When we first founded Severin way back in 2006, one of my main pastimes was to furiously chip away at the unholy mountain of VHS screeners piled ceiling-high within the confines of my office.
The vast majority of these screeners originated from Italy, where a mile-wide vein of Italian-crafted celluloid still goes relatively unmined and unreleased in the United States to this day. Most of these films hailed from the halcyon age of 1970-79, a point in history when Italian studios were pumping out (by my estimation) roughly 350 films a day.
Although some could technically classify Folds as an early Gialli, in reality it’s a genre-busting mad little Unabomber of a movie that lurches from Whodunit to Incest Portraiture to Holocaust Docudrama to Gothic Horror to Freudian Psychosexual Mindbender at the drop of a 16th century broadsword.
Now, some have criticized ITFOTF for having an incomprehensible plot. To me, this reeks of intellectual laziness.
I mean, does this sound that hard to follow?
– A loopy, fatherless young blonde lives in the Italian countryside with her ex-nanny and the ex-nanny’s son, with whom she makes out with to what could best be described as proto-Eno-ambient tape loops. The threesome entertains various male house guests, who all subsequently make a pass at the Blonde, only to find themselves stabbed and/or beheaded and dissolved in a vat of acid while a cage full of killer vultures cackle a Greek chorus. This pattern is eventually broken by the arrival of an ex-con who shows up with dreams of blackmailing the family regarding the long-ago-but-still-overwhelmingly-suspicious death of said Blonde’s father. Some exhuming follows. And a Holocaust flashback. And two scenes in an insane asylum. I won’t tell you what happens to the ex-con (I think you can guess), but ultimately we witness the arrival of a man who may or may not be the long-thought-dead dad. Then the second half of the movie begins.
Personally, one viewing left me existentially pantsless. The feeling in my legs having returned, I instantaneously moved ITFOTF to the top of my “Acquire Right *&$ing Now” pile. It was acquired.
Then some of the other Severins watched it, and the hazing began.
Of all the films released in Severin’s initial burst (known around here as the “Sev Bang”), Folds is, without a doubt, the film that generated the highest degree of in-house derision of yours truly. I’m not here to say it’s everyone’s cup of Irish Breakfast, but time – and sales figures – has proven that the film does indeed have a not-insignificant amount of devotees.
But it’s more polemic than entertainment, and is definitely not an experience that leaves viewers huddled in the middle.
For me, these types of all-or-nothing films are important because it serves as shorthand as to whether or not you and I can have a cinematic conversation. If you like Bitter Moon and In the Folds of Flesh, chances are we will be simpatico. (For instance, I’ve never met anyone who likes both these films and Chasing Amy.)
My favorite feature of Folds is how it attempts to harness/justify its tawdry events within an intellectualized Freudian framework. Surely the tamer output of Carl Jung would never inspire such a piece of high-wire trash as this. The filmmakers state their intention from the get-go, revealing what seemed to be a proto-salacious Giallo title to be a reference to you-know-who…
In Beyond the Pleasure Principle, Freud expanded his original theory of man being governed by a single force – a repressed, unrepressed, and sometimes expressed pursuit of pleasure to include a second primal force; the death instinct. One hand grasps for sexual congress and happiness, but the other lurches for destruction and what can best be described as “Blue Meanism.”
It seems clear to me that Falesse the film’s chief heroine/victim is the filmic embodiment of this Freudian duality. Described even by her Eno-loving-makeout buddy as a “Praying Mantis,” Falesse pursues both impulses with whip-cracking ferocity, leaving a legion of satisfied and beheaded victims in her wake.
|“An occurence such as an external trauma will undoubtedly provoke a very extensive disturbance in the workings of the energy of the organism, and will set in motion every kind of protective measure.”|
|Freud, Beyond the Pleasure Principle|
At its heart, Folds reveals itself to be constructed upon a vast catacomb of protective measure, where Falesse and her counterparts have adjusted and coped by creating a dream world that is one part pleasure and one part pain.
Which brings us to another Freud fave – repression. The laundry list of traumas – both physical and psychological – these characters have suffered are what have made this mad little house on the beach what it is today. The plot hinges on the unlocking of a labyrinth of atrocities visited upon various family members at various points in history, from the Holocaust to the night where poor Father was dispatched.
In a lot of ways, ITFOTF stands as a sort of Spaghetti late 60s Russ Meyer potboiler. It follows the peak Meyer formula – take one royally effed up family, place in an effed up house, place house in the middle of effing nowhere. Add nosy outsiders. Complications ensue. Turn up heat. Simmer to a boil. It’s easily the kind of film you could have seen Meyer create in his 65-69 heyday, less the Freud and plus the cleavage.
Not unlike Fulci’s Perversion Story, Folds is a willfully weird work that closes out the 60s but also points the way to the increasingly depraved Gialli of the 70s. If you’re like me, and you like your goofy Italian Murder Mysteries bloody, boobied and batshit, you can trace a clear fault line from ITFOTF to Bianchi’s masterful Strip Nude for Your Killer.
Again, In the Folds of the Flesh is not for everyone — and certainly not a great film in the traditional construct — but it is a film that reveals hidden pleasures if one is willing to give it a chance. And if you have taste. Anyway, if you buy it and don’t like it, let me know, and I’ll send you a second copy to help you reconsider.