The Giallo Films of Edwige Fenech
Born on Christmas Eve 1948 in the town that is now known as Annaba, in coastal Algeria, the daughter of a Maltese father and a Sicilian mother, Edwige Fenech is today regarded as something of a cinematic legend in Europe, although she is still hardly a household word here in the United States. But thanks to the advent of the VHS and DVD revolutions, her popularity and fame have managed to spread even to these American shores. Today, Fenech wears no fewer than two impressive crowns, being known not only as The Queen of the Italian Sex Comedy, but also as The Queen of Giallo … that wonderfully distinctive Italian film genre featuring stylish and often grisly stories of murder, serial killings, and assorted violence and mayhem. But even those laurels hardly tell her whole story. During the 1980s, Edwige also became something of an Italian television personality, and later a film producer in her own right. And, of course, she must also be placed in the pantheon of the most striking “Eurobabes” to have ever graced the screen. A remarkable-looking beauty, Fenech, objectively speaking, is easily one of the most gorgeous women to have ever worked in the movies; is it any wonder that David Quinlan, in his Illustrated Directory of Film Stars, refers to her as “probably the most physically beautiful continental star since Hedy Lamarr”? Fortunately, though, in addition to her overwhelming good looks, Fenech is also a very fine talent, equally adept at comedic and dramatic roles; this is one looker who really can act! Her work in those Italian sex comedies is truly wonderful, but it is of her giallo work that I would speak here for this Shocktober column. Fenech only appeared in six giallo films during the genre’s heyday in the early- to mid-1970s, but all of them were wonderful exercises and first-rate entertainments … especially for those who have not had an opportunity to experience them before. What follows, thus, are six minireviews of those giallo films, presented in chronological order; you can consider this column a one-stop shopping destination for all things Edwige in her giallo mode. Long live the queen!
Five Dolls for an August Moon (1970): One of the few films directed by Italian horror maestro Mario Bava that I hadn’t seen, as well as a film starring my latest object of cinematic lust, Edwige Fenech, Five Dolls for an August Moon was one that I eagerly popped into my DVD player at home. And it turns out that it was well worth the wait. In this very interesting giallo, a group of businessmen convenes, with their wives, at an ultramodern beach house on what looks to be a lonely Mediterranean island, with the purpose of convincing a scientist to sell them the formula for his new industrial resin. Before long, though, Ten Little Indians style, the group’s members start to be killed off one by one, and, in a nice, eerie touch, are kept hanging in plastic wrap in the house’s meat locker.
The plot here is complex enough without being ultimately impossible to understand or swallow, although one or two points do not withstand logical consideration after the movie is done. Still, Bava’s direction is typically stylish, with some memorable set pieces (dig those bouncing marbles!); a chic, jazzy score by Piero Umiliani aids immeasurably in moving things along (what a terrific soundtrack CD this film could have!); and the picture, though not as graphically violent as, say, Bava’s Twitch of the Death Nerve (1971), still provides some grisly moments. And Edwige? Well, whether doing a frenzied dance number in gold lame bell-bottoms and matching brassiere or strutting around in various states of undress, this luscious Eurobabe does not disappoint. She is easily the hottest of the “five dolls” here; whotta knockout! My thanks to Image Entertainment for this great-looking DVD of a film never released theatrically here in the U.S.
The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh (1971): This was the very first Edwige Fenech film that I ever got the chance to see, and it really is a perfect introduction to her manifold talents. What happened was my old buddy Rob, who knows more about “psychotronic” movies than anybody I know, had e-mailed me to rave about this film. He urged me to put this Italian thriller, of the kind nowadays called “giallo,” on my list of films to rent. Well, I’d never heard of this movie before, and my list of films to rent at that time was pretty darn long, but believing that there’s always room for giallo (ouch!), I put it right at the top of my rental list, and boy, am I ever glad I did! The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh turns out to be a very suspenseful, stylish, sexy and violent thriller that really does keep you guessing.
