The Girl Who Knew Too Much
I’ve always figured that Mario Bava is a better filmmaker when he’s working with the ambiguous and the atmospherically fantastical. He’s decent when it comes to your typical murder mysteries, fine — but an artist of his optically giving renown is put to finer use when topics at hand revolve around planets comprising vampiric beasts or underworlds where well-dressed supercriminals with a soft spot for leather catsuits run amok. So lush is his eye that necessary are storylines as untamed and as lustrous as his artistic discrepancies are.
Maybe it’s obvious that I’m not as partial toward his more conventional works a la Blood and Black Lace and Bay of Blood — he’s much too interesting an auteur to be spending his time doing what Dario Argento arguably does better. So aside from its indefinite standing as the very first giallo film ever made, I can’t say that I’m that big a fan of his black-and-white stalk-and-slash thriller The Girl Who Knew Too Much; take away its thickly layered coffee-stained ambience and you have uninspired knockoff Agatha Christie that pulls no punches.
I’d like to like it more because I adore Bava so immensely, but a horror flick that looks gorgeous but feels rather dead-eyed cannot work for the length of your standard feature. It stars the sphinx-eyed Letícia Román as Nora, an American in Rome visiting her sickly aunt. Because odds aren’t usually in the favor of pretty young things visiting their dying aunts in foreign countries, the latter passes shortly after Nora’s arrival. En route to the hospital to break the news to the family doctor, though, the young woman is mugged and knocked unconscious by a hoodlum.
Such is bad enough as it is, but matters are worsened when she wakes up and notices a man pulling a knife out of a dead woman’s body near her. Inevitably, she reports this to the authorities, but because traumatized people are rarely given the benefit of the doubt in horror movies, her recollections are put aside and she’s sent on her way.
But later does it become clear that the death could quite possibly be connected to the recent murders on the part of the “Alphabet Killer,” a madman with a habit of offing people based on the order of their surnames. Naturally, Nora becomes an unwitting investigator, if only because she comes to realize that she could very well become the next victim herself.
So The Girl Who Knew Too Much is Nancy Drew lite, maybe, with touches of 1940s Hitchcock making the rounds. But since the whodunit at the center is more by the book than suspense riddled, it’s a rather limp film (though Bava’s luxuriant visuals provide some life that at least makes everything rich in scope). It was the last of the filmmaker’s movies to be shot in black-and-white, and it’s an eyeful of a cinematographic swan song, all murky shadows and nightmarish undertows. But other than its artistic output, The Girl Who Knew Too Much is skippable; for Bava’s best, look in the direction of Black Sabbath or of Kill, Baby, Kill. C+