My Obsession: The Killer Looks of Edwige Fenech
Bow before the Queen of Giallo
I can still remember the first time I saw her. It was around 2005, and my (now) husband was introducing me to a genre of film called giallo. He put on All the Colors of the Dark, Sergio Martino's 1972 story of a woman who has terrible nightmares in which she's chased by a knife-wielding killer. Her husband thinks she's crazy, and her new neighbor thinks she just needs to participate in a little devil worship. I absolutely loved the movie, and there was a point when I actually turned to my husband and said, "She is the most beautiful woman I've ever seen." This was the beginning of my love affair – OK, my obsession – with Italian actress Edwige Fenech. Some 15 years later, it's still going strong.
I'm not the only one with a Fenech obsession: Both Quentin Tarantino and Eli Roth worship her as well. Roth cast her as the art teacher in Hostel: Part II, and Tarantino paid homage to her with the character Commander Ed Fenech (played by Mike Myers) in Inglourious Basterds.
Just who is Edwige Fenech? I get that question every once in a while on Twitter, especially with new followers, because I nearly always use a photo of her as my avatar and I tend to post a lot of pictures and GIFs of her. On any given Friday, I might post a thread of Fenech images with the hashtag #FenechFriday. She is totally "my brand," as the kids like to say. When I get that question, I tell people that if there was a Queen of Giallo, Fenech would definitely wear the crown.
For the uninitiated, the British Film Institute (BFI) defines giallo as "most often characterised as an Italian crime film with murder-mystery elements. ... A tradition that gleefully mixes high and low culture, where you'll find flashes of artistic brilliance sharing the screen with moments of jaw-dropping squalor." Fenech has worked with some of the most famous filmmakers in the genre, like Mario Bava (Five Dolls for an August Moon), Giuliano Carnimeo (The Case of the Bloody Iris), and, more importantly, her brother-in-law Sergio Martino.
Along with Fenech's husband and Sergio's brother Luciano (who produced their movies), the pair worked on almost a dozen films together over the span of three decades. Some of her best work – and the best gialli, period – is with Martino: The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh (1971) and Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key (1972), as well as my favorite of her performances, the aforementioned All the Colors of the Dark. While most of Fenech's characters in these films are similar (a tormented woman trying to not be offed by a black-gloved killer), she always brings something a little different to each of these roles. They have an innocence about them in even the most lurid of the gialli.
What is it about Edwige Fenech that I like so much? It's hard to put it into words. She's dazzling to watch. You just can't take your eyes off her. She commands attention when she's onscreen. Honestly, she really is one of the most beautiful people ever filmed.
Some people love Marilyn Monroe; others love Elizabeth Taylor. While Fenech might not be a household name, she is my favorite actress. Later in her career, she made a lot of commedia sexy all'italiana (Italian sex comedies), which I don't particularly care for, but she's still amazing in them. I believe her stunning good looks worked against her and she was limited in the roles she was offered. However, her work in the giallo films of the 1970s is iconic. It's hard to think about those movies without also thinking about her. She is a legend and will always hold a special place in my heart.
Sarah Jane is a senior contributing writer at TalkFilmSociety.com. She loves all things Godzilla.