Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key
Italy | 1972
Directed by Sergio Martino
Edwige Fenech
Anita Strindberg
Luigi Pistilli
| 92 Minutes | Not Rated
Format: DVD(R0 - NTSC)
NoShame Films
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Another cool giallo from NoShame
    9   10 = Highest Rating  
Guest Review by William P. Simmons
Focusing on style and plot more often than subtle nuances of characterization, the giallo, that specialized dark corner of psychological horror, has courted controversy and admiration in equal turns for its unapologetic worship of violence, sexual intensity, and celebrated perversions. Specializing in convoluted plots, red herrings, and stylish excess, Giallo evokes the physical horror of corrupted/damaged flesh while celebrating it in loving color; at the same time, it evokes emotional terrors of betrayal, the modern world's sense of alienation, and the threat of loss.
The term "giallo" initially referred to yellow paperbacks in post-fascist Italy which re-printed such mystery writers as Agatha Christie, Cornell Woolrich, and Arthur Conan Doyle. Applied to cinema, the genre is comprised of equal parts early German Krimi (pulp thrillers often based on Edgar Lee Wallace novels), the literary mystery, and the European-influenced willingness to explore sex and violence more provocatively than ever before. The later, an Italian contribution to crime thrillers, are the first striking differences one notes between American crime films and the harsher, more delightfully perverse European counterparts. But it all isn't about sex and death. Amidst the 'creative kill' set-pieces are thematic undercurrents of self-identity, the illusion of appearances, and the inability of the human mind to decipher its perceptions.
    Originating as an established art form with The Girl Who Knew To Much (1963), Mario Bava, the father of the giallo, focused on a major POV character struggling with her memory/sense of perception to decode an act of violence upon which her life depended. This character, reused in countless variations by other filmmakers, through ignorance or chance, witnesses/experiences an act whose deciphering is crucial to the plot. Perception becomes a character unto itself, emphasized alongside fetishistic imagery in not such classic examples as Argento's Bird with the Crystal Plumage, Bido's The Bloodstained Shadow, Aldo Lado's Short Night of Glass Dolls, Fucli's Lizard in a Woman's Skin, and many more.
    In Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key, talented if underrated director Sergio Martino pays homage to the established stalk-and-slash style of early Giallo while revitalizing its cum-and-blood conventions. Interweaving the art of detection and the cold thrills of suspense with sexual frenzy, uncontrollable human impulses, and enthusiastic bouts of violence, Martino emphasizes the uncharacteristically complex motivations of his characters while making the problem of perception so crucial to the success of the Giallo uncomfortably intimate. He accomplishes this by making his character's motives understandable (abuse, neglect, etc.) if not commendable, and making violence disturbingly beautiful while portraying the desirable act of sex as a prelude to treachery.
    The plot, an homage to Poe and Ernesto Gastaldi's previous scripts for Martino, casts familiar elements in a new mold, maximizing suspense. Oliviero Rouvigny, a frustrated writer, spends his time drinking, womanizing, and humiliating his long suffering wife llena in a moody villa a magnificent physical manifestation of psychological deterioration and failed elegance. Ineffectual, he carries on with Brenda the maid, and, early in the film, rapes his wife in front of her! When one of his girlfriends is found sliced up in fetishistic fashion, Oliviero becomes a suspect. After a cop interviews him, we learn through a tense argument with his wife that llena knows he came home late on the very night the girl was murdered...
    An ode to the incestuous/necrophilia heyday of Italian Gothic cinema and the psycho-sexual concerns of the Giallo, Brenda wakens to a storm which mirrors the tension in the household, and puts on (for no discernible reason) Oliviero's deceased mother's dress while he secretly watches her masturbate. Before we can dog-whistle she runs upstairs, seemingly worried by the storm, and is murdered by an unseen assailant. Going into shock after finding Brenda, Ilena discovers that hubby can't call the police because he assumes (rightly) that this murder will convince the law of his guilt of the previous one. Instead, they bury the corpse in the wall. Oliviero's niece Floriana, inviting herself to the villa, senses a conspiracy and their martial problems. In short time she's submerging herself in her host's private fears, fantasies, and yea! their beds. Fueling Oliviero's brutality and llena's strange behavior, Floriana's motivations are ambiguous as she fluctuates between concerned friend/relative, lover, and co-conspirator.
    The story becomes more satisfyingly complex as in a nearby villa a young whore is brutally murdered. The killer, exposed after Aