Review Date: September 17, 2005
Released by: NoShame Films
Release date: 9/27/2005
Region 0, NTSC
Widescreen 1.85:1 | 16x9: Yes
When you keep making a certain genre of film for so long, there comes a time where hitting conventions is no longer a goal, and instead the joy comes in the subversion. Sergio Martino, one of Italy’s most prolific genre figures in the seventies, had already made three gialli in a two year time span when it came time to make his fourth consecutive excursion into yellow, the perversely titled Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key
. Although his films were never routine, always bubbling with contorted mystery plotting and inventively composed cinematography, they tended to rely on similar plot structures as the stuff coming from Bava and Argento. It was with Your Vice
, then, that Martino sought to break away from the traditional giallo and deliver one more influenced by Edgar Allen Poe than by the pulp Italian suspense novels of the time.
Despite his desire to be different, the film has been little remembered, remaining the most obscure of Martino’s seventies gialli. In comes NoShame, issuing the film with an uncut anamorphic transfer as part of their Sergio Martino line. Martino’s gialli are always above the norm, but just how well does Your Vice
hold up to the rest of his films?
After an erotically shot opening, with two lovers shot intermingled and out of focus, the film cuts to the breakdown of a marriage. Oliver (Luigi Pistilli
) and Irina (Anita Strindberg
) sit together at a party, but emotionally they couldn’t be farther apart. Oliver lusts at the young hippie girls that surround him, while Irina sulks in sadness. We learn that Oliver had a great, perhaps incestuous, love for his mother, and in his comparisons of Irina and his mother, Irina always comes out feeling inferior. The mother is dead, but she left behind a cat as black as the vice in her heart. The cat sometimes gets into Irina’s chicken coup, a further metaphor of how the black shadow of Oliver’s mother continues to haunt her. Irina says something wrong at the party, and Oliver beats her to tears. She reenters the party wearing Oliver’s mom’s dress. Irina is as dead inside as Oliver’s deceased mother.
This is a gialli, so the murders start to pickup shortly after the party altercation. A young co-ed who happened to be a student and casual lover of Oliver is found murdered, and Oliver is the immediate suspect. Before a true investigation can begin however, another woman is murdered, this time Oliver’s black housemaid. Oliver is starting to run out of alibis, and his relationship with his wife is continuing to fall out of favor. The investigation is complicated further by the entrance of a cousin into Oliver and Irina’s life. Floriana (Edwige Fenech
) comes in by train, and there is immediate sexual tension between her and Oliver. Her and Oliver have sex, but what is more surprising is the attraction that begins to blossom between the two women. With her heart seemingly in ruin, Irina clings to Floriana’s surprising allure.
While all the love triangles and hexagons play out, the black cat beings factoring further into the schemes of the main characters. It attacks Irina’s chicken coup, and she retaliates by pecking one of its eyes out. The cat is then little seen afterwards, but like in Poe’s famous feline Tail, the cat returns by the film’s conclusion like a bad dose of karma. The cat holds the key to the revelation of the villain’s vice, but in the world of the giallo the identity of the killer is never certain until the final moments.
Watching Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key
is like watching a veteran hockey team, in touch with each other’s strengths and nuances, as they suit up and instead start playing field hockey. Your Vice
is oiled with all the familiar elements and collaborators that have made Martino’s previous gialli so successful, yet they come together in new and exciting ways for a wholly different experience.
On the familiar side, we have Martino again collaborating with his stock crew. Bruno Nicolai contributes another fine score, laden with an elegance and ethereal sound not dissimilar from his work on The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh
. Ernesto Gastaldi is again on as writer, delivering another film heavy in sadism, plotting and twists. Although George Hilton sat this one out as the leading man, Ivan Rassimov, Anita Strindberg and Edqige Fenech are all back once again, putting as many familiar Martino collaborators in front of the camera as there are behind. Martino’s girls, Strindberg and Fenech, drop their tops as much as they do their jaws, while Rassimov continues to scowl with the panache already established in All the Colors of the Dark
. It is all one big party with close friends, and it’s a joy seeing all of Martino’s collaborators doing what they do best.
