Chopped into Pieces by "The Editor"

The Editor (2014)
Dir: Adam Brooks and Matthew Kennedy
TC4P Rating: 7

"A woman’s eyes weren’t meant to see such things, you understand?"

Ah, giallo! If you are not already a fan of these peculiar psychological thrillers from Italy (chiefly made between the late '60s through the '80s), then you will probably miss a lot of the fun in The Editor, a loving tribute to this odd and extremely misogynistic subgenre from Canadian filmmakers Adam Brooks and Matthew Kennedy.

Giallo, which is the Italian word for “yellow,” is meant to conjure up an image of old pulp magazines (often with yellow paper) that contained generally lurid tales of murder, detectives, and the mysteries they were solving. The Italian directors Mario Bava and Dario Argento are most often cited as the godfathers of the genre on film, and while the giallo subgenre has largely wilted into obscurity for the most part, there have recently been a handful of cinematic homages to the spirit of giallo.

A pair of films, both of which I admire, from French filmmakers Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani have led the charge. The first, Amer, released in 2009, is a wildly surrealistic and largely plotless fantasy that recounts the coming of age of a young woman, albeit using the sex, violence and gore that are hallmarks of the giallo tradition. The second, The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears [L'étrange couleur des larmes de ton corps, 2013], is equally as colorful and wildly rendered, but attempts (not completely as a success either) to marry more of a plotline to the gorgeous photography and extreme violence. Both films are remarkable for their imagery, but they chiefly use elements from giallo to incredible effect without actually existing as true examples of giallo.

In 2012 came Peter Strickland’s Berberian Sound Studio, which takes place in a studio in Italy that produces giallo films, and which tells the tale of a sound engineer from England (played by Toby Jones, who is near perfection in the film) forced to work on the sound effects of a film, who finds himself losing control of his sense of reality. The film is stunning simply as a horror film, outside of subgenre, but does gain a lot of atmosphere from the plot relationships to the world of giallo.

Even playing off of the same influences as those other tributes, The Editor is a different breed of cat. While the film is has as amazing a color palette and brilliant cinematography as the other recent homages to giallo, The Editor's attention is focused doubly on two things, not mutually exclusive of each other: outrageous violence and laughs.

Rey Ciso (played by co-director/co-writer Adam Brooks) is a veteran editor who had a mishap while making an attempt at editing the world's longest film for a legendary film producer. He accidentally chopped off four fingers on his hand with a paper cutter, and now wears wooden replacement fingers. Married to a former film star (played by a very icky Paz de la Huerta), Rey is unhappy, potentially suicidal, and is stuck working on a very low-budget giallo film. Suddenly, actors in the film are being cut down by a maniacal killer, and the only evidence they have in common is that the same four fingers from their hand that Rey chopped off of his are being left on the ground at each murder scene.

Enter Lt. Peter Porfiry, played to the hilt by the film's other co-writer/co-director Matthew Kennedy. (He is described by one character in the film, appropriately, as a young Donald Sutherland.) Porfiry is convinced from the start that Rey is his man, and will ignore any evidence to the contrary (and there is plenty of it) in his lust to bring Rey to justice. Rey himself is being tempted by the unbridled adoration of his comely assistant editor, Bella, who is also obsessed with finding the murderer. But the murders keep piling up, and Rey is ever so swiftly heading towards another nervous breakdown of the sort that once landed him in a mental hospital.

The producers within the film are insanely casual about each loss to the cast and crew, and are always ready almost immediately to insert an even less talented replacement. Even with the film, this is not unnoticed. The editor asks his producer at one point, “Where do you find these people?” One can only imagine the ultimate horrid end product of these recasts, as the film they are making is seen to be ridiculous from the start, though only slightly less silly than the “real world” the film proper projects.

I like that when a new editor is brought in to complete the film, he consults the index of a textbook on film editing for help while working on a scene which contains a tarantula. “Ah, here it is. Tarantulas and film editing.” Of course, he is about to be attacked by one of those very same spiders just before the killer feeds his guts through the editing machine, but at least he had the right book at hand.

The Editor hits the ground running with outlandish lines, both in the film they are making, and in the world in which the story exists. The big gimmick here is that the entire movie is dubbed poorly intentionally so it plays like the real giallo films are in actuality. The actors give straight-faced line readings of dialogue like "And if you scared me to death — the lead actor — how then would the film be finished?" and "I’ve heard these old studios are full of ghosts, and I’ll be damned if I’m gonna let myself see one!," and they get away with it. And the lines keep coming, left and right, straight through to the end of the picture.

It’s a world where the fraternity of men is far more important to the characters than their relationships with their women. When one character attempts intercourse with another’s wife right in front of him, but then has to leave, he gets up, pats the husband on the shoulder, and says “Sorry about that. Bye” A casual crossing of mutual paths in the locker room ends with "That’s an excellent penis you have.”

And then there are the slaps, the truest sign that you are in a film from the 1970s. In The Editor, they are almost always to the face of women, and the women generally respond with passion, tacit acceptance of their fate, or both. In a brilliant bit of satire in a restaurant, Rey’s wife starts reprimanding him, and her raised voice brings to Rey the unforgiving glares of nearly everyone else in the room, especially the women, for not keeping his own woman in line. Then Inspector Porfiry unexpectedly springs into the room, slaps Rey's wife twice, and tells Rey to not make Porfiry slap Rey instead. "A man slapping a man, imagine that,” he says. And then Rey’s wife agrees with him. "He’s right. What am I supposed to do, slap myself?"

It’s a hard act to maintain faithfully, however, and points to how thin the material within the giallo realm can wear even to adherents. References to Argento’s Three Mothers Trilogy start to drift into The Editor, in much the same way that Argento drifted away from the giallo form into supernatural horror only to wander back here and there. Black magic books and spells in Latin appear, and the film leaves earthbound concerns for quick excursions into a dream-state netherworld. They also go Canadian instead of Italian briefly in their allusions when they work in what has to be a riff on Videodrome, even though Cronenberg’s twisted classic has nothing whatsoever to do with giallo.

The mocking but loving tone is maintained almost perfectly throughout, backed up by some surprising and eye-popping visuals. The blood and gore expected in such an exercise is in abundance, as are ample amounts of nudity for both sexes. The special effects work is outstanding and seamless, especially given that it is working within multiple levels of existence (and therefore, excellence) within the film.

In the end, while The Editor is miles apart in style from the other films I mentioned at the start of this article, it is more than their equal in paying tribute to the same crazed cult subgenre. That it is also one of the funniest films I have seen in recent years is a delightful bonus.


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