Italian cinema has always been known for its boom-and-bust cycles whereby a very popular film—not necessarily Italian in origin—is used as the blueprint for innumerable similar films. These cycles typically last just a handful of years before a new genre is discovered. Beginning in 1969 with Dario Argento’s runaway international hit, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, Italian directors rushed to produce a string of lurid crime thrillers called gialli in Italy. A young director by the name of Sergio Martino was no different than dozens of other filmmakers. However, Martino, often with the help of his older producer brother, put together a superlative string of giallo hits that rivaled any director. Beginning in 1970, Martino directed The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh, The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail, All the Colors of the Dark, and wrapped up this incredible string of films with what is generally considered his magnum opus, Torso. Your Vice is a Locked Room… was produced immediately prior to Torso.
Most gialli fans know all the filmic tropes well: the black-gloved and faceless killer; the bloody murders themselves; the beautiful with no qualms about a lack of clothing; oftentimes perverted sex; and killers with motives based around sexual fetishes or impotency. With Your Vice is a Locked Room, Martino checks off most of these scenarios.
Oliviero (Luigi Pistilli) is a writer suffering from writer’s block. He hasn’t written a single word of consequence in years, choosing to sink into an alcoholic despair. Along with drinking, he enjoys several sexual dalliances with various women in town, but when he’s at home, the sport he enjoys most is torturing his wife Irina emotionally, berating her, beating her, and humiliating her publicly. Irina (Anita Strindberg) is frail and frankly terrified of her husband. She’s convinced that one day he will kill her but is emotionally paralyzed and can do nothing about the situation. Enter Oliviero’s niece, Floriana (Edwige Fenech), a gorgeous twenty-year old sexpot who drops by unannounced for a visit. It’s not a particularly convenient time for a visit as several murders have occurred and the police suspect Oliviero of the killings. It doesn’t help that Oliviero and Irina’s maid has also been mysteriously murdered. Add to this a mysterious stranger (played by Euroexploitation star Ivan Rassimov) that pops in occasionally and you have a complicated tale with multiple red herrings.
Oliviero is an alcoholic brute who terrorizes his wife. One of the murders is of a young girl he admits to sleeping with while his maid, whom he also likes to molest, also suffers a horrible death. It’s pretty clear he is capable of killing. But Irina is being pushed to the breaking point by her boorish husband, who owns a black cat named Satan who belonged to his dearly beloved, late mother. Irina hates this cat and, after a particularly brutal encounter with the feline, one has to wonder if Irina is as frail as she presents herself, or has she been driven into homicidal madness. Floriana isn’t terribly concerned with all the violence she is surrounded by. She’s having far too much fun sleeping around. But soon enough it becomes clear she has designs on her family, as she sleeps with them both. And finally, what’s with the mysterious stranger? How does he fit into the mystery?
Your Vice is a Locked Room is a rollicking gialli with plenty of drama, suspense, nudity, sex, and violence. Essentially a retelling of Poe’s The Black Cat, Martino has seen fit to spice up the original story quite a bit. Both Strindberg—who gets my vote for the best breasts in 1970’s Italian cinema—and Fenech—who is astoundingly beautiful and particularly sexy with a short hairstyle—remove their clothes every chance they get. Along with other attractive women who also shed their garments, there is quite a bit of nudity in the film. While the sex actually portrayed isn’t very racy, the themes touch on rape, incest, and lesbianism, giving the film a decidedly debauched atmosphere. The violence is infrequent but bloody when it appears onscreen, with a nasty throat-slashing, a second slashing across the torso, and the gouging of the cat’s eye. And, while the plot is complicated, it isn’t convoluted as in so many gialli of the time period.
Since this is an adaptation of The Black Cat, most viewers will know the outcome for the killer. That’s not the surprise. The surprise is the actual killer’s identity. With several plausible killers and more than one M.O., the film keeps you guessing until the end, then pulls one last punch with a final murder that isn’t fully expected.
Martino fills the film with his signature expressions such as long tracking shots of large rooms and landscapes. The cast, filled with Euroexploitation stars, is very strong. (Pistilli and Rassimov would go on to co-star in the wildly perverted Eerie Midnight Horror Show, AKA The Sexorcist, just a couple of years later). Fenech, in her first bad girl role, plays the character with absolute relish. You really believe she is a conniving whore, though in reality she is a sweet and humble person. Bruno Nicolai, the popular and prolific composer of innumerable Italian genre fare during this period, provides an excellent score.
So, if Torso is Martino’s acknowledged masterpiece, Your Vice is a Locked Room… may be described as the critical darling and sentimental fan favorite of his gialli.
Arrow has provided a brand new 2K restoration of the film from the original camera negative, meaning the film looks and sounds spectacular. As a bonus, the film is offered in both Italian and English languages with English subtitles for both versions. There are some truly superior extra features provided by Arrow for this presentation. First up is a brand new interview with director Sergio Martino, who discusses the film, his relationship with Fenech, as well as his other gialli. Next we have a retrospective that includes interviews with Martino again, screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi, and the very lovely Fenech. Going on 70 years of age, Fenech is still an unqualified beauty. All three come across as genuinely nice people who cared about making the best films they could. There is an excellent piece that examines each of Martino’s big five gialli, drawing comparisons between them and placing them in the overall historical context of the genre as well as a fascinating and loving tribute to actress Fenech’s film career. Finally, there is short featurette portraying director Eli Roth discussing the film and his connections to Fenech as well as to Martino.
The film can be found on Amazon or you can go directly to Arrow Film’s website at http://www.arrowfilms.co.uk/category/usa