Despite starring the ubiquitous Carroll Baker, Gianfranco Piccioli's thriller is perhaps the rarest giallo on this website. Even more surprising, considering this Italian/Spanish co-production's potent mix of psycho-sexual shenanigans and lesbian scuba sex. Mostly unreleased and neglected over the years, it is none-the-less an intriguing and off-beat slice of Latin mayhem.
Dr. Andrea Valenti (Gianni Garko) is a handsome, rich and successful surgeon in Rome, who is adored by his staff and patients. However, he is in the midst of a break-up with flame-haired lover, Daniella (Paola Senatore). During a fight at his apartment a woman is killed—we presume it is Daniella, but it is too dark to tell—when she appears to fall and become impaled on a sharp objet d'art (the flower with the petals of steel of the title). Rather than report the accident to the authorities, Dr Valenti decides to dispose of the corpse by cutting it up and dumping the remains in what looks like a sewage plant.
However, the doctor's ex-lover, Evelyn (Baker), knows that Daniella was due to visit him, and becomes concerned when she doesn't return. Evelyn is not only Daniella's half-sister, but also her lesbian lover—and was seemingly plotting with her against Valenti. She visits him in his apartment, but he denies having seen her sister, despite her car being parked outside. Evelyn goes to the police, and tries to convince Detective Garrano (Ivano Staccioli) that Valenti is behind her sister's disappearance. Garrano is at first unconvinced, but becomes more suspicious when it turns out that Valenti's heiress wife was committed to an asylum after a rare condition caused her to go insane after having sex with her husband for the first time on their wedding night. However, on further investigation it turns out that she is now sane and has been released, but her whereabouts are unknown. Valenti continues to try and act normally, and beds his beautiful secretary, Elaina (Pilar Velázquez), but he begins to suspect that a neighbour may have seen the murder and soon finds himself the victim of blackmail ...
THE FLOWERS WITH THE PETALS OF STEEL is clearly inspired by the films of Dario Argento, with the deadly sculpture an obvious nod to a similar set-up in his highly influential THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE (1970)—not to mention the subsequent visual sleight-of-hand. Piccioli also copies elements from other gialli by director's such as Sergio Martino and Mario Bava. Often this seems nonsensical. He borrows Bava's fetishistic obsession with dolls (also borrowed by Martino) for a scene where Valenti wanders along a tunnel where the walls are stuffed with broken dolls heads, only to find the body of the previously dismembered woman hung at the end and bloody but reassembled. Piccioli never lets on whether this scene is real or imagined.
The film is also slow and deliberately paced, and despite heavily borrowing elements from now fading giallo genre, THE FLOWERS WITH THE PETALS OF STEEL is surprisingly resolutely unglamorous for the most part. Even Baker looks rather dowdy throughout—although fans of J&B whiskey will be pleased to know that it doesn't fail to put in at least half a dozen cameos! Whilst many gialli wowed with their exotic travelogues and jet-set lifestyles, Piccioli's film is for the most part curiously visually mundane. Set in the rubbish strewn streets of Rome, peopled by urchins and squat women in pinafores; ultra-modern buildings are replaced with crumbling tenement blocks. This possibly has more to do with the film's obviously meagre budget, with the supposedly uber-rich Valenti living in a very modest apartment.
For a giallo, the film also has a relatively low bodycount. However, one scene has one victim attacked by an archetypical giallo villain—complete with black leather gloves and scalpel—but it almost feels as this was shoe-horned onto the production to raise the requisite thrills. The more extreme erotic elements also seem at odds with the rest of the film's resolutely realist approach—especially the naked lesbian scuba sex, which is quite unexpected to say the least.
It is also quite surprising that this film is quite so obscure, as it's Baker's giallo swansong. The American-born actress had carved a quite a niche in Italian psycho-thrillers in the late 1960s and early 70s. After this, she was next to turn up on British TV in Brian Clemens' excellent THRILLER series—several of the episodes obviously inspired by the giallo.
THE FLOWERS WITH THE PETALS OF STEEL is undeniably something of a mess, but despite—or perhaps because of—its shortcomings, still manages to intrigue throughout. Although, it's best not to dwell too much on the surprise outcome nor how we came to it, this is still an entertainingly bizarre and schizophrenic giallo that's ripe for rediscovery.
female:2 / male:0
1) Female stabbed with metal petal
2) Female slashed with scalpel