In the Folds of the Flesh (Nelle pieghe della carne) is certainly a strange little film. This 1970 Italian release seems to be a giallo, but a giallo of a weird mutant variety.
It has all the ingredients you expect in a giallo - lots of murders done in a relatively gory and excessive style, lots of perverse sexuality, an insanely convoluted and unlikely plot and more style than substance. But somehow they’re mixed together in such a way that the tone is not quite right for a giallo. While you expect a giallo to be over-the-top, you don’t really expect high camp, but this movie definitely veers quite markedly in that direction. And it has extra ingredients as well, such as vultures and Nazis. If you could imagine a cross between The Bird withh the Crystal Plumage, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls and The Night Porter you have some idea of the tone of this film.
Lucille (Eleonora Rossi Drago) lives in a villa with her daughter (played by Pier Angeli) and her son. At least we assume they’re her daughter and her son, although they also appear to be lovers. As the movie opens a man is decapitated, a grave is being dug and the police are pursuing a criminal. They pursue him into the grounds of the villa before apprehending him.
We then cut to a few years later, or at least I think we do. Keeping track of the timeline is as much of a challenge as keeping a handle on the twists and turns of the plot. The family has become very odd indeed, with the daughter Falese experiencing flashbacks to her murder of her father. A stranger arrives at the villa. Followed by another stranger, although they appear to be perhaps not entirely strangers. More murders ensue. More heads roll - literally. Then the criminal who was being pursued in the beginning turns up, and holds the family hostage. He is intending to blackmail them, with his knowledge of what is lying in the grave in the grounds of their villa. A rape and another murder ensue.
By this time the plot has started to become very tortuous indeed, with several flashbacks, including a flashback to what we assume was Lucille’s wartime experiences in concentration camp. And then Falese’s father (the one ho had ben murdered earlier) shows up at the villa. Falese’s behaviour becomes even more unstable, and it soon becomes apparent that everything we think has happened did not happen the way we thought it did, and everyone is not the person we originally thought they were. A plot twist at the end of a thriller is not unexpected, but this one has a whole series of plot twists at the end, each more bizarre and more unbelievable than the preceding one.
The weirdness of the film is enhanced by the fact that Pier Angeli is clearly much too old to be Eleonora Rossi Drago’s daughter. The weirdness is further enhanced by the qualities of the performances. Eleonora Rossi Drago is reasonably competent, but the other players gave performances that are either bizarrely stilted or overly hammy, or even manage to combine both those qualities which isn’t easy to do. Pier Angeli seems to be in a daze. This was only a year before her suicide, so it’s perhaps understandable that she was having trouble keeping it together. There’s a marked psychedelic ambience as well.
I have no idea what was in writer-director Sergio Bergonzelli’s mind when he made this one. It’s the kind of film that really would have benefited from a director’s commentary track, which was sadly impossible since Bergonzelli passed away in 2002. I’d love to know just how seriously he really meant this movie to be taken.
It’s a jumbled mess and judged by any objective standards the movie is a total failure, but it has to be admitted that it’s a fascinating mess. You have to keep watching. There are so many moments when you really can’t quite believe what you’re seeing. In its own way it’s quite entertaining, and if you’re a fan of Italian cult cinema you’re hardly likely to be put off by minor details like a spectacularly incoherent plot. So despite its shambolic nature it’s still worth watching. It will definitely be an experience.
Severin’s DVD release looks great but is sadly lacking in extras. And it’s a movie that requires some explanation!