In the Folds of the Flesh (1970)

In the Folds of the Flesh (1970) title screen

director  Sergio Bergonzelli
viewed: 08/04/2017

Sergio Bergonzelli quotes Sigmund Freud, suggesting that the title, In the Folds of the Flesh, is straight-up Freud. And if you’re going to name drop Freud, you better be prepared to go full-on-gonzo Freud.

And Bergonzelli does not disappoint.

The film jumps out from the get-go with a decapitated head. It’s the result of incestuous rape and a handy sword hanging on the wall. And when mom helps bury dad and sends his boat off to make it look like a drowning, a local criminal catches on. Years later, blackmail will ensue on the traumatized clan, but of course, they are crazier and far more dangerous than any old criminals.

It’s bizarre and laugh out loud funny in its absurdity (and that could just be describing the outfits). Grown up brother and sister go at it like sex maniacs. Don’t even think about touching the daughter’s wig, or shooting the pet vultures. Or triggering mom’s memory of surviving a Nazi death camp(? – in the film’s most bizarre aside).

It’s lunacy. Sheer lunacy. And when the return of the repressed comes around (in plot twists that are mind-bendingly hard to fathom), well,…the film doesn’t finish as strongly as it starts.

Still, this is bizarre and fun stuff.

Torso (1973)

Torso (1973) movie poster

director Sergio Martino
viewed: 07/03/2017

It’s easy to see why Sergio Martino’s Torso is so notable a giallo and proto-slasher. Interestingly, it’s not so much the gore but rather the way that the violence is played out, setting up ideas that would transform into the slasher tropes, while in its own way keeping a foot very firmly on the traditional giallo landscape.

It’s a world of mass misogyny, though it would take a closer reading of the film for me to glean exactly where Martino falls in his agreement or disgust with such a thing. The open sexuality of the post-1960’s has given license to perverts to leer and grope, expectant that all women are there for the taking…and if not: hack ’em up! The misogyny of the backstory of the killer is so bizarre and absurd that it’s almost inherent parody.

Sergio Martino’s films I’ve seen have ranged broadly in quality. Torso seems the most complete and significant. Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key (1972) was also good, but The Mountain of the Cannibal God (1978) and Island of the Fishmen (1979) were much less so. Maybe more of his gialli were worth seeing. I guess I’m still constructing a sense of him as director.

And Perugia, Italy? Amazing city.

The New York Ripper (1982)

The New York Ripper (1982) movie poster

director Lucio Fulci
viewed: 06/26/2017

Lucio Fulci takes giallo to New York and finds it a city full of perversity. Sex is on sale on every corner, live sex acts are applauded like great theater, open marriage is a license for the licentious, and even the cops shack up with prostitutes. If you think you aren’t full of smut, you’re probably repressing something.

It’s in this landscape, the still very gritty New York City of the very early 1980’s, that a serial killer who talks like Donald Duck takes to great extremes of sexual violence, like the unleashed Id of a sick society.

It’s a filthy, gritty giallo with primo gore effects to make even the least squeamish to grimace or cringe. It’s also Fulci at the top of his game, delving into the depths of sleaze to come up with a gruesome classic.

It also seems to take a cue from perhaps Paul Schrader’s Hardcore (1979) or even William Friedkin’s Cruising (1980), delving in the darkness of the city and the openness of lurid sexuality. God knows this is our lost New York.

The New York Ripper lives up to its reputation.

Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key (1972)

Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key (1972) movie poster

director Sergio Martino
viewed: 05/14/2017

I think I have a new bar pick-up line in Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key.

Sergio Martino’s giallo riff on Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Black Cat” is an intriguing if at times distasteful (racist and sexist) affair. It stars the amazingly lovely Edwige Fenech and Anita Strindberg. And for a giallo, though I don’t know you can necessarily see the plot twists coming, they seem a little more grounded and not so far out of left field as they often are.

A nasty writer is implicated in a series of murders of women he’s slept with,…only who is the real killer? A classic giallo trope if there ever was one.

Lots of nudity and a black cat named Satan who gets his eye gouged out. Pretty good stuff.

The Embalmer (1965)

The Embalmer (1965) movie poster

director Dino Tavella
viewed: 01/03/2016

Marketed in the States as a horror film, The Embalmer is better seen through the lens of what it is: a mash-up of sorts of crime and giallo, set in the canals of Venice.

Though it features a scuba-diving killer abducting women and then embalming them in a collection, a killer who is a rock-n-roller by day, who dons a robe and skull mask for his embalming, the setting may actually be the film’s greatest asset. Venice is an almost inherently intriguing and mysterious place, especially by night. I have to wonder what kind of gunk that scuba diver was encountering on his missions.

It’s an oddity, not entirely lacking merit.

