Yellow is an equal parts entertaining and intriguing exercise in style by the up and coming British filmmaking team of director Ryan Haysom and writer-producer Jon Britt. Those versed in their Italian horror have probably already deduced from the title that this is a tribute to the Giallo (literally ‘yellow’) genre of the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s. Giallo films were a mix between classical mystery and crime fiction (the name came from the yellow paperbacks in which pulp novels were published in Italy) and the extreme violence and eroticism of popular Italian flimmaking of the time. While Yellow is obviously indebted to the works of Dario Argento, Mario Bava and Lucio Fulci, it rides a fine line between tribute and originality, never devolving into outright fan wank as might have been easy to fall victim to. For my taste, this makes it a superior example of the Grindhouse throwback trend which has been prevalent since Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez teamed up for 2007’s Grindhouse.
In the neon-lit nights of a timeless Berlin, an unnamed man played by Stephen M. Gilbert (who bears a curious resemblance to Lucio Fulci), is haunted by the voice of a masked serial killer. The film cuts back and forth between the man’s turmoil and the killer’s brutal crimes, astonishingly choreographed ballets of blood. Haysom manages to pack an abundance of bloodshed into this mere 26 minute film. The killer goes berserk with a pair of scissors in addition to the iconic giallo razor, which in one scene enacts a cringe inducing tribute to Luis Bunnel‘s Un Chien Andalou. The homage is fitting, as the giallo genre is nothing if not highly surrealist. The so called ‘Italian Hitchcock’, Dario Argento, has referred to his work as combining art cinema with commercial cinema. It is for this reason that John Carpenter referred to him as “much closer to Bunnel than Hitchcock.” It could be said the giallo is the halfway house between Arthouse and Grindhouse, and Yellow certainly feels right there. I have already mentioned the brutal murder scenes, but these are contrasted with a more minimalist approach. Dialogue is scarce, with pretty much all we hear being the killers haunting messages through the telephone and tape recorder. The motivations of the protagonist and killer are never made clear, not only we do we not knew their names, we don’t know their relationship to one another or why this man is so desperate to catch the killer. This enhances the haunting, nightmare like quality so typical of giallo. The contrasting of brutal and quiet ambiguous scenes across Yellow‘s short run time, makes it a more memorable and thought provoking watch than a lot of feature length horror movies.
A further influence that can be detected in Yellow are the Neo-noir, neon highway type films, specifically the work of Michael Mann (Manhunter is an easy link to make) and Nicolas Winding Refn (a hammer comes into play in Yellow just like in Drive). The shots of the protagonist driving through the night, the neon skyline reflecting off the windshield, are clearly influenced by these kinds of films. The examples that I gave are notable for combining stunning artistic photography with commercial action and thrilling violence. So with this combination of sensibilities, are these Neo-noir action adventures the modern day descendants of the giallo? The slasher film clearly owes to a huge debt to the giallo, but the Neo-noir films are much more stemmed from the pulp novels that the giallo sprung form, and let’s not forget the crossover between pulp fiction and classic noir cinema. Yellow raises itself above the crowd of standard grindhouse tribute fare by using it’s influences and homages to suggest a lineage of sorts, which the surreal, timeless neon-lit Berlin in which it takes place is the result of. Maybe I’m just being a pretentious prick, but this mysterious, beautiful film seems to be inviting me to make this kind of reading.
Haysom and Britt have defined ‘neo-Giallo’ with this fantastic little film. It will be exciting to see what they do next. A feature length film in this same vein could be spectacular.
Note: Yellow is available on DVD on its own but it can hard to come by and expensive. It is available as an extra feature on Arrow Video’s release of Blood and Black Lace, which is where I saw it.