The horror boom of the 1980s owes much to giallo of the 1960s and 70s. Despite their acclaim and increased popularity in recent years, there are not many contemporary giallos made. So when one is released, they tend to stand out. Knife+Heart is a fresh take that doubles as a loving homage.
The movie takes place in Paris in 1979. Anne Pareze is the director of gay porno films. All of a sudden, a masked killer is murdering people close to her. If the plot sounds familiar, that is because it is. Knife+Heart unabashedly borrows from the films of Dario Argento and Mario Bava, among others. There is the mysterious killer, the exotic locations, and lots of blood and sex.
Knife+Heart wears is its influences on its sleeve. There are lush reds and a deep blues to accentuate the mood of the film. There is also great work done with lighting and shadows. A scene in the middle of the movie is very reminiscent of Argento’s Susperia. The music is absolutely perfect and adds to the overall tone of the movie. This film looks like it could have been lifted out of the 1970s.
A staple of giallo is the battle of the sexes. The movies are often filled with the banter about which sex is stronger and smarter. These moments are always a surprise to see and are usually a highlight of the the film. The dynamic is switched in Knife+Heart. The LGBTQ+ film is more about the celebration of one’s sexuality. Whereas most films of the genre treat sex as a lewd act that leads to death, director Yann Gonzalez’s film looks at sex under a different lens.
Make not mistake about it. Knife+Heart is a giallo at heart, so sex and death are intrinsically tied together. But here there is also sex just for the sake of it. (Anne does direct porn so almost by default the film is very sexual.) It is odd to see so much sex followed by so little death in a slasher, but that is exactly what the audience gets. This succeeds in making each sex scene more tense since it is not followed by the normal mandatory brutal murder. Things become even more muddled when there are fictional deaths involved with porno sex.
Knife+Heart also seamlessly weaves in a tender love story. Anne’s long time lover Lois has left her and she is distraught. The entire movie is spent with her alternating between moving on and trying to recapture the past. The audience really gets a feel for the affection between the two. There is also a great scene that brings sex into the relationship in a way that is disgusting. This is to be expected from a giallo, but the way it is done adds layers to Anne’s character.
The movie definitely pays tribute to giallos, but it does so in a way that is almost parody. This is not a bad thing and actually separates it from other films of the genre that are just cheap knock offs. The setting itself is somewhat ridiculous. Giallos had their sexy characters, but they were usually famous fashion models or lived in posh mansions. Having it in the underground world of gay porn gives the movie the required sex appeal in a way that is silly and forbidden. The killer’s weapon of choice is as creative and ingenious as it is preposterous. Knife+Heart is a serious movie that knows how to have fun.
This is also where the problem lies. Sometimes the story takes itself too seriously. Things really slow down in the middle. Knife+Heart never gets boring, but it does feel like its spinning its wheels at times. It also has a strong ending that is bogged down by too much exposition. These types of movies spell everything out for the audience, but here it is done is a way that is pretentious and unneeded.
Knife+Heart is a fun take on giallo. The film was obviously inspired by the classics of the genre and has a look that will be familiar to many long time fans. Even those who do not watch Italian horror will enjoy the movie. The story is filled with both lust and love and has a fun murder mystery to boot. Knife+Heart takes a lot of risks that end up paying off.