In it, Edwige plays the wife of a stockbroker, living in Austria, who becomes the target of a serial slasher (as has been pointed out elsewhere, those giallo killers really do seem to gravitate toward the ol’ straight-edge razor, for some reason). Like I said, I hadn’t seen Ms. Fenech in anything before, but can understand now why she is such a beloved cult actress in Europe. She is remarkably attractive in this film, at 22 years of age, and a modern-day interview with the actress, included on this DVD from the fine folks at No Shame, reveals that she was, astonishingly, still quite beautiful at the time, 35 years later. Anyway, besides Fenech’s exquisite presence, this film boasts gorgeous location shooting in Vienna and Sitges (near Barcelona), Spain, as well as trippy background music that will haunt your memory for days. The film is atmospheric as can be and has been directed with style to spare by Sergio Martino. I guarantee you won’t foresee any of the twists and turns that this ingeniously plotted film dishes out. It’s a real winner. Thanks again, Rob!
All the Colors of the Dark (1972): The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh was the film that had first turned me on to giallo director Sergio Martino, as well as the abundant charms of cult actress Edwige Fenech. I just had to have more, and so checked out All the Colors of the Dark just as quickly as I could. This film reunites not only the director and star of Mrs. Wardh, but also costars George Hilton and Ivan Rassimov from that previous film, as well, and although All the Colors of the Dark is not the masterpiece that Mrs. Wardh is, it still has much to offer, even to the casual viewer.
In this one, Edwige plays a woman named Jane who, when we first meet her, is something of an emotional mess. She had recently suffered a miscarriage following a car accident, and is now having persistent nightmares about the blue-eyed, knife-wielding whacko who’d killed her mother many years before. And soon, Jane meets the man of her dreams, as Ol’ Blue Eyes (and I don’t mean Frank Sinatra!) starts stalking her through the streets of London. After psychiatry fails to calm her, she takes a friend’s advice and attends a local Black Mass (!), but, not too surprisingly, her new devil-worshipping acquaintances only add to poor Jane’s problems… Anyway, Martino again directs his picture with abundant style to spare, and Fenech is astonishingly beautiful throughout. Twenty-three in this film, she looks a bit like Carolyn Jones’ better-looking sister, or a brunette Karin Dor, but in truth is far, far prettier than either of those lovelies. When she’s on screen (which, happily here, is most of the time), you just can’t take your eyes off her. Thus, we have a slightly overly plotted giallo that combines a stalker, devil worshippers, a psychedelic Black Mass, nightmare sequences AND beautiful Edwige in the buff. Can’t be all bad, right?
Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key (1972): Possessing what could be the second-best title in film history (after 1963’s The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies, of course), Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key reunites director Sergio Martino and stars Edwige Fenech and Ivan Rassimov, who had previously collaborated on such wonderful films as The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh and All the Colors of the Dark. (Indeed, this film’s title was copped from a line of dialogue in Mrs. Wardh.) This time around, though, the story mainly concerns a decadent writer, Oliviero, well played by Luigi Pistilli, who spends most of his days drinking booze and abusing his wife (giallo regular Anita Strindberg) both physically and emotionally. While a wave of murders sweeps through their small town, Oliviero’s niece pays a visit, and so we finally get to see our Edwige, a full half hour into the picture. Gorgeous as always, Edwige here sports a short-haired bob for a change but looks smashing still.
Anyway, truth to tell, I had no idea where this picture was going for at least the first hour. The film concludes very neatly, though, with some nifty surprises, and always keeps the viewer intrigued by combining a truly decadent atmosphere with bits of Poe‘s “The Black Cat,” echoes of Clouzot’s Diabolique (1955), some jolting murders, soft-core lesbianism and, typical for gialli, some red herrings. The fine folks at No Shame have come up with yet another great-looking DVD package, containing recent interviews with both Martino and Fenech. Edwige’s interview suggests that the woman has made some kind of unholy pact with the devil himself; no woman could possibly look as beautiful, at 57, as she did at the time. Just remarkable!
