As anyone who's seen this film will splutter indignantly, Death at Owell Rock isn't a giallo; it's a spaghetti western. However, without getting all Film Studies wanky, it's worth for a moment considering what exactly constitutes and demarcates 'genre', particularly when it comes to the giallo. Is every film which is set on the American frontier and features men on horses a western, just because it contains the aforementioned ingredients? (Yes.) What if we introduce aliens to the mix- is the film now a sci-fi film? A sci-fi-western? If you then add in Daniel Craig, and call the film Cowboys and Aliens, is it still a sci-fi-western, or is it a blockbuster (which may well come to be considered an established genre in the near future, possibly grouped with comic book movies)? Also, why am I using a film which I haven't seen to make this point?
The point, such as it is, is that a film's genre can tell us everything and nothing about it. Categorizing films along generic lines makes it easier for the product to be packaged and sold to us, and it helps us seek out films which we think we will enjoy. However, no two films are the same, and it is the variations and innovations to which we really respond when consuming films. There's absolutely no reason why a film can't incorporate elements of western, sci-fi, giallo and melodrama, leaving its generic categorization for the marketing department and internet message boards to quibble over. No matter what label is ultimately placed upon it, the film is what the film is.
Which finally brings us to the film at hand. As you'll know, there are a wide variety of films which are classed as gialli. The classic iteration might incorporate a black-gloved killer offing hoardes of victims in an urban metropolis, with a fish-out-of-water foreigner accused of the crime tasked with unmasking the murderer in order to clear their name. However, there are many variations on this theme. Some gialli actually contain no killer, focusing instead on a mystery, often involving blackmail or mild brainwashing. Some show the identity of the killer early on, with the mystery inherent in their motivations, or the identity of the person who has tasked them with murder. Hatchet for the Honeymoon contains neither a question mark over the killer's identity nor any element of mystery. As with all other genres, there are also comedy and porn gialli. And there are films which aren't out-and-out gialli, but which contain enough of the above elements to make them at least distant cousins of the genre.
Which finally brings us to the film at hand (I mean it this time). It concerns the return of a prodigal son to his home town in order to avenge his father's death at the hands of a corrupt 'mafia' who hold the balance of power in the area. There are horses and period garb aplenty, but the story could be neatly transposed to the Italian countryside and shot as a poliziotteschi. It's Riccardo Freda's only western, and in truth displays his lack of interest in the iconography and conventions of the genre. Most westerns contain characters whose allegiances shift (a la For a Few Dollars More), but this film contains something different- [SPOILER] the actual identities of the two main characters are literally swapped towards the end of the film. This comes shortly after a strange twenty minute sequence where a killer stalks the town (the titular Owell Rock), laying waste to people who have been colluding with the local mafia, with the camera focusing mainly on their black jacket and (gloveless) hand as they go about their business. The townsfolk nervously talk about there being a killer in their midst, and suddenly we're slap bang in the middle of a giallo.
Bearing in mind that this film was made before Argento refined the genre to its classic template (as defined above), the theme of greed and land-owning fraud has much in common with the inheritance-grabbing schemes which formed the basis for most early gialli. There's even a page mysteriously torn from a book of accounts which proves to be surprisingly relevant, given that the mafia's plans seem to have been based upon one of the characters discovering the theft of this page, and linking it to a certain man, then choosing to visit said man's wife at a specific time.
Then, just as suddenly as it was introduced, the giallo element vanishes. The identity switch could be straight from any giallo (particulaly a 60s one), but the actual identity of the faceless killer is disclosed in the most perfunctory manner imaginable (in a line of dialogue), and the classic spaghetti western theme of revenge takes over. This identity wasn't even that important, as it was clearly one of two people, and they spend the film working loosely (then closely) together, so which of the two is the killer is almost moot (especially as they live in the wild west, where everyone basically drinks and carouses in between bouts of killing).
Freda, who made this after his most accomplished works (his early 60s gothic thrillers) went on to make two gialli, The Iguana with the Tongue of Fire and Murder Obsession, the former of which is an entertaining, Argento-style romp, and the latter of which takes the Christie Ten Little Indians format and throws in a sprinkling of old-school gothic horror. I shall be covering it extensively at some point for my gothic horror blog.
[SPOILERS END BY THE WAY]