Buenos Aires, mid-80s: a new fashion collection is being debuted on a backstreet-styled runway with a chain-link perimeter, the designer states the venue’s aesthetic to be “what a model’s life is like. To be trapped in a storefront without escape.” Here, top super-model Alexis Carpenter (Camila Pizzo) dies doing what she loved: cocaine, champagne and alienating every soul in the room. Her latest display of self-intoxication results in an accident which burns her to death and leaves the media in maudlin mourning for one of their brightest stars. Exactly one year later, the spot for Argentina’s Next Top Model is open once more, but those seeking to fill Carpenter’s stilettos soon find themselves being made to measure for a killer mannequin’s bloody revenge.
Crystal Eyes wears the giallo genre as camp couture, adorned with references ranging from a bathroom murder à la Dario Argento’s Deep Red (1975) to The Bird with the Crystal Plumage’s (1970) straight razor, leather raincoat and… bird, all of which contribute to the film’s playful aesthetic of self-awareness and pay homage to the genre’s preoccupations with beauty, violence, contemporary style and outlandish invention. For the uninitiated, Crystal Eyes could be seen as purely ironic, but the film speaks at the level of pure reappropriation, and as such there is a level of sincerity in its world of insincerity, where image comes before all other dimensions. For example, the film’s slasher, La Silueta — a drag subversion of Halloween’s (1978) The Shape (Michael Myers) — initially moves in a series of exaggerated poses, teleporting silently towards its prey whenever out of the audience’s eye. This has its use as a neat inhuman trait to the murderous doll, but I feel this speaks to the sensation of being seen, of becoming an object on display. Being seen, in this instance, is to be frozen and reduced to a series of gestures and angles. Reproductions — magazine covers, a home movie, memories — of Alexis Carpenter’s image litter Crystal Eyes, yet lead no closer to her personal truths. This use of aesthetic to communicate deeper values is the core prerogative of gialli, namely, style as substance.
Crystal Eyes understands the value gialli films had during their heyday as markers for contemporary fashion/design and so chooses not to deviate from those sensibilities, but to revel in their outdated glory. All trends fade out, only to be ridiculed then rediscovered then ridiculed and so on by modern eyes. This is addressed directly through Carpenter’s surviving peers throughout the film, as her potential successors Eva (Anahí Politi) and Irene (Erika Boveri) both have bitter memories of on-set put-downs yet both crave to be her (with Eva even changing her hair to look just like Alexis). A former mentor Lucía (Silvia Montanari) has no fondness for the late it-girl, yet it was Carpenter who made her magazine a worldwide success and whose star-power she desperately covets. To quote Lucile Bluth, a leading example of diva villainy, “They turn you into a monster, and then they call you one.” A loving tribute to the days of switchblades and shoulder pads, Crystal Eyes gives credence to the giallo genre through its tongue-in-cheek absurdity and commitment to the transitory styles that defined its later years.
Paul Farrell (@InPermafrost) is a freelance writer and programmer. He has contributed to MUBI Notebook, The Digital Fix and BLAM! Magazine. Paul also programmes independent & community cinema events in Birmingham, UK. When he grows up, he wants to be Zazie from Zazie in the Metro.