The Notturno Giorgio Armani Telephone & The Telephone & The Giallo

Thursday, 28 September 2017

For me, one of the most satisfying aspects of watching an Italian film is the endless display of period fashion, interior design and architecture. I've dabbled a little bit when it comes to writing about some of the distinctive pieces and designs on offer throughout these films but wanted to write this stand alone piece about an item that caught my eye that I recently discovered trawling the web. 

Embarrassingly, the item in question comes from Ruggero Deodato's 1988 phone based horror, Dial:Help. The reason it's embarrassing is due to my blog now having three posts on the film despite its lack of connection to the blog's focus, gialli, but also because it's renowned for being an awful example of Italian horror and an illustration of where the rot really started to set in in the Italian film industry. Despite all of that, my penchant for late Italian design really shines through in this film - no doubt the blog's number of entries on the film will be brought up to four when I inevitably examine the film's interior design and architecture but for now, let's focus on what I consider to be the stand out piece of design in the film.

Dial:Help's premise is simple. Jenny, a model from London, is trying to make it in the Italian fashion world but personal demons are interfering with her glamorous new life on the continent. Her Italian lover (an architect no less) has ceremoniously dumped Jenny. Inevitably heart broken, the only logical way to cure her heartache is to contact a lonely hearts telephone line. However, the operators mysteriously disappeared long ago and by phoning the lonely hearts line Jenny has unwittingly unleashed their souls. In a twist on the classic haunting trope, Jenny finds herself stalked by ghosts who wreck havoc via the medium of the telephone.

Like many films of the 1980s, Dial:Help has a predilection with rapidly changing technologies and although the film is mostly fluff, it is an example of a cinematic trend that mirrored the societal skepticism/distrust of an ever increasingly technological world which really magnified during the decade of excess and technological advancement. Dial:Help is not a seminal piece of horror social commentary (of course not!) but like many horror films of all eras, it does tap into very real societal fears even if it is executed horribly. Watching the film in present day, it feels hopelessly dated in a world where most people of my generation don't own a landline but the outdated technology (and how its utilised to produce inventive kills) is part of its charm. As phones are an intrinsic part of the film's storyline, the set dressers of Dial:Help prominently feature a variety of telephones that at the time, were cutting edge examples of technological design. One phone in particular that captured my imagination was the Giorgio Armani Notturno telephone which is shown in Jenny's PoMo apartment. The phone may be a source of horror for our protagonist but it's hard to be spooked by this spectacular piece of design that still feels contemporary in 2017.

The phone was produced by the Italian telephone company, Italtel in partnership with Giorgio Armani in the late 1980s. The telephone embodies late 1980s sleek, minimalist design perfectly fitting in with Dial:Help's black and white grid like interiors and use of sickly neon green and yellow. The phone is made of black lucite giving it a glossy appearance and is in a simple rectangular shape with the handset perfectly fitting into its thick base. A LED strip light runs down the centre of the phone's handset and when it rings, a fluorescent green light runs down the middle of the strip visually alerting the owner of an incoming telephone call. Sadly, there's very little information in regards to the year the phone went into production. A Notturno phone currently listed on Etsy shows a 1989 year stamp on the base of the phone but other sources cite the phone's production year as 1987/1988. I'm inclined to believe the phone first went into circulation earlier than 1989 as the film itself was produced in 1988 although it is feasible that the set dressers of Dial:Help had access to a prototype/model before it went to market).

Several other phones are featured prominently throughout the film from pay phones to cordless handsets with massive aerials. It's a fun time capsule of late eighties technological design which is sure to be a trip down memory lane for some. What's perhaps most interesting about the film is to consider the role of the telephone in Italian horror and the giallo. In many ways, the phone feels like an intrinsic part of the Italian horror. From the giallo's cinematic beginnings in Mario Bava's Blood & Black Lace (1964) we see emphasis placed on the image of a woman fearfully answering a telephone. In the example of Blood & Black Lace, Eva Bartok's character, Christina answering her crimson rotary red telephone with a simple "pronto" is synonymous with the genre and has been replicated several times over (see The Red Queen Kills 7 Times and The Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh). Numerous examples of the classic rotary phone exist (likely to be in many cases, the Siemens S62 which was the most popular rotary phone in Italy during the 1960s-1980s) throughout the genre (usually in black, cream, green and blue; see Perversion Story, Strip Nude for Your Killer and Death Walks on High Heels for starters) but several other phones of note have appeared in key examples of the giallo. 