The Case of the Bloody Iris (1972): The Case of the Bloody Iris stars giallo‘s “Golden Couple,” Edwige Fenech and George Hilton, who had recently appeared together in the Sergio Martino masterpiece The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh and would later costar in Martino’s giallo/Black Mass hybrid All the Colors of the Dark. The two make a handsome couple, to put it mildly; indeed, they almost make Grace Kelly and Cary Grant in 1955’s To Catch a Thief look dowdy!
The story here concerns a whacko who’s been killing the female residents of the luxury high-rise building where fashion models Edwige and her roommate have just moved. This giallo nutzo shows some imagination, however, and doesn’t just depend on a straight-edged blade to do his work; he also drowns his victims in a bathtub and scalds them with hot steam! Many suspects are offered to the viewer: an old lady who loves horror stories, her burnt-faced son, the lesbian next door, her violin-playing dad, Hilton himself (the architect of the high-rise), Edwige’s stalker ex-hubby, et al. I amazed myself this time by nailing the culprit halfway through, and I usually stink at these guessing games. Anyway, director Giuliano Carnimeo has shot his film in a fairly straightforward manner, with little of Martino’s flashy “stylistics,” and composer Bruno Nicolai’s theme music is as hummable as can be. All in all, a fun giallo, if nothing great, that is hindered here by some pretty poor dubbing (subtitles would’ve been so much more preferable!). But Edwige … OMG! I’ve seen her in five films lately, and still can’t quite believe how extraordinarily beautiful she is here. My fellow men, you owe it to yourselves to see this spectacular Eurobabe at least once in your lifetime. Then you’ll understand why I laughed out loud when one of the characters in this film tells her that she’s not his type!
Strip Nude for Your Killer (1975): The sleazy giallo picture here known as Strip Nude for Your Killer is misleadingly titled (no victim of the crazed killer is ever forced to strip; they’re usually 3/4 naked to begin with!) but still manages to convey the film’s two main selling points — sex and violence, dished out in fairly equal measure. The movie might more accurately have been called Who’s Been Killing the Entire Staff at Milan’s Albatross Modeling Agency? All we know for sure is that it’s a leather-clad figure with a biker’s helmet, a Darth Vader-like respiration problem, and a fondness for knife slaying. For the ladies in the audience, the picture features Nino Castelnuovo, so fondly remembered from 1964’s The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, still looking hunky here and sporting a perfectly round butt; and for the men, another exquisite appearance from the Queen of Giallo, Edwige Fenech, short-haired here but still quite dee-lish.
Strip Nude for Your Killer has been directed in a nonstylish, nonflashy manner by Andrea Bianchi. Its plot does hang together, despite the seemingly unavoidable red herrings, though the killer’s motivation ultimately proves to be unconvincing (don’t even try guessing who the killer is!). There are any number of genuinely suspenseful scenes, though, and the soundtrack, by one Berto Pisano, effectively mixes Euro lounge jazz with a funky theme that suggests the Temps’ “Papa Was a Rolling Stone.” Of the half dozen or so Edwige Fenech giallos that I’ve seen recently, this one is by far the bloodiest and sleaziest (just wait till you see the 300+-lb. guy with his blow-up doll!), but still nothing compared to what filmmakers get away with today. The folks at Blue Underground should be thanked for a fine-looking DVD of a true Italian rarity; still, I’d be thanking them more had they supplied some subtitles rather than the lousy dubbing. And oh … was it just my imagination, or was that indeed an anal sex joke that Nino pulls on Edwige at the film’s tail end?
Anyway, folks, trust me: Once seen, these six films will make you a lifelong fan of all things Edwige Fenech, and more than ready to dive into the very deep pool of her Italian sex comedies! Spero che vi piacciano tutti!
Oh…and here are trailers for all six of these Edwige films. WARNING: For mature viewers only! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MzvbaHZbxlI&t=52s
I just want to know how to pronounce her first name.
“After Psychiatry fails to calm her she… attends a local Black Mass.” Because that’s what anyone would do, right?
Her name is pronounced Ed-weej Fehn-eck, I believe. And yeah, attending Satanist get-togethers is probably never a good way to get over your life problems…. 😈