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While vacationing in Italy, a young woman with a passion for crime fiction (Letícia Román) witnesses a brutal murder. With the help of a handsome young doctor (John Saxon), she launches her own investigation and uncovers a series of crimes known as the ‘Alphabet Murders,’ only to realize that she may be next on the killer’s list. (From Kino’s official synopsis)

 The Evil Eye
 The Girl Who Knew Too Much
Mario Bava’s The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1963) is often cited as the first in a long line of Italian giallo films. I used this shorthand myself when I review the film years ago. The truth is that it’s nearly impossible to track such a milestone, because the signification giallo is as difficult to define as ‘slasher’ or ‘psychological thriller.’ There are too many subjective variables to nail down the exact moment the subgenre was born or which filmmaker christened the term. If ‘Italian-made thriller’ is the only signification, then the tradition might extend back to Luchino Visconti’s neorealist adaptation of James M. Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice, Ossessione (1943). On the other hand, if genre trademarks, like black-gloved killers, lurid colour photography, and extended murder set pieces are required, Bava’s own follow-up, Blood and Black Lace (1964), might fit the bill more comfortably. It’s probably safer to think of The Girl Who Knew Too Much as a link in the chain that connects Alfred Hitchcock and Otto Preminger’s Hollywood pictures, their film noir counterparts, and German expressionists that inspired them, stretching all the way to Dario Argento’s The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970).

However, if we separate The Girl Who Knew Too Much from what would become the giallo tradition, it emerges as a sometimes awkward misinterpretation and loving tribute to Hollywood suspense, specifically Hitchcock’s work (the title, which is a play on The Man Who Knew Too Much, is the obvious clue). Even the use of black & white photography, once merely a cost-saving measure, was a justifiable creative option in the wake of Psycho’s (1960) enormous popularity. Bava and his army of co-writers (including Enzo Corbucci, Ennio de Concini, Eliana DeSabata, Mino Guerrini, and Franco E. Prosperi) developed some plot elements that would come to define the giallo genre (specifically a foreign protagonist vacationing in Italy, who takes on the mantle of amateur detective), but even these expansions are in reference to Hitchcock’s masterpieces (with The Man Who Knew Too Much, again, being the key influence).

 The Evil Eye
While the Italian cinematic culture of stealing ideas was once considered gauche, decades of retrospect has changed conventional opinions. Now, the quirky and passionate Italian versions of Hollywood stories are admired for the alterations they make to formulaic concepts (usually political or stylistic). Unfortunately, whenever a new genre struck the Italian’s fancy – peplum (sword and sandal), spaghetti western, poliziotteschi (Eurocrime), or giallo – it took some time for the cream to rise to the top. The earliest films in each genre tend to be mere shadows of their more famous counterparts. For instance, Sergio Corbucci’s first western, Minnesota Clay (1964), was a decent, but unremarkable imitation of Hollywood’s revisionist westerns of the ‘50s. It wasn’t until a few months later, when Sergio Leone kicked the doors off of the conventions with Fistful of Dollars, that Corbucci could deliver the thoroughly marinara-flavoured, genre-defining Django in 1966. As the first in a long line of Hitchcock-inspired thrillers, The Girl Who Knew Too Much is thematically flustered and Bava’s attention is rigidly focused on the visual components. Those visuals, gorgeous though they may be (and I want to make it entirely clear that this is a beautifully-shot movie), were not as innovative as the saturated glory of Blood and Black Lace.

However, if we can separate The Girl Who Knew Too Much from the Hitchockian masterpieces that inspired it and the small giallo revolution it helped to bolster, it is one of Bava’s most underrated and flat-out entertaining movies. Bava himself reportedly complained about the narrative’s dependence on so many convoluted coincidences, while some critics have objected to its tonal inconsistencies (visual and thematic), but these two most damning elements end up neutralizing each other – as if cognitive dissonance was the intent. Truthfully, Bava was struggling with the material and apparently unsure of what movie he was making. As the story unravels, he shifts from screwball comedy to gothic horror, to suspense, to Italian travel log, to (very Italian flavoured) romance, and even surrealism without much warning or preparation. It can be jarring, but quite charming and, in the end, ‘right’ for a film that was instrumental in defining a genre known for its baffling plots and form-over-function sensibilities.

 The Evil Eye
 The Girl Who Knew Too Much
Many of Bava’s early pictures were distributed in North America by American International Pictures. Most, if not all of them, were edited in one way or another (sometimes for violent content), but AIP brass also took it upon themselves to completely alter the structure of Black Sabbath and The Girl Who Knew Too Much, even shooting additional footage for the former. In most cases, Bava’s version is superior, but the re-edited The Girl Who Knew Too Much, re-titled The Evil Eye (which is, coincidentally, also an alternate title for Lucio Fulci’s Manhattan Baby) might be the exception. First of all, The Evil Eye is actually longer than The Girl Who Knew Too Much. In his book Mario Bava: All the Colors of the Dark, Bava biographer Tim Lucas points to the year-long break between the film’s completion (1962) and release (1963), and a number of scenes not included in the original release, as a possible indication that post-production reshoots were done by Bava himself. Lucas also argues that, unlike the other AIP edits, Evil Eye is ‘more expressive of Bava’s own personality.’

