A most distinct subgenre of horror, the Italian giallo films often looked beyond the hot passions of the Mediterranean to American pulp thriller novels and Hollywood for inspiration, combining the elements of mystery and suspense of directors such as Alfred Hitchcock with a distinctly homegrown enthusiasm for graphic violence and bloody death caught between the gloriously coloured lights of the victims’ public lives and deep shadows of the killer’s soul.
Among the celebrated giallo directors are Mario Bava, Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci, but the influence has worked both ways, with homage being paid to that particular style of lurid lighting and extreme characterisation in tributes such as Peter Strickland’s Berberian Sound Studio (2012) and now in pastiche by directing duo Adam Brooks and Matthew Kennedy whose dark offering is entitled The Editor.
She dances for men then walks home alone down dark alleyways, not realising that she is being followed to her neon lit apartment by a figure dressed in black wearing leather gloves… Sat at his editing desk, Rey Ciso (Brooks) assembles the scene, watched by apprentice Bella who has come to worship his skill despite the handicap of his wooden hand. Years before, Rey suffered a nervous breakdown after accepting the challenge to edit the world’s longest film and lost his fingers in a tragic film editing accident, but she has come to admire his intimate connection with the films he constructs: “This is as close to living as you and I will ever come.”
Paralleling the scene they have worked on, later that evening as Rey leaves the studio to return to the home he shares with wife Josephine Jardin, once the star of The Mirror and the Guillotine but now retired from the business and resentful of her husband’s continuing connection with the life she has left, he is trailed by Bella. Back at the studio, lead actor Claudio has invited one of the female supporting players to an intimate screening of a rough cut of Tarantola which is brutally interrupted when the projected events spill out into the auditorium, blood splattered across the slashed silver screen.
Their bodies are found the next morning by Margarit (Sheila Campbell) who is struck down with hysterical blindness: “A woman’s eyes weren’t meant to see such things.” The case is assigned to her husband, Inspector Peter Porfiry (Kennedy), but the show must go on, with Claudio replaced by body double Cesare (Lance Cartwright) and co-star Cal Konitz (Conor Sweeney, co-writer along with Brooks and Kennedy) stepping up to the lead, but as the cameras keep rolling, so the bodies keep appearing…
While the films the characters are creating feature consciously bad acting combined with sound which is at times marginally out of synch to create the impression that it has been badly dubbed and over-zealous foley work to complement the preposterous violence which includes an unmasking of the suspected killer that puts any episode of Scooby-Doo in the shade, that very artificiality heightens the realism and violence of the offscreen killings of the unfortunate cast and crew.
Brooks and Kennedy are not the only directors to work in the retro-pastiche genre, but like Jason Eisener’s superb Hobo With A Shotgun their knowledge, understanding and affection for their subject is in support of a fully developed script and a cast willing to abandon themselves to any requirement of their roles, always playing with authenticity without ever slipping into parody or slapstick whether the script calls for unbalanced emotion or unhinged eroticism.
Featuring an understated cameo from Udo Kier as psychiatrist Doctor Casini, a soundtrack drawn from the a host of sources including genre legend Claudio Simonetti (Deep Red, Suspiria, Tenebrae) and stylish dream visions which recall the sometimes fantastical narrative structure demonstrated by the masters of giallo there are also touches of David Cronenberg in Rey’s reaction to the looming spectre of the transition from celluloid to video.
Ironically, with the final act noticeably sluggish after the brisk joy of the first hour, tighter editing is something the film would benefit from, but The Editor still works both as a post-modern recreation of the crimson age of horror cinema and as a view through the flickering frames into the murky world of a small independent studio. Despite Rey’s warning that “If the audience knew how many magicians worked behind the screen, the spell would be broken,” Brooks and Kennedy manage to maintain the madness until the final reel.