Amoral, social-climbing surgeon Adrian Valenti (Gianni Garko) accidentally kills his mistress Daniela (Paola Senatore) impaling her on a flower sculpture with steel petals. Panic-stricken he dismembers the corpse dumping the chunks in a handy meat-grinder. Daniela's sister, Evelyn (Carroll Baker), who also happens to be Adrian's irate ex-girlfriend, is immediately suspicious about her disappearance. Soon the police start investigating Adrian which cramps his romance with yet another lover, pretty secretary Lena (Pilar Velazquez). Then Adrian starts receiving mysterious phone calls threatening to expose him as a murderer unless he pays a hefty sum.
Carroll Baker was the first international star to really forge a career in the Italian giallo genre beginning with The Sweet Body of Deborah (1968) and continuing with a run of stylish thrillers directed by Umberto Lenzi, e.g. Paranoia (1968), A Quiet Place to Kill (1970), Knife of Ice (1972) etc. By the early Seventies Baker made so many gialli she was starting to grow tired of their predictable plots, which is likely why The Flower with the Deadly Sting reduces the star to a sort of special guest red herring. One of only three films directed by Gianfranco Piccioli, a prolific producer still active today, the plot is essentially a sexed-up variation on Les Diaboliques (1955) which was a common touchstone for many gialli. Piccioli aims for subtle chills rather than full-throttle scares but succeeds at creating a genuinely eerie mood ladling on the style, a succession of creepy images - including one sequence with a cave decorated with broken dolls that prefigures Dario Argento's more celebrated Deep Red (1975) – and of course, no small amount of sensuality. He wastes no time in presenting sexy giallo and softcore staple Paola Senatore topless in black panties ahead of numerous steamy scenes where Gianni Garko gets it on with each of his fetching female co-stars.
Whereas Baker appears visibly bored, spaghetti western star Garko is solid in an otherwise unsympathetic role stretching him beyond his stock Sartana persona. Oddly, though the film never presents Adrian as anything but a reprehensible bastard it still invites us to empathize with him as the principal protagonist. He is another of those smug giallo archetypes who behaves like it is such a chore to have three gorgeous women on the go, slapping them around when he likes though they still fall at his feet. However, the script exhibits no great sympathy for Adrian's female victims who are drawn as scheming harpies, passive doormats or hysterical nymphos. A sequence set in an asylum for mentally unstable women reinforces the pervading tone of misogyny when a psychologist claims women that repress their sexuality for an “unnaturally” long time invariably wind up insane. As is so often the case with Italian exploitation the insulting implication is that the ideal cure for a women's psychological problems is a good shag.
Nonetheless, Piccioli weaves a suitably dreamlike, ominous, labyrinthine mystery that while hard to follow at times (show me the giallo that isn't) proves compelling and adds up. The pay-off satisfies though Piccioli can't resist a last second moralistic coda to reinforce the male dominated status quo. Little known composer Marcello Giombini supplies an outstanding electro-funk score incorporating an appropriately sting-like motif. The Flower with the Deadly Sting is also notable for featuring a steamy, albeit ridiculous underwater lesbian sex scene which prompts an obvious gag about muff diving. Not that I would ever be that crass.