Shelley Winters is the very possessive mother of a grown son (whom she dries naked from the bath) so she is going to resent his interest in the lovely Laura Antonelli (from Visconti’s L’INNOCENTE). They are new tenants in an apartment block housing some very strange middle aged ladies – who are all played in men in drag, but not in a camp way. If you thought his Ming the Merciless (FLASH GORDON) was ultra-camp, Max Von Sydow in drag as a fluttery middle-aged spinster is a sight to see (Max also appears as himself later as the detective on the case of the murdered “females”). It is quickly revealed that the malevolent mother has murderous intentions – she lost so many babies in childbirth that she has made a pact with death to allow her son to live, and in return, she will provide many victims for death. Her kitchen with its table and all those saws and hammers and the big pot on the stove is suitably gruesome, as are the scenes where the victims are despatched, and turned into soap or ground into flour for biscuits, which are eaten by their friends.
Shelley relishes the grand guignol as she has visions of the apocalypse to come (it is 1938 Italy). Rita Tushingham is also on hand, as the invalid who finds her friend’s ring in a bar of soap! The title might roughly translate as “The Big Stew”.
Bolognini crafted some marvellous costume dramas in the '70s like METELLO (pop singer Massimo Ranieri) and THE INHERITANCE with Anthony Quinn, Dominique Sanda and Fabio Testi.