If you want to be unnecessarily pedantic about what qualifies as a true giallo film, The Corruption of Chris Miller might not qualify. In the strictest sense, giallo is a schlocky, overstylized murder-mystery genre specifically made in Italy, mostly in the 1970s. Although clearly contemporary to that 70s Euro horror sensibility, The Corruption of Chris Miller is a Spanish production, performed in English, and stars a famous French chanteuse. However, even though it was staged on the wrong side of the Italian/Spanish divide, the film is a pure giallo experience by nearly every other metric. Its gorgeous visual palate (bolstered by Eastman color processing), needlessly complicated kills, acrylic paint stage blood, and consistently sleazy vibe all check off the exact tones & tropes expected from the genre. More convincingly yet, its slow-paced, convoluted mystery plot is incredibly confusing even after all the facts are presented in the final reveal, falling apart the second you think about it too long. That’s a giallo, bb.
Breathless-vet, pop star, and political subversive Jean Seberg stars as a young psychobiddy in training: a lonely, middle-aged woman who imprisons & psychologically torments her stepdaughter as revenge against the husband who left them both behind. She runs an explicitly man-hating household, teaching her step-daughter (the younger Spanish pop star Marisol) that “Men don’t love. They injure. They invade. It’s always cruelty and violence with them.” Meanwhile, she’s the sole source of the home’s cruelty & violence – gaslighting & sexually “seducing” her stepchild as a half-thought-out mode of revenge against a man who isn’t present and couldn’t care less. That is, until she expands her operations to a full-on bisexual harem by inviting a dangerous drifter into their home as a handyman: a British stud whom the audience suspects might be a thieving killer of local wealthy women. Is this drifter actually the killer, as all of the evidence suggests? Or is the killer one of the two central women-in-conflict? Or is it a throwaway side character the movie loses track of the minute after they’re introduced? The answer will only betray & confuse you, especially after you rewatch the kill scenes to review the evidence.
As always with gialli, the mystery itself is not as important here as the style & the mood. The tension in Seberg’s lavish home (i.e. lesbian torture dungeon) is wonderfully staged and feels entirely separate from the murders in the surrounding village. Even the kills themselves feel wholly distinct from one another, as the killer is wildly inconsistent in their choices of disguise, weapon, and victim. The closest the film comes to solidifying a recognizably iconic slasher villain visage (like a Jason or Michael Meyers mask) is a sequence where the killer dons a rain slicker, a scythe, and sunglasses while executing an entire family in their home. My personal favorite kill, however, is the opening scene in which they dress like a grotesque Charlie Chaplin pantomime to kill a woman they’ve just slept with. The way the killer continues to perform Silent Era schtick as The Tramp even after the murder had me howling, and I’m not sure the movie ever reached that level of upsetting amusement again. Attempting an entire proto-slasher about a killer in Chaplin drag might have been the film’s best chance as an all-timer in the giallo genre. It at least would have afforded it a sense of consistency, which it’s desperately lacking.
Unless you’re an Italian essentialist, The Corruption of Chris Miller lands squarely in the giallo pantheon – both in satisfying the requirements of the genre and in terms of quality. Replaying & picking apart the plot in your head is an exercise in futility that only gets more frustrating the further you drift away from it. At the same time, its sleazy atmosphere, over-the-top violence, and indulgences in gorgeous artifice reward that confusion with plenty in-the-moment pleasures.