Welcome back to All the Colors of Giallo, your monthly look at the seedy world of beautiful women, vibrant colors, and unseen black-gloved murderers. Last month I had a blast revisiting the many versions of director Dario Argento’s genre mashup, Phenomena, although I ultimately decided that the film was not a  quote-unquote Giallo, based on its kitchen-sink inclusion of every popular genre of the early eighties. Even if it doesn’t fit snuggly into the Giallo sub-genre, I hope many of you had the chance to watch or revisit one of Argento’s best films.

July is Guilty Pleasures month here at Nightmare on Film Street, and that means I’ll be taking that opportunity to discuss a film once again that, in my opinion, should at least be included in the (inspired by) conversation. So, get ready, as we revisit Richard Rush’s 1994 erotic American-Giallo starring Bruce Willis, Color of Night. Oh, how I miss the ‘90’s! A time when, thanks to the success of Paul Verhoeven‘s Basic Instinct (a film I hope to cover here someday), you could see erotic thrillers featuring some of Hollywood’s biggest stars on the big screen. Sadly, this trend didn’t last, and while Color of Night is nowhere near the worst of these films, it’s often considered such, based on its Golden Raspberry win for Worst Picture in 1994. While Color of Night didn’t connect with the majority of critics or moviegoers, I have always loved something about this film, and now I finally know why—it’s a Giallo.

 

“…pure bonkers fun and a true (albeit lurid) Giallo”

 

Before we rush headlong into the how’s and why’s Director Richard Rush made the perfect Giallo style in 1994, let’s catch everyone who is unfamiliar up on the film’s plot. Bruce Willis (Die Hard) is a New York psychiatrist named Bill Capa who witnesses a patient commit suicide after he harshly criticizes them. Blaming himself, he later moves to Los Angeles to stay with a college friend (also a psychiatrist) to recover and get his mojo back. However, shortly after his arrival his friend (Scott Bakula, Lord of Illusions) is murdered. Naturally, the police suspect someone in his late-night therapy group (wait until we talk about this group) session. In true Giallo, fashion the police ask for Capa’s help in catching the killer. Despite, his initial reluctance based on his past trauma, Capa takes over the group in hopes of catching the killer. Capa also meets a beautiful young woman named Rose (Jane March), and the two quickly begin an intensely erotic affair, all while other members of the group start dying.

Totally a Giallo, right? Fish out of water story with Capa in a strange land investigating a crime, while being involved with a mysterious young woman. Just from that description alone, you could easily see this being the plot of an Edwige Fenech film released in 1972 and directed by Sergio Martino. While those plot points alone are enough justification for talking about the Color of Night here, the pure Gialli elements come from the therapy group and the unique characters (and actors) that make up the group session.

 

 

 

Suppose I told you that 1994 had a Giallo that involved the murder of a psychiatrist, possibly committed by a member of one of his group therapy sessions. Now suppose that therapy group starred Lance Henriksen (Aliens) as a traumatized alcoholic former cop, Brad Dourif (Child’s Play) as nerdy OCD sufferer, Lesley Ann Warren (Clue) an aging rich nymphomanic, Kevin J. O’Connor  (Lord of Illusions) as a masochistic painter, and Richie a young transgender person who has been abused his entire life. Most horror fans would jump at the opportunity to watch this cast ham it up. But, instead Color of Night remains forgotten.

 

So, we have a Giallo setup, with a fantastic cast playing roles against type, and I can practically hear you ask, “what about the horror?” Opening with a dramatic and unexpected suicide that results in Capa losing the ability to see color, the Color of Night also offers many other Giallo tropes including: a black gloved killer (mesh with a blade attached in this case), an effective opening murder set against the high-rise view of Los Angeles, a character playing multiple parts. It also features a bonkers car chase, a snake in the mailbox, and an attempted murder by dropping a car on someone, along with an ending I dare not give away here, but I suspect you’ll figure it out before Willis.

 

“It should be mentioned that Color of Night is extremely explicit […and] hasn’t aged well.”

 

What makes Color of Night so charming and sets it apart from his Italian Giallo counterparts are the performances. Willis here is subdued and playing against type. He’s not the macho hero you expect from Bruce Willis—he’s a broken man coming to terms with the mistakes of his past, and see’s solving this murder and helping these people as his redemption. I had never seen Jane March before this movie, and I haven’t seen her since, but her performance here is fantastic and watching her shift between characters (trust me) is so much fun that you’ll forget how absurd the whole thing is.

Color of Night also perfectly uses other traditional tropes such as, the creepy voice used by the black-coat wearing killer, lavish colors (including a beautiful use of bright red), a haunting score,  and a theme song performed by Lauren Christy, that all adds to the charm of this wonderfully forgotten classic.

 

 

It should be mentioned that Color of Night is extremely explicit. Many of the sex scenes are borderline pornographic and feature full-frontal nudity (from both stars), bondage, homophobic language, and a view on transgenderism that hasn’t aged well. In recent years Jane March has also spoke about how uncomfortable she was with the sex and nudity in the film. With all that said, the core of this movie is pure bonkers fun and a true (albeit lurid) Giallo, and a film that I recommend revisiting for genre fans, looking to watch something off-the-wall with friends (virtually).

Have you watched Color of Night? What’s your favorite ‘90s erotic thriller? Do you agree that Color of Night is a Giallo? Share your thoughts by heading over to TwitterReddit, or in the Horror Movie Fiend Club on Facebook!