I’m not sure if either version of the film had an official VHS release in the US. If it was, I was never able to find it and wasn’t interested in paying a premium for a bootlegged copy via the back pages of Fangoria magazine. All previous DVD versions featured the Italian cut with Italian dialogue, so this Blu-ray – along with a UK counterpart Blu-ray from Arrow that I bought a month ago, but haven’t gotten around to watching yet – marks the first time I’ve seen the AIP version. Despite the awkwardly censoring of references to narcotics (though the references themselves were sort of awkward in the first place), The Evil Eye is a significantly funnier movie with more character development and, most importantly, a more likeable/relatable central character (Nora is a total goofball). It’s also better edited (the Italian version feels clipped wherever exposition is required) and includes a cute scene where a portrait of Bava himself reacts to Letícia Román’s skimpy negligee, only to be called a Peeping Tom and covered with her sheer robe.

 The Evil Eye
 The Girl Who Knew Too Much

Video


The Girl Who Knew Too Much was first released on DVD via Image Entertainment for their ‘Mario Bava Collection.’ That black & white, anamorphic 1.66:1 transfer was reused (more or less) by Anchor Bay for their ‘Mario Bava Collection.’ It was a satisfactory transfer, but was too bright, kind of flat, and generally limited by SD compression. As mentioned in the Feature section, Kino Lorber was beaten to the punch on the Blu-ray front by Arrow, who released it in the UK last November, but this does mark its North American, RA HD home video debut (the film reportedly appeared on Turner Classic Movies in HD in 2002). Both Kino and Arrow’s releases include the International and AIP cuts on a single disc as two completely different files (i.e. there is no branching option). I initially spent hours carefully matching screen caps from each disc’s transfer – both cuts – for this review, but, after I actually compared what I had, I realized that they were basically indiscernible, aside from slight compression differences that wouldn’t be detectible after further JPG compression. So then, what you see here are comparisons between the Evil Eye cut (top) and the Girl Who Knew Too Much cut (bottom), taken from the Kino release only, though only four of my screen-caps actually coincide with scenes that exist in the longer AIP version.

Overall, both 1080p transfers are clear upgrades over the DVD versions. Most viewers will probably prefer the AIP cut, which is slightly over-cropped at 1.78:1, but comes out ahead in most technical terms. It’s cleaner and features more even tones. The cleanliness facilitates tighter edges without overwhelming the basic grain texture and the subtle gradations reveal more dynamic range, especially in wide-angle shots. The Italian cut is appropriately framed at 1.66:1, but is less consistent (grain levels fluctuate and sometimes mess up detail fidelity) and features slightly more protracted print damage artefacts (both versions include plenty of spots and scratches). However, the harsher blacks and whites of the Italian cut’s more dynamic contrast levels might actually be preferrable. Besides strengthening shadows and edges, it just fits what I assume Bava intended with his evocative and frightening photography. In the end, it’s sort of a toss-up between the AIP version’s crisper detail and cleaner textures and the Italian version’s expressionistic, albeit dirtier image.

 The Evil Eye
 The Girl Who Knew Too Much

Audio


The uncompressed, LPCM 2.0 mono soundtracks are divided between each cut of the film – the AIP cut features an English dub and the Italian cut features an Italian dub. It is important to note that both tracks are dubs, because the film was shot without sound, like almost all Italian films from the era. That said, most of the actors are clearly speaking English on set. The Evil Eye track features Saxon and (I believe) Robert Buchanan dubbing themselves. The English dialogue tracks are consistent, though slightly muffled, like similar ADR dubs. Effects are minimal, especially environmental ambience, leaving a lot of completely blank space between conversations, but the sound floor is ‘low’ and buzz is rarely a problem. The Italian dialogue is similarly aged, a little quieter, but also more dynamic. The effects on the Italian track are also livelier – as in the outdoor environments actually have life to them – though still not particularly punchy.

The Italian score was provided by Bava regular Roberto Nicolosi and the Evil Eye score was filled out by AIP regular Les Baxter. Baxter’s music is more nonstop (to the point of exhaustion in some cases) and conventional. It hit some very high volume levels without distortion. Nicolosi’s score is used more sparingly and more appropriate to the material, but is mixed low enough on the track that it sometimes goes missing. In edition, the Italian version includes a theme song titled “Furore,” written by Adriano Celentano and Paolo Vivarelli (as Adicel & Vivarelli), and sung by Celentano. The song made an appearance more recently in Hélène Cattet & Bruno Forzani’s ode du gialli, Amer (2009).

 The Evil Eye

Extras


The A/V specs are basically identical between the releases, but Arrow has outdone Kino in terms of extras. Besides a trailer, the only extra here is a commentary track from aforementioned Bava biographer and all-around expert Tim Lucas, borrowed from the Anchor Bay release. ‘Only’ is a relative term in this case, because all of Lucas’ commentaries are obligatory listening for anyone interested in Bava’s career. Here, he discusses just about everything, including the careers of the major cast & crew, technical processes, Easter eggs, critical responses, the film’s historical context, and comparisons between the Italian and AIP cuts.

 The Evil Eye

 The Girl Who Knew Too Much

Overall


The Girl Who Knew Too Much (or The Evil Eye, as it is known for this release) will probably never be as appreciated as Black Sunday, Blood and Black Lace, or Bay of Blood, and it doesn’t have the added value of being one of Mario Bava’s personal favourites among his catalogue (that would probably be Lisa and the Devil), but it’s still my favourite of his supposedly ‘lesser’ major output. Kino’s inclusion of the previously difficult to see American cut only solidifies my affection for this occasionally scattershot, but completely charming proto- giallo. Kino’s disc looks and sounds just fine, including both versions and a commentary track from Bava expert Tim Lucas. For your records, the more expensive, region B-locked disc from Arrow does include more extras and has the more or less the exact same A/V.

* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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