Directed by Mario Bava
Starring Leticia Roman, John Saxon, Robert Buchanan, Valentina Cortese, Dante DiPaolo
Arrow (Blu-Ray & DVD) (UK RB/R2 HD/PAL) / WS (1.66:1 / 1.78:1) (16:9), Anchor Bay (US R1 NTSC), Films sans Frontières (France R2 PAL), Image (US R1 NTSC), Sinister (Italy R2 PAL) / WS (1.66:1) (16:9)
The great granddaddy of the Italian thriller known as the giallo, The Girl Who Knew Too Much (La ragazza che sapeva troppo) was a marked departure for director Mario Bava after he took horror fans by storm with his classic Black Sunday. Here for the first time he turned his camera to modern Rome, where naive American whodunit fan Nora Davis (Fanny Hill's Roman) flies in to visit her Aunt Adele. After unknowingly pocketing some hemp-laced cigarettes from a charming man on the plane, Nora reaches her aunt's apartment and meets the handsome Dr. Marcello Bassi (Saxon), who informs Nora that her aunt is not in the best of health. That night Nora is horrified to witness Adele dying of a heart attack and flees out into the street, where a mugger leaves her unconscious. In a daze Nora awakens to hazily witness the stabbing death of a young woman in the street, then passes out. At the hospital no one believes Nora's story, so she's left with only Marcello to help her uncover the truth. Nora quickly comes to believe that a killer known for a series of gruesome "Alphabet Murders" is still at large in the city and may have targeted our heroine as the next victim.
Widely regarded as the first feature film to lay down the ground rules of the giallo, The Girl Who Knew Too Much doesn't have all the fixtures in place yet; for one thing, there's zero sexuality and the body count is very small. However, it firmly establishes the look and feel of the subgenre in its most memorable suspense sequences, particularly a tense and stylish climax showcasing Bava's expert use of light, shadow, and decor. The plot is a lot of fun as well as it smushes together some obvious Hitchcock allusions (not surprising given the Italian title), Edgar Wallace, and an obvious homage to Agatha Christie's The ABC Murders with the killer's modus operandi. The whodunit is basically a mechanism to propel the film from one setpiece to the next with the audience left in the dark as to the killer's identity until the very end, allowing Roman to trot from one wide-eyed scene of menace to another.
Since the film was partially financed by American money (AIP, who had a hit with its retooled version of Black Sunday), the studio mandated that Bava shoot some scenes to make the film more palatable for general audiences; the result, The Evil Eye, plays like an entirely different film with a stronger emphasis on Italian travelogue flavor reminiscent of the recent hit La Dolce Vita (with Marcello Mastroianni even getting name checked at one point). The opening twenty minutes in particular are radically different, with Nora introduced after a series of voiceovers revealing the thoughts of each plane passenger. Nora also undergoes a head butting incident with another visitor at the airport and spends her first night evading the watchful eyes of her uncle (a cameo by Bava himself) - in a portrait hanging on her bedroom wall. Frankly it's a bit of a draw as to which version is better; the American one substitutes an emphatic but entertaining Les Baxter score in place of the original one by Roberto Nicolosi (unfortunately losing the great theme song "Furore" in the process) and will probably play more smoothly for casual fans, while the Italian one is a bit more trim and sinister in tone (not to mention its completely different, silly coda with that packet of cigarettes).
The original Italian cut first debuted on home video with English subtitles in 2000 courtesy of a DVD from Image Entertainment licensed from Alfredo Leone. The film source used for that release has been the standard ever since; its opening credits are in somewhat ragged shape, but after that it's a pleasing 1.66:1 presentation with solid, ominous blacks aplenty and crisp detail. Extras on that disc included the engaging Italian trailer (without subtitles, alas), accompanied by the swinging main title song, and a plethora of Bava stills, poster art, and factual tidbits. In 2007, Anchor Bay reissued the film (first in a Bava box and then standalone) with a more robust offering of extras including a thorough, very valuable commentary by regular Bava commentator and All the Colors of the Dark author Tim Lucas, who explains the film's cinematic importance and goes into the details involving the two different cuts. Saxon also appears for a 9-minute interview, "Remembering the Girl," in which he reflects on his less-than-stellar relationship with Bava presumably due to a misunderstanding about the nature of the project itself.
One of the best things to happen to Bava's legacy on the home video front after that point was the series of UK releases from Arrow Films, who managed to perform the seemingly impossible by issuing both the Italian and U.S. cuts of Black Sunday and Black Sabbath on dual-format releases with a plethora of new extras. Those AIP versions were at least viewable in some form on home video before that point, but for some reason The Evil Eye remained stubbornly hidden and refused to even turn up on TV. Fans had to make do with some truly terrible bootleg VHS copies for decades, but those can finally be tossed in the trash thanks to the 2014 dual-format version that presents the AIP version in splendid condition. Apart from some minor element-related issues (a missing or jumpy frame or iffy splice here and there), it's a miraculous salvage job for a film that seemed to be gone forever just a short time ago. Like Black Sabbath, the film was shot with multiple framing in mind; in Italy it was 1.66:1, while internationally it was screened as narrow as 1.85:1. The Arrow version is presented at 1.78:1, which feels fine and seems to work compositionally with a slight bit of vertical information less than the Italian version. For example, compare this shot from the AIP cut and this one from the Italian. The AIP version is also brighter and sports a slicker, cleaner appearance; which one is preferable is likely to be a matter of personal taste. The Italian version upgrades nicely to HD as well with the standard 1.66:1 framing and identical damage marks compared to past releases, while the LPCM mono tracks for both sound fine. The optional English subtitles in normal white type (for both versions) are also easier on the eyes than the sometimes garish, large yellow font on the Anchor Bay disc.
The essential Lucas commentary is carried over here along with the Saxon interview and the Italian and international trailers from the Anchor Bay release, while new goodies include an optional 3-minute video intro by writer Alan Jones (who runs through the film's historical significance and points out a funny celebrity trivia item about actor Dante DiPaolo), liner notes by Kier-La Janisse, and a new 21-minute featurette, "All about the Girl," filled with appraisals of the film's merits and its place in Bava's formidable filmography by Jones, Luigi Cozzi, Richard Stanley, and writer Mikel Koven, who bounce through the differing comic tones of the two versions and explain how the giallo evolved from here to other Bava milestones like Blood and Black Lace and into the trendsetting early classics by Dario Argento. Top marks all around and definitely essential for any fan of Italian shockers.