If we ignore Ossessione (1942) and take Mario Bava’s The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1962) as being the first giallo film, then it becomes apparent that not only is Bava’s Girl the birth of the traditional giallo but it is also the only giallo that is shot in Black & White. The interesting question is; why for so early in the life of a genre did the giallo move from Black and White film to Colour? Was it just a case of timing; with the widespread introduction of colour in cinema? Or was there something more to the genre itself that leant more towards the use of colour on screen than the monochrome of Black and White?
Comparing color to sound, Kalmus described color as the next logical step in film's historical trajectory, "tending towards complete realism." While helping to mold film's vision "according to the basic principles of art." her approach aimed to produce what she termed an "enhanced realism" (Dalle Vacche and Price, 2006 p31-32)
This idea of enhanced realism would really emphasize the horror of the giallo greater than it would being shot in black and white; the idea of seeing a murder being committed in colour seemingly being more realistic adds greater impact to the murders that are being shown in gialli.
Namely, Bazin very deftly offers a theory of color in film that ultimately allies cinema with painting, such that color becomes the constituent feature of art, whereas black and white simply documents reality. (Delle Vacche and Price, 2006 p51)
The idea of black and white visually implying the documentation of reality when applied to the genre of horror, can certainly remove some threat on screen from the murderer; the audience might find themselves detached from what is happening on screen. Though the timing of the common place use of colour in film and the birth of the giallo did pretty much coincide with each other, I would argue that the giallo genre itself wouldn’t have been as popular as it was (even if only on a vernacular level) if they were shot in black and white.
Mario Bava's Blood and Black Lace opens with a credit sequence unique in gi-allo cinema: each of the actors featured in the film are given their own tableau, bathed in a combination of red and green chiaroscuro lighting, with appropriate black spots. (Koven 2006, p151)
Whilst Mario Bava had made a name for himself with his expert use of light in previous films, he quickly adapts to colour straightaway with his second giallo film Blood and Black Lace (1964); his chiaroscuro lighting effect in the opening title credits give the film a very artistic feel and using his skill in lighting, he sets the tone for future giallo films to experiment with the use of colour, beyond just the simple effect of “enhanced realism”.
Clip 1. Blood and Black Lace (dir Bava, 1964)
The usual reaction of a color upon a normal person has been definitely determined. Colors fall into two general groups. The first group in the "warm," and the second the "cool" colors. Red, orange, and yellow are called the warm or advancing colors. They call forth sensations of excitement, activity, and heat. In contrast, green, blue, and violet are the cool or retiring colors. They suggest rest, ease, coolness. Grouping the colors in another manner with gray suggest subtlety, refinement, charm. When mixed with black, colors show strength, seriousness, dignity, but sometimes represent the baser emotions of life. (Dalle Vacche and Price, 2006 p26)
Bava opening the film, combining the warm colour of red with the cool of the green; in chiaroscuro style lighting you could imply these two colours with the black spots are telling us the seriousness of the use of colour in the film and it’s cool characters are going to be set in a heated active story that will give its audience a strong sensation of excitement.
When any two colors are placed together, the first emphasizes in the second the characteristics which are lacking in the first. (Dalle Vacche and Price, 2006 p29)
Bava, by placing both the red and green directly casting across the films characters in the opening title sequence is creatively getting the most out of each colour; this allows him to keep his creative chiaroscuro lighting style whilst only having to cast two colours to portray something far greater. The lighting for the title sequence has various different shadings of colour, which looks so vastly different when compared to the chiaroscuro of black and white film.
In black-and-white film there is but one way to achieve extreme contrast: through the difference between black and white. In the color image there are as many extreme contrasts as there are basic colors. (Dalle Vacche and Price, 2006 p54)
Bava’s chiaroscuro lighting, though has varying different set ups for each actor/character in the sequence, manages to keep them all as a rather blank canvas, not letting too much known about their personas, but with the beautiful shadings of colour and the combination of red and green, aside with odd splashes of blue; the sequence itself conveys a mysterious visual feel to it, using colour coding introduce the audience to the films atmosphere.