Chris Alexander’s SHOCK TREATMENT: The Scummy Beauty of 1970’s IN THE FOLDS OF THE FLESH

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In this ongoing SHOCK column, editor Chris Alexander muses on classic and contemporary films and music worthy of a deeper discussion.

 

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I have always been and will always be obsessed with European horror films, specifically those made in the 1970’s. I love that unique blend of morally bankrupt, American potboiler pulp-noir sneer combined with a distinct high-fashion informed Mediterranean sexuality and of course, that heavily stylized level of graphic, phantasmagorical violence.

Since I was old enough to understand what they were, I’ve seen and owned so many fantastic Italian, Spanish, French and a smattering of German genre films from this period that I consider myself something of a connoisseur, a man who knows and loves his Eurotrash and can differentiate between a really good lurid treat, a middling one, one that couldn’t cut the mustard in an Erika Blanc/ Edwidge Fenech sandwich (doesn’t that allusion make you hungry?) and a listless, limp barrel-scraper.

 

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Now, I could rattle off the myriad movies that I cite as vital but more often than not, a majority of these pictures have at this point been talked about to death. But there’s this one grimy little gem from Italian trash veteran Sergio Bergonzelli (BLOOD DELIRIUM) that I fell for some time ago, a picture that takes such pleasure in misbehaving on so many levels that it was literally – for me, anyway – love at first look.

I’m talking about the sublimely nasty 1970 number NELLE PIEGHE DELLA CARNE (or LES ENDEMONIADAS in Spain), known to a select few of its devout followers as IN THE FOLDS OF THE FLESH. This psychedelic, taboo-teasing, wildly overheated and dirty minded melodrama positions itself as a semi-serious study in Freudian theory gone rabid, but in reality the film is really just a sweaty, commercially-minded excuse to throw as much trippy, LSD-laced psychosexual insanity at the screen as humanly possible.

And yes, between all the saucy shenanigans, there is indeed a plot. It goes like this:

Elanora Rossi Drago (Massimo Dallamno’s underrated DORIAN GRAY) stars as the prim but comely Lucille, the former housekeeper and now head of a twisted family that whiles away their days and nights in a crumbling coastal castle. 13 years prior Lucille had been privy to the charming sight of her young charge Esther (the late, lovely Pier Angeli who plays a duel role and is at least 15 years too old for the part) being raped by her own father. When pop had popped, the humiliated and emotionally shattered Esther effectively hacked off his horny, incestuous noggin with a broad sword.

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An ex-convict (played by a gloriously greasy Fernando Sancho, the despicable mustachioed mayor from RETURN OF THE BLIND DEAD) shows up one afternoon to confront Lucille, the now completely stark raving mad Esther and Lucille’s foppish teenage son about the crime, claiming he witnessed the impromptu midnight burial that followed, and is now demanding cash and rough sex to keep quiet. Lucille and Esther reluctantly oblige the greedy, groping pig before Lucille administers a dose of lethal, choking cyanide to his bubble bath. The trio then hack him up and feed the less putrid parts to their flesh eating pet buzzard.

During all these dirty, sexual and violent escapades, Esther keeps having color soaked flashbacks of her old man getting jiggy and the post-coital decapitation that followed. Eventually more men come to the castle to (booty) call and they too become headless buzzard snacks.

And in between all this hallucinogenic poking and prodding, Esther puts on reel to reel audio tapes of head spinning sex talk and makes out with Lucille’s son. We also learn that Lucille’s fixation with cyanide stems from her youth in a Nazi concentration camp where she was spared from the gas showers that killed her mother in front of her because a gaggle of jackbooted Third Reich goons opted to gang rape her.

Then things get really weird when the supposedly dead and sans tete daughter-raping master of the house returns, unrecognizable to Lucille, claiming he was in hiding and had had a face-lift. A Pandora’s Box of salacious secrets and lies spills open and an already bonkers narrative arc virtually implodes in a soapy, bloody hyperbolic pipe bomb of silliness and uber-scuzz.

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IN THE FOLDS OF THE FLESH has often been labeled a giallo picture, but I wouldn’t call it one. There’s no red velvet, prowling cameras or black leather wearing masked killers about and the mystery itself leans more toward Harlequin pulp than pervy Hitchcock. What we have here instead is a film that tries so hard to be disturbing that it becomes almost endearing. And while a lot of the great Eurotrash thrillers of the period trade heavily on being as visceral and mean spirited as possible, there’s a bouncy B-movie sensibility at work here that keeps it all rather frothy. And surprisingly, the plentiful sex is never particularly graphic or gratuitous.

If, as many film historians cite, the first few years of every decade belong to the last, then IN THE FOLDS OF THE FLESH (the title is actually a nod to a Freud quote about memories lodged in the brain and not about the sweaty creases in the skin) is as much a product of the drug drenched 60’s as it is of the sexually permissive 70’s. Bergonzelli’s visual palette is all melting saturated colors, off kilter camera angles and choppy, schizoid editing, suggesting a Timothy Leary lens-ed version of SUSPIRIA.

If you have a taste for joyously twisted, brilliantly bad (ass) vintage exploitation, than this utterly mad Italian/Spanish sickie is for YOU…

Check out the trailer below.: