Gay trash cinema: Hell Bent, Giallo and Bad Taste

Paper delivered at The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh and the Giallo: an International Film Conference, Sheffield Hallam University, Istituto Storico Austriaco. Rome, June 7th - 9th 2015

The cineaste interest in Giallo has meant that the status of the key films and directors associated with the term outside of Italy has changed considerably over time. However the stylistic excesses and problematic gender politics of these films always mean that they occupy a precarious position in popular consciousness and scholarship. Questions of taste (particularly bad taste) inevitably loom large.

My own research has consistently been motivated by a consideration of those materials that have been relegated to the margins of respectability. Since at least the 1960s (if not earlier) gay culture has often had close affinities, been associated with and constructed from those elements of culture designated as tasteless trash so it perhaps something of a curiosity that the giallo has not found a natural home as part of gay culture with some isolated exceptions including the film Hell Bent (2004, Paul Etheredge-Ouzts).

In this paper I want to look at the ways in which the excesses of the giallo have been marshalled and exploited through a hyperbolic mixture of melodrama, porn and horror (genres that are all to a greater or lesser degree bifurcations of the same set of sources and emerged at the same time) and what this can tell us both about the reputation of giallo outside of Italy and something of the social significance of gay culture in the new millennium. Looking past the knowingly camp pleasures of the DV camerawork, wooden acting and poor dialogue, I will suggest that the ideological constructions that underpin the misogyny of the giallo are transformed into an implicit and explicit homophobia in Hell Bent wrapped up in inter-texuality. I will argue that this film is a problematic text both speaking to and alienating its intended audience and perhaps that this material is an indicator of the increased redundancy of irony as a subversive strategy.

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