Strange Vice of
= Highest Rating
in 2001, when reviewing The Case
of the Bloody Iris, I lamented the dearth of Region 0/1
DVDs of films featuring the gorgeous, incredibly sexy European
actress Edwige Fenech. Hailed as the "Queen of the Giallo",
Fenech's exotic beauty graced a number of these thrillers which
we here in North America simply weren't able to see other than
by way of crappy looking VHS bootlegs, if at all. In the interim,
happily, progress has been made albeit very slowly.
Fall 2004 saw the release of All
the Colors of the Dark (1971) in a terrific edition from
Shriek Show; now, the Queen's first starring giallo role, in
Sergio Martino's The Strange Vice of Mrs.
Wardh, arrives on DVD. And there's great news about the
near future... But more about that later.
Strange Vice Edwige plays the type
of character that was to become her trademark in the gialli
to follow by Martino and other directors: beautiful and glamorous,
a sexually freewheeling fashionista living the jetsetter life,
but with some major relationship and/or possible mental problems.
And, oh yeah... A mysterious figure in black is trying to kill
Julie Wardh, the dissatisfied
young wife of an international investment broker, arrives in
Vienna with her husband to take up residence
at the very time a serial killer is brutally murdering women
in the city. Julie hasn't even settled in when she receives
a bouquet of roses, accompanied by a strange note, from an 'anonymous'
admirer. She knows who sent them: Jean (Eaten
Alive's Ivan Rassimov), a former lover with whom she shared
a kinky and sometimes violent relationship of dominance and
submission. Seems he hasn't taken their breakup all that well.
Having wed husband Neil (Alberto de Mendoza) to forget about
Jean, Julie now finds herself being stalked by her old flame.
Hot-tempered and brutal, Jean is unpredictable, possibly dangerous;
Julie can't be sure just how far he'll go. As for hubby, he's
inattentive and distant, frequently absent on business trips.
So her marriage isn't exactly a source of comfort or security.
Julie finds a quantum
of solace in the arms of George (George Hilton), a handsome,
devil-may-care playboy type who aggressively woos her from their
very first meeting at a party. The happiness she finds in this
illicit affair is short-lived, however; soon after bedding George
she receives a phone call from a blackmailer threatening to
tell her husband unless she coughs up some dough. Even though
the caller's voice was disguised Julie's sure that it's actually
Jean behind the scheme. Her best friend Carol (Torso's
Conchita Airoldi) volunteers to make the payoff in her place,
mainly so she can give Jean a piece of her mind. Carol winds
up murdered instead, another victim of Vienna's savage razor
or so the police believe.
Julie thinks Jean is the culprit and informs the cops. One problem
with that theory, though: Jean has an airtight alibi. Then Julie
herself is attacked in a parking garage by a shadowy figure
in black, barely escaping with her life, while Jean is found
dead shortly thereafter. Was it suicide or murder? Julie isn't
sticking around to find out. Leaving a Dear John letter for
her husband, she hooks up with George and takes off for sunny
Spain to forget everything and start a new life. But her nightmare
is far from over...
The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh
was among the first of the 'new wave' of gialli epitomized
by Dario Argento's better known The
Bird with the Crystal Plumage, which was filmed at approximately
the same time. Director Sergio Martino, then only 29 years old,
and with only one other feature-length film (a spaghetti western)
under his belt, displays remarkable assurance and a steady hand
at the helm. The film is stylish and visually compelling, making
fine use of the wide frame and a roving, kinetic camera
all hallmarks of Martino's gialli to come. Greatly enhancing
the imagery is the score by composer Nora Orlandi, whose haunting
theme for Julie's flashbacks/fantasies of her sadomasochistic
trysts with Jean is simultaneously sensuous and creepy.
(And which would be appropriated by Quentin Tarantino over 30
years later as the signature cue for Michael Madsen's Budd character
in Kill Bill Vol.
2, albeit in a completely different context.) The stars,
of course, fit their roles to a "T". Fenech and Hilton
amply display the chemistry that would lead to their re-teaming
in a number of Italian thrillers for Martino and other directors;
Rassimov is perfectly cast as the sinister yet attractive 'bad
boy' type that women who should know better end up getting involved
with despite their better judgment. The film's only real shortcoming
is the script (nothing new as far as gialli are concerned!),
which, while providing a logical and genuinely satisfying resolution
to the mystery, gets pretty far-fetched as to how that
resolution is presented. (I'm referring specifically to the
final scene, but can't go into any details without spoiling
the end of the movie.)
This is my first look
at a release from NoShame Films, a new company specializing in
bringing European (mostly Italian) cinema to North American DVD.
I'm mightily impressed. A beautiful looking transfer, an original
language track, a nice array of extras... You can't really ask
for too much more.
The anamorphic transfer,
in its all-important proper aspect ratio (2.35:1), was taken from
original elements and so is almost pristine, with only the teeniest
bit of print damage in evidence. A handful of scenes look too
dark (this is apparently the natural condition of the print) but
otherwise the visuals are stellar, with vibrant colors and sharp
detail. Two separate mono audio tracks are offered:
the original Italian, with optional English subtitles, and the
English dubbed version.
The Italian track is definitely the way to go, as it's not only
much fuller and less tinny sounding than the English one but the
script is better, too. (The English track also contains an infrequent
but nonetheless annoying glitch. Whenever subtitles appear onscreen
to translate notes or newspaper headlines written in Italian,
the audio cuts out for a few seconds.)
The slate of extras
includes the Italian theatrical trailer (looking rather washed-out),
a poster/still gallery, a brief liner notes booklet focusing on
Martino, Hilton and Fenech, and a short (3 min.) video clip of
Martino speaking before a recent revival screening in Venice.
Martino is also featured
along with Hilton, Fenech,
screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi and producer Luciano Martino (the
in a half-hour documentary
on the making of Strange Vice, entitled
Dark Fears Behind the Door. Aside from being well put-together
and informative, the doc is of special note for the appearance
of the elusive Edwige Fenech in her first interview for a DVD
release... I have to say, the former sex goddess looks utterly
fabulous for a gal in her late 50s! (Either Italy has the best
plastic surgeons in the world or Ms. Fenech was simply born with
great genes.) And
that good news I mentioned?
NoShame will soon be releasing two more Fenech thrillers on DVD,
Secrets of a Call Girl and Your
Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key (the
title of the latter inspired by a line of dialog in Strange
Vice); Blue Underground has announced Strip
Nude for Your Killer for
This disc went OOP in 2008. In February 2010 Mya Communications
is releasing the film under the alternate title Blade
of the Ripper, using the same transfer and audio tracks
as the NoShame DVD. (Alas, bonus features were not retained.)