As good as familiarity is though, much of the enjoyment of Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key
(I love typing that) comes from the surprising divergences Martino makes from the norm. The film is set in the rural landscape of Italy, when nearly all gialli were city-based to highlight the decay of industrialization. Along with Fulci’s Don’t Torture a Duckling
, this remains one of the few films set in beautiful, old fashioned countryside. The countryside in Duckling
helped to illustrate how evil can lurk in the most innocent of places, whether it be green hills or the sincere veneer of a priest. In Your Vice
however, the countryside helps to give the film an older, refined visual look to fit with the Poe-inspired storyline. Basing the film on “The Black Cat” is, as mentioned, a big shift in itself, in the way it transforms the usual thrust of the giallo.
Typically, the giallo relies on weakly defined characters in favor of complex murder mysteries. Where Your Vice
diverges is in the way it concerns itself more with the subjectivity of the Irina character than it does with the identity of the murderer. At the midway point, the plot has surprisingly little forward thrust, seeming more a well shot character drama than it does a fast moving giallo. As the film progresses, some of the side suspects and characters are given hardly any development whatsoever, with Rassimov particularly limited to a few evil looks in all his screen time. The film then follows Fenech around for a bit, but the resolution of the plot seems to be the last thing on Gastaldi’s mind. Yet, the film remains compelling because of the cinematography, music and characterization, so much so that the plot really doesn’t need to advance. But when the film finally moves forward in its conclusion, the payoff is more than worth the wait. Gastaldi’s plot twists in previous Martino films always rang a little gimmicky, but Your Vice
’s finale ends on a perfect note, surprising but yet not implausible. Perhaps credit should be given to Edgar Allen Poe, but regardless, this film offers the most satisfying resolution to any of the Martino-Gastaldi gialli.
What is also satisfying is how the two female leads stray from their regular stereotypical roles. Anita Strindberg and Edwige Fenech were two of the most beautiful women in all of Italian cinema, so the natural inclination of the time was to get them naked as quickly as possible. While they do bare breasts quite liberally here, they are given more to do this time. Fenech moves away from her typical good girl role into a much more sinister and clouded character, her cat eyes finally used to good effect in suggesting her predatory instincts. Strindberg also gets to be more than mere damsel in distress (like she was in The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail
), instead able to really get into the mind of her character. She goes on quite the emotional journey throughout, dealing with both her paranoia towards the cat and her torment towards her failing marriage. This is a film clearly done by people refusing to get comfortable with convention, and the resulting experiment is one that pays off handsomely.
As important as it is to experiment, a true auteur must have a clear vision and must present that vision well, and his center focus on the erotic ontology of sadism remains Martino’s most compelling attribute. He has the uncanny ability to present violence, death and torture in such a beautiful and brooding manner that its seems more gratifying in his films than even sex. He often relies on slow motion photography, the musical hums and moans of females and varying montage editing to heighten the erotic impact of his death sequences. The torture scenes in The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh
resonate with a guilty beauty, the rape of Edwige Fenech stylized by the slow motion rain and humming Nicolai score. It is a deplorable act made beautiful by Martino’s fascination with the vices in all of us.
Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key
achieves a similar feat in the way it makes the preplanned roadside death of two characters into an explosive sexual event. We see the two lovers driving by motorcycle down the highway, while further on down we see the killer pouring oil down a sharp turn. Through music and montage, Martino expertly cuts between the two scenarios, until the two drivers meet their fate on the road, crashing through a sign. The sign drips blood, but the blood just happens to fall on the cutout heart of the billboard. It is a wonderfully done scene, probably the best in the film, and it is exemplary in its melding of sex and violence, heart and blood, and how the two are really not far from each other.
If Argento is chastised for his love of murdering females on screen, Martino is guilty in Your Vice
for basking in the death of hippies in his film. He states from the outset through Oliver’s character that “its very simple for [hippies] to sound like a symphony, but when you get down to it it’s really nothing at all.” It’s clear that Martino sees vapid when he looks into the heart of the youth movement of the early seventies, and perhaps that is why so many of the deaths in Your Vice
come through with such inventive energy. Martino seems to really love witnessing the death of what he deemed a faux movement, and that further lends to the erotic draw of the deaths in his films. The torture in The Strange Vice or Mrs. Wardh may be more sexually based, but the deaths in Your Vice
are more fascinatingly erotic.
