In 1963, Mario Bava unleashed what is considered the first giallo horror film, The Girl Who Knew Too Much. Of course, Americans are more likely to know the film by another name: The Evil Eye. On the surface, it seems a stretch to call the American version a “horror film,” as it’s more of a straight-ahead, gloomy mystery that happens to depict murder. However, one supposes murder mysteries are part of where the horror genre originally sprang (that and the fear of the dark and the unknown). Mainly, though, this is a horror because it has a menacing tone at times, in addition to the initial murder scare.
The acting here is pretty straightforward. It’s reasonably well done, but emphasis is more on the story (or the mystery) than on performance. What is the story? Nora Davis (Letícia Román) is in Rome visiting her ailing aunt. She meets and gradually falls in love with the man treating her, Dr. Marcello Bassi (John Saxon). While on a trip to notify Bassi of her aunt’s death, Nora happens to get mugged and knocked unconscious. When she wakes up she happens to see a murder…or does she? See, it’s one of those stories where, right from the start, it’s implied that she may be insane, or psychic, or some kooky combination thereof. That is also part of the mystery.
Was the American Version Watered Down?
I don’t wish to give many additional details away. However, I should note that the American version doesn’t shy away from romance. In fact, at times it almost verges on romantic comedy. I’ve read (in so many words) that this was to dull the shock for an American audience, and that the Italian version is a little edgier. Ether way, the version I’ve seen seems to hold back a little bit.
The strongest performance comes from Saxon, though that’s partly because, well, it’s John Saxon. He has a commanding presence in every film he’s in, whether it’s a greater or lesser role. I don’t want to downplay Letícia Román’s performance, but, let’s face it, she is mostly there to scream and be frightened. She does that pretty well, though I’ve never seen her listed as a “scream queen.”
I don’t want to trash talk this movie, but I honestly didn’t find it particularly memorable. In fact, it’s said to be the least successful Mario Bava film. Nevertheless, it’s not a bad film, and it certainly would have been more shocking in its day. I would say it’s one for horror fans to watch at least once. Then, of course, you could re-watch to see if it grows on you over time. It is in many ways classier than Dario Argento’s style, which relied more on shock. It’s also worth seeing simply because it’s considered the first giallo film. Feel free to check it out!
What are your thoughts on The Evil Eye/The Girl Who Knew Too Much? Let us know in the comments!