlock Holmes-style “rational-deduction” stories and “quasi-fantastic murder mysteries” (2003: 135) modeled on the work of Edgar Allan Poe. The immediate popularity of the translated pulp fictions in Italy instigated a wave of similar series put out by Mondadori’s competitors – many of which also utilized the yellow cover design – and it was not long before this new genre began to attract Italian writers who, for generic consistency, were often published using anglicized noms de plumes.

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