Tuesday, April 7, 2015


Sergio Bergonzelli, 1970
Starring: Eleonora Rossi Drago, Pier Angeli, Fernando Sancho, Alfredo Mayo

One night a man is decapitated and a woman, Lucille, hides his body in a motorboat, unaware than a wanted killer fleeing from the police is spying on her. The killer, Pascal, is caught, but the woman escapes. Years later, she lives in the same seaside villa with her adult son, Colin, and Falesse, her deceased husband’s grown daughter. A series of men arrive at the villa and attempt to seduce Falesse, but she murders them. It seems that Lucille is keeping a deadly secret and Falesse’s violent tendencies are connected to some dark trauma from the past…

It’s almost not even worth writing a plot synopsis of In the Folds of the Flesh, the sole giallo outing from B-movie director Sergio Bergonzelli, who mostly helmed westerns, adventure films, and softcore erotica (School of Erotic Enjoyment, Our Lady of Lust, The Young Bride, etc.). He would go on to make one more horror film, the absolutely demented Blood Delirium (1988), and that and In the Folds of the Flesh certainly share a penchant for violent, perverse, and completely bonkers plots. In the Folds of the Flesh is essentially part giallo and part psychosexual horror film with overwrought Freudian themes that follows a murdering threesome who are basically the smut equivalent of the Addams Family. In addition to an absurd number of beheadings and lots of implied incest, they have two pet vultures, live on top of an Etruscan burial ground and collect “artefacts,” and have a basement vat specifically designed to dispose of corpses.

And did I mention the fabulous outfits? The clothing worn by Pier Angeli and Alfredo Mayo is some of the best (and most absurd) you will see in any film from any decade. Their outrageous attire is one of the film’s elements that remains closest to a traditional giallo – though of it course it goes way over the top.

In the Folds of the Flesh was written by Bergonzelli, with input from Mario Caiano – responsible for Nazi Love Camp 27, Milano violenta, and Nightmare Castle, among other Italian cult movies – and Fabio De Agostini, writer and director of Red Nights of the Gestapo. Why mention Nazi Love Camp 27 and Red Nights of the Gestapo? Because, unlike nearly any other giallo film, one of In the Folds of the Flesh’s most unexpected subplots is that – sort of a spoiler – Lucille is a concentration camp survivor. She watched her female family members go to their deaths and was spared from a gas chamber at the last moments by a licentious SS guard. She uses some of her experiences learned surviving the camp to murder a particularly stubborn guest who attempts to blackmail the family.

In the Folds of the Flesh came out before either Nazi Love Camp 27 or Red Nights of the Gestapo, both released in 1977. It actually followed on the heels of Love Camp 7 (1969), which ushered in a decade of Nazisploitation cinema. The latter is American, though most of those films were made in Italy. While In the Folds of the Flesh is far from a Nazi exploitation film, the concentration camp scene is little more than an excuse to show a room full of (improbably curvy and well-endowed) topless women and to add to the film’s dark, violent tone. While the pseudo-giallo Baba Yaga (1973) has strange dream sequences featuring Nazis, this may be the only giallo that uses Nazi extermination methods – cyanide capsules released while someone is bathing – as an inspiration to kill.

And while most giallo films focus on whodunit, In the Folds of the Flesh makes this clear within the first ten minutes of the film. Instead, the film slowly unravels the motivations of the killer and the identities of the victims. Like several key giallo films, such as All the Colors of the Dark and The Perfume of the Lady in Black, as well as many of Dario Argento’s films, the focus is on female psychosis and the madness that obviously leads back to the murder that opens the film. There are themes of mental illness, including a subplot set in an asylum, and the film hints at rape, child abuse, and incest – heady topics even for the often lurid giallo genre.

I hadn’t gotten around to seeing this gem until recently and it is definitely a new favorite. There are certainly flaws, including a number of twist endings that all seem to occur within five minutes of each other. You’ll want to pay close attention, as there are a number of characters pretending to be other people and it’s easy to lose your way in the murky plot towards the second half. If you need a direct, easy to follow plot, the giallo genre is probably not for you in the first place. But if you like your horror as seedy as possible – while still being dizzyingly stylish – then this is definitely the film for you. Luckily it’s available on DVD from Severin and, in my opinion, it’s a must see. Hopefully someone will give Blood Delirium the same treatment – though look for a review of that at the bitter end of my giallo series.

P.S. The lurid title is not a thinly veiled reference to vaginas; rather it comes from a Freud quote that opens the film: “What has been remains embedded in the brain, nestled in the folds of the flesh. Distorted, it conditions and subconsciously impels.”

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