Tenebrae (1982)

Tenebrae (1982) movie poster

director Dario Argento
viewed: 10/08/2016

In introducing my 15 year old son to Dario Argento and the giallo, we watched the classic, Tenebrae, which I myself had never seen.  But as the body count rose and he started to try to solve the murders, I noted to him that in my experience, gialli narratives tend toward the baroque, convoluted and confusing, and that ultimately the cohesiveness of the logic really often is unimportant.

Maybe this isn’t the greatest advice on the genre, but for now I’m sticking with it.

Marked with Argento’s keen aesthetics and style, Tenebrae is a giallo among gialli.  Bloodier and bit more visually violent than some of its brethren, the mystery dances along the lines of its contemporary slasher films as well.

In reading up on the film, post-viewing, it’s rather remarkable the amount of influence and impact Tenebrae has effected.  And a lot of analysis.  Definitely suggesting a further viewing of the movie.

I’ve a sense that this is a film that is still working its way through my psyche and that further thoughts will come.  Very interesting indeed.

Strip Nude for Your Killer (1975)

Strip Nude for Your Killer (1975) movie poster

director  Andrea Bianchi
viewed: 08/02/2016

I added Strip Nude for Your Killer to my queue as part of my giallo exploration.  I’d poked around ye olde internets for recommendations in the genre.  It must have been on somebody’s list of worthwhile gialli.

Further reading seems the show that Strip Nude for Your Killer isn’t anybody’s favorite giallo.  It opens on a botched abortion, hued in blue light.  The patient dies and is dumped and then the story turns to high style fashion photography.  A killer, clad as a motorcycle racer, starts killing and mutilating employees of an agency.

It’s pretty clear the early scene is going to tie back to the story, but the characters are so poorly sketched that after all the interesting ones have been killed, I really didn’t care whodunnit in the end.

There is a lot of nudity and that really awkward final scene.

The Psychic (1977)

The Psychic (1977) movie poster

director Lucio Fulci
viewed: 06/10/2016

Giallo isn’t Lucio Fulci’s #1 genre, but his efforts in the field have proven interesting.  The Psychic isn’t as good as Don’t Torture a Duckling (1972) and maybe less lurid than A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin (1971), but it’s got its merits.

The rich color palette could have been lifted from fellow Italian auteur Mario Bava, but the version that Fandor has available wasn’t in nearly as good of shape as some.  It really looks like it could use a restoration.  Something is working against cinematographer Sergio Salvati’s aims and the print itself could be of issue.

Titular psychic Jennifer O’Neill first witnesses her mother’s suicide as a child and then envisions another murder, which leads her to a walled-up corpse, but is this a vision of the past, present,…or future?

Not utterly riveting.  But a nice poster.

Blood and Black Lace (1964)

Blood and Black Lace (1964) movie poster

director Mario Bava
viewed: 02/05/2016

I don’t know at what point I decided that Mario Bava was one of my favorite directors, but it definitely happened, somewhere over the past several years, working my way, unmethodically, through his oeuvre.  I’ve ended up at the odd point of now semi-slowly moving through his films that I haven’t seen, holding back so that I still have some more new Bava discoveries ahead of me.

It’s amazing what Bava could do with a dark set and a few colored lights.  He made gorgeous cinema vistas with budgets far below what anyone would guess while gazing upon it.  In Blood and Black Lace he’s got the camera moving a lot, tracking through rooms and compartments, over and through and from behind things.

Like his film The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1963), Blood and Black Lace was a formative film for the giallo genre and a prototype, which he would further refine in A Bay of Blood (1971) (though not as gorgeously), for the slasher films that would come in slews following.

What most struck me about this film, oddly, was the relatively violent, if mostly bloodless murders.  The masked and trenchcoated figure in black gloves, faceless as it is, attacks the models of a fashion house with great brutality, whether strangling, stabbing, or burning the women.  The scenes aren’t overly protracted but they are intense and emphatic set-pieces that are quite rough.

As with gialli, the story is ultimately a kind of convoluted mush, with an unlikely twist or two which it’s usually all the better to not contemplate.  It may well be that Bava’s greatest strength is in his visual design, compositions, and aeshtetics, which transcend his shifts (or inventions) in genre.

A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin (1971)

A Lizard in a Woman's Skin (1971) movie poster

director Lucio Fulci
viewed: 11/18/2015

Doused in LSD and awash in surreal psychedelia, A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin is a 1971 giallo from Lucio Fulci. Featuring a score by Ennio Morricone and perhaps most notably fine cinematography by Luigi Kuveiller heighten this swinging Sixties London decadence spiraling into the 1970’s.

Like any giallo worth its salt, it’s a mystery murder and convoluted beyond any concise recounting.  A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin is a good-looking film, with Kuveiller’s stylish eye and some rather lush sets.  Dream sequences, psychological hypnotism, psychedelic drugs lend some trippy sequences to this extremely period picture.

I’m no Fulci expert, but this film felt quite different from other films of his, even Don’t Torture a Duckling (1972), another better giallo of his only a year later.  Because as nice as Lizard looks at times, it’s not overly compelling or interesting, even with its titillating materials.