Devoted fans of the Italian giallo genre — those hybrid murder-mystery/horror mellers that flourished from the mid-’60s to the mid-’80s — will get a hoot out of the precision with which “The Editor” satirizes their clumsier conventions. Unfortunately, no one else is likely to get the joke. Winnipeg collective Astron-6’s prior features “Manborg” and “Father’s Day” were equally insular homages-cum-spoofs, but had the virtue of sending up more widely familiar exploitation idioms. Less laugh-out-loud funny than those predecessors even for those in the know, this overlong homage will delight serious horror geeks at appropriate festivals, but in commercial terms won’t do much to raise the talented group’s profile.
Rey Cisco (Adam Brooks) is the longtime editor to a veteran Italian director who’s filming his latest schlock horror film circa 1980. But starting with the leading man, someone starts wreaking bloody havoc on the cast and crew. Though, in typical giallo fashion, everyone acts suspiciously, macho police detective Peter Porfiry (Brooks’ co-director Matthew Kennedy) trains his eye on meek Rey, against whom the case does look pretty bad. After all, he works at all hours and has memory lapses, and worst of all, the victims have their fingers severed — just as his were in an accident several years ago. (He wears a prosthetic glove to compensate.)
The pitch-perfect screenplay (by Brooks, Kennedy and Conor Sweeney, who plays an ambitiously vain actor) does an ace job of mimicking the common faults of giallos, especially in their badly dubbed English-language versions: the tin-eared, ill-synched dialogue (“Don’t worry … we’ll catch the killer who killed her!”) that probably wasn’t much better in its original Italian, the taken-for-granted sexism, the narrative logic that seems to have flown several script drafts ago, if it was ever there. As in so many of those movies, the revelation of the maniac’s identity seems wholly arbitrary.
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Stylistically, too, the pic does a great job of reproducing its models’ distinctive cinematic language, from the gratuitous sexy-young-body ogling (including a fair amount of full-frontal nudity) and over-the-top if none-too-convincing gore to the garish lighting effects, zoom lensing, awkward editing jumps and spooky synth rock. While the giallo era began some time earlier, the pic takes its cue from late-’70s/early-’80s entries, when the genre was in slow decline. (Think Lamberto Bava rather than Mario Bava.) It also mimics the films’ general shift during that period from psycho chills to supernatural phenomena, while maintaining slasher-grade body counts.
Delightful as all this careful mimicry may be for fans — who will recognize nods to specific films like “Suspiria,” “The House by the Cemetery” and “Murder Rock” — it will probably draw a blank for those who haven’t waded into murky giallo waters. There are some outright goofy gags, especially as “The Editor” goes on, but the humor here is primarily a matter of loving stylistic parody delivered in deadpan fashion.
The cast, particularly the Astron-6 regulars, generally know how to satirize their character types with a straight face. Top-billed name thesp Paz de la Huerta, whose role as Rey’s unhappy wife doesn’t gain much prominence until last lap, works in a more consciously campy mode that seems a bit off by comparison. Other name thesps Udo Kier and Laurence R. Harvey (“Human Centipede”) basically contribute extended cameos.
Even those who get the joke here may find it wearing thin after a while. Astron-6 has an undeniable knack for reproducing the precise feel of grade-C exploitation subgenres while mocking them, but next time they might want to rib something that wider audiences will recognize. After all, many a so-called diehard horror fan has no idea what a giallo is.