With beautiful death scenes, a simple but intimate plot, a great ending and the usual stock of strong Martino Tailnt, Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key
stands out as another high point in the giallo canon. While some of Martino’s other films may have more sensational or memorable moments, Your Vice
is more rewarding in the whole. It is a film by a crew so comfortable with the genre that they were willing to take risks, and with Your Vice
, the risks paid off. The sadistic depths of Martino’s subconscious come unlocked with the Your Vice
’s sensual key.
Wow. The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail
and The Strange Vice or Mrs. Wardh looked good, but this transfer is flawless. There isn’t a spec or blemish to be found on this 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer; this is one of the cleanest restorations I’ve ever seen for a genre film of such age. Colors are equally as impressive, with flesh tones looking just perfect, Edwige Fenech’s pale skin looking much more flattering here than it did in Mrs. Wardh
. The rest of the colors are accurate, and those bloody reds look bloody good. If there is one complaint, it is that a few scenes come through as incredibly dark. A little bit of added brightness would have went a long way, but it is tough to complain, considering how solid the blacks are. The great look of transfer is finished off by the incredibly clarity of the image. Everything looks so sharp, its no wonder Martino talks about the film seeming timeless on the extras. NoShame has come through with one of the best looking transfers of the year, and considering this is a film of considerable age and obscurity their success is all the more notable.
Like the previous Martino DVDs, both Italian and English mono tracks are provided. Although the English tracks on the previous Martino discs posed somewhat of a problem with some music drop outs during dialogue scenes and an overall smaller amplitude, this disc seems without any of these problems. Both tracks sound good, even if at times they sound a bit fuzzy. Still, it is a big improvement over their previous releases, and now the option is there for fans to watch the film in either English or Italian without any sort of loss of quality between either track. Like the video for Your Vice
, this is the best that NoShame has done yet in terms of audio.
In what is becoming standard for NoShame, the film is packaged with an informative little booklet (a rarity these days, it seems) along with promotional materials and a featurette as extras. Considering how great the trailers for The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail
and The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh
are it’s a shame no trailer for Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key
is included, although NoShame does include trailers for Martino’s Scorpion, Wardh, Gambling City and The Big Alligator River as compensation. Also included is a short two minute poster and stills gallery, set to the wonderful score music by Bruno Nicolai.
The major supplement is the 23-minute “Unveiling the Vice” documentary, which combines interviews with Edwige Fenech, Sergio Martino and Ernesto Gastaldi all from the same recording sessions they did for the supplements on previous NoShame releases. Like the other NoShame documentaries, this one runs longer than it should, with stuff like the title scrawl running about twenty seconds longer than it has any right too. But like all the NoShame featurettes, this is filled with some good anecdotal information about the film from the principal participants. Fenech cutely remembers a story about onion omlettes, but more interestingly recollects a conversation about her career that she shared with Quentin Tarantino. Gastaldi talks about his overall writing style, and how Your Vice
was a different kind of film for him and the Martino gang. Martino does what he seems to do best on these docs, and that is stroke his ego with name dropping of all the critics that like his films. Considering the quality of his work though, he has just grounds to fellate his confidence. Although not quite as deep as one would hope, it’s still nonetheless an enjoyable little featurette.
The pairing of Sergio Martino and NoShame Films couldn’t be more perfect, since it seems neither can do any wrong. Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key
is a great gothic giallo, and NoShame’s work on the DVD is of equal excellence. The image quality is some of the best I’ve ever seen for a vintage genre film, and the English audio tracks are better here than they were for the previous Martino DVDs. The featurette is a nice little bonus for this unique Edgar Allen Poe/giallo hybrid. The film has remained in the locked room of obscurity for some time now, and thankfully NoShame has provided the key to unlock this gem. Highly recommended.
Movie - A-
Image Quality - A
Sound - A-
Supplements - B
- Running Time - 1 hour 37 minutes [the DVD cover says 92 minutes]
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- English mono
- Italian mono
- English subtitles
- "Unveiling the Vice" featurette
- Poster & still gallery
- Sergio Martino trailers