The unconventional giallo debut of Luciano Ercoli, Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion (1970) 's iconic visual is of Ercoli's wife, Nieves Navarro (aka Susan Scott) strewn over a bed holding a strikingly futuristic blue telephone. The phone in question is an Ericofon (known as the cobra phone for its snake like shape) designed by Swedish telecommunication company, Ericsson. The phone was brought to market in the 1950s and is considered to be one of the landmark industrial designs of the latter half of the twentieth century for its revolutionary design and the incorporation of dial and handset into a single unit. The Ericofon is undoubtedly a seminal example of modernist design and for this reason, it fits perfectly with the late sixties/early seventies gialli which have elements of futuristic space age design (see the furniture in The Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh and nightclub interior in The Case of the Bloody Iris).

Perhaps one of my favourite examples of phone design in a giallo and one the genre introduced me to is the Grillo. The Grillo was designed in 1965 by Marco Zanuso and Richard Sapper for Siemens and was named as such due to its distinctive ring which sounded like a cricket chirping (grillo is the Italian word for cricket). The phone is notable for its clamshell like appearance and revolutionary receiver which activated once its flip mechanism was released. Due to this distinctive flip feature the grillo is considered to be a precursor to the mobile flip phone. The Grillo's revolutionary design led to it being featured in a number of gialli such as The Case of the Scorpion's Tail (1971) and Death Carries a Cane (1973). However, its most notable use is in Luigi Bazzoni's 1975 quasi giallo, Footprints on the Moon (1975). Footprints is an anomaly when it comes to Italian thrillers and design as it features stark, minimalist interiors in a predominantly white colour palette which means its very much at odds with the colourful, busy interiors associated with the genre. The film has nods to 1950s sci fi, psychiatry and urban sprawl and isolation and all of these elements are reflected in the film's set design - a future post examining this in further detail is currently in progress. The Grillo is the perfect technological accessory in Alice's clinical looking apartment complimenting her minimalist modernist Le Corbusier style furniture in chrome and leather. The phone is prominently featured in one shot which has led to many viewers questioning the origin of this strange looking phone.

Finally, to come full circle, another prominent piece of technological design on display in the giallo/Italian horror is the transparent telephone which can be seen in Dial:Help as well as 1970s fare such as Baba Yaga (1973) and The Perfume of the Lady in Black (1974). The transparent (or clear phone) is mostly identical to other models of phones (i.e. the rotary phones mentioned above) with the notable difference being their transparent casing showing the inner workings of the phone. Typically the transparent phone is associated with the late eighties/nineties but examples existed back in the late sixties/seventies and the models on display in the aforementioned films are similar to the British GPO clear 746. Dial:Help featured a more modern example of this style of design incorporating a neon pink trim around the phone's casing.

I intended to focus on the Notturno phone and its prominent role in Dial:Help but I couldn't give up the opportunity to discuss some other notable examples of telephones in Italian horror. What are some of your favourite handsets from the world of Italian horror? Do you like the antique style golden rotary phones of So Sweet...So Dead (1969) or the cordless aerial phones of Delirium? Please leave a comment or drop me a tweet and let me know! If you've enjoyed this slightly different entry and want more posts of this ilk feedback is very much appreciated. One last thing, remember, the killer is on the phone!


  1. I 100% welcome and enjoy unconventional entries like this that focus on aspects of genre films that most (including myself) would tend to overlook.

    1. Thank you Daniel! I'm really pleased to hear you enjoyed the post. Hopefully more design posts to come in the future.


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