For the fourth and final time this Shocktober season, I would like to shine a light on the giallo films that were so very popular in Europe during the 1970s and early ‘80s. Today’s gathering features a trio of very unusual examples of the genre, as well as one typically head-scratching offering. But each one of them, need I even mention, would make for perfect viewing fare one evening this Halloween season…

IN THE FOLDS OF THE FLESH horror film reviewsIN THE FOLDS OF THE FLESH horror movie reviewsIN THE FOLDS OF THE FLESH (1970)

Viewers who sit down to watch Sergio Bergonzelli’s 1970 offering, In the Folds of the Flesh, expecting some licentious soft-core Eurosleaze may be a tad disappointed. That provocative title, surely fit for some adult fare, rather has as its provenance a quote from Sigmund Freud regarding the effects of experience on the human psyche: “What has been, remains imbedded in the brain, nestled in the folds of the flesh; distorted, it conditions and subconsciously impels.” And, as it turns out, although the film does sport the talents of a trio of gorgeous women and some flashes of nudity, those flashes are decidedly de-eroticized, and the picture, although it has been called “one of the most bizarre gialli ever made,” strikes this viewer more as a murderous psychological puzzler. In this Italian/Spanish coproduction, beautiful Eleanora Rossi-Drago (who I’d only previously encountered in an early Antonioni film, Le Amiche) plays the head of a household of three in an ornate villa by the sea. She lives with two others, who we infer must be her son and daughter, although the relationships are not clearly defined and some conduct bordering on incest gives us reason to doubt. Whenever a visitor – be it a cousin, acquaintance or ex-con blackmailer – drops in, he is quickly executed by one of the three, after which Eleanora uses dissolving chemicals to dispose of the corpus. A most unusual household, to be sure, and most of the fun here lies in trying to figure out just what the characters’ relationships and motivations might be. My suggestion would be to not even make the attempt, as nobody in the film is what he/she initially appears to be, and each and every character is hiding a secret. Among the assorted bits of weirdness that the film dishes out are a pair of pet vultures, some truly outlandish costumes, unusual camera angles, a disinterment, deaths by cyanide gas, and B&W flashbacks to the Nazi death camps. A repeat viewing of the film is practically mandatory to fully appreciate all its many subtleties and formal brilliance; I for one enjoyed it a lot more the second time around. And hold on to your seats as the film enters its final 20 minutes; this segment contains so many revelations and plot twists that the folds in your own mental flesh may start to unravel!

The French Sex Murders horror movie reviewsTHE FRENCH SEX MURDERS horror movie reviewsTHE FRENCH SEX MURDERS (1972)

1972’s The French Sex Murders was my first experience with a picture produced by old-school impresario Dick Randall, whose filmography is as unique as the man himself, and who was living in Italy at the time to escape tax-evasion charges in the U.S. The film demonstrates that you don’t need a huge budget and top-notch production values to create a giallo, as long as you have an incredible cast to help put things over. In the film, small-time Parisian thief Antoine is arrested for the murder of a cathouse prostitute, but after he is decapitated in a freak accident, and the murders continue, police Inspector Pontaine realizes that he must move tres vite before the bodies really start to pile up! The picture, directed by Ferdinando Merighi, though it looks fine, does betray its limited budget, has been terribly dubbed and reserves most of its requisite nudity and bloodshed for the latter half. That remarkable cast referred to up top includes a quartet of the top Eurobabes of the day: Barbara Bouchet (who I’ve never seen look more beautiful and who is, sadly, the picture’s first victim), Rosalba Neri (playing the ex-wife of the accused killer), Evelyn Kraft (who I’d never encountered before but look forward to seeing again) and Anita Ekberg (a decade or more past her prime but still quite sexy as the bordello’s madam). And let’s not forget Howard “Dr. Orloff” Vernon, as a scientist who performs some gross-out experiments on the eyeballs of Antoine’s severed head (don’t ask!), AND Robert Sacchi as the Inspector. This Bogeyphile must admit that it really is remarkable how much Sacchi looks like Humphrey Bogart and is able to ape his mannerisms; his (Bogey’s) seeming presence in a sleazy giallo is perhaps the film’s greatest asset and claim to uniqueness. In all, a far-from-top-drawer giallo, but still an entertaining 90 minutes, nicely supplemented on the Mondo Macabro DVD that I recently watched by a 1/2-hour documentary on Randall himself and many other interesting extras.

The Pyjama Girl Case horror movie reviewsTHE PYJAMA GIRL CASE (1977) horror movie reviewsTHE PYJAMA GIRL CASE (1977)

Loosely based on a true-life murder mystery that gripped Australia in 1934, Flavio Mogherini’s The Pyjama Girl Case is a deliberately paced crime thriller that ultimately leaves the viewer with a distinct feeling of sadness. In it, Golden Age great Ray Milland plays Insp. Thompson, a retired homicide detective living in Sydney who is coaxed back into the game when the body of a young woman – shot, battered and burnt beyond recognition — is found in a wrecked car on a beach. Using old-fashioned legwork and bulldog determination, this raincoated Aussie Columbo gets to work, as the film treats us to a concurrent, seemingly unrelated side story: the plight of a young Dutch woman named Glenda (Dalila Di Lazzaro, who resembles a cuter variation of Uma Thurman) and her attempts to juggle her Italian immigrant husband, her German lover, and her married-doctor boyfriend. How these two apparently discrete story lines come together is one of the film’s surprises, along with the truly startling death of one of the film’s principal characters roughly 2/3 of the way in. The picture’s other saving grace, I suppose, is Milland, who is always a joy to watch, even here at age 72 and in the twilight of a glorious career. The film also provides us with a gorgeous travelogue look at Sydney, beyond the usual Opera House shots, so yes, the picture does look great. Unfortunately, it is also occasionally dull and plodding, has been terribly dubbed, and comes with a funky musical score by Riz Ortolani that many may find inappropriate (it grows on one, though). Still, Italian crime pictures shot in Sydney and starring Ray Milland are not exactly common, so this sui generis film may just fit the bill one evening for the discriminating viewer. And oh … I agree with many others that the 30-minute extra on the Blue Underground DVD, with author Richard Evans detailing the actual 1934 crime, is, in a way, more interesting than the film itself. Remake, anyone? 

Scorpion With Two Tails horror movie reviewsTHE SCORPION WITH TWO TAILS (1982)THE SCORPION WITH TWO TAILS (1982)

There is a little game that some 007 fans play as they watch On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, the first James Bond film to not star Sean Connery: They imagine how much better the film would have been had it featured Connery instead of (the sorely underrated) George Lazenby. Well, this viewer could not refrain from playing a similar game while watching (director) Sergio and (producer) Luciano Martinos’ 1982 offering, The Scorpion With Two Tails. Here, though, I couldn’t stop thinking how much better this picture would have been had it starred the Martino Bros.’ erstwhile muse, Eurobabe sexbomb Edwige Fenech, rather than the blond vacuity that is Elvire Audray. Audray, a gorgeous actress in the Nicole Kidman mold, simply does not have the spark and thespian chops that Edwige might have brought to the role, but even if Edwige had been substituted here, I’m not sure that the resultant film would have been any more lucid. In Scorpion, Elvire goes to Italy to seek clues after her archaeologist husband (John Saxon, wasted in a small role) is killed, despite the objections of her father (Van Johnson, of all people). Screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi (who seems to have written half the gialli I’ve ever seen) must have had some kind of psychoactive substance slipped into his Chianti before penning the story for this one, as this overly plotted picture conflates giallo-type murders, drug smuggling, Etruscan history, the supernatural, reincarnation, and discussions of antimatter and antiuniverses into one mind-boggling stew. Such grossouts as maggots (and lots of ’em), neck twistings, rats and bats are thrown in to keep the viewer stunned and amused. To be honest, I must say that I could never tell just where this darn thing was headed next, especially after the entire cast seems to buy the farm roughly around the film’s midpoint. The picture looks handsome enough and also features an effective score by Fabio Frizzi. Still, I have watched this thing twice now and am still confused regarding several plot points. For example, can anyone tell me just what happened to all that darn heroin? In all, an entertaining if muddled pot of stufato

Anyway, folks, there you have it … four fascinating giallo films that will surely fit the bill one dark and stormy night this Shocktober. My advice would be to pour yourself a nice glass of Tenute Rubino Otreme Rosato, sit back and enjoy! And, oh … Spero che tutti questi film vi diano degli incubi piacevoli!



  • Sandy Ferber

    SANDY FERBER, on our staff since April 2014 (but hanging around here since November 2012), is a resident of Queens, New York and a product of that borough's finest institution of higher learning, Queens College. After a "misspent youth" of steady and incessant doses of Conan the Barbarian, Doc Savage and any and all forms of fantasy and sci-fi literature, Sandy has changed little in the four decades since. His favorite author these days is H. Rider Haggard, with whom he feels a strange kinship -- although Sandy is not English or a manored gentleman of the 19th century -- and his favorite reading matter consists of sci-fi, fantasy and horror... but of the period 1850-1960. Sandy is also a devoted buff of classic Hollywood and foreign films, and has reviewed extensively on the IMDb under the handle "ferbs54." Film Forum in Greenwich Village, indeed, is his second home, and Sandy at this time serves as the assistant vice president of the Louie Dumbrowski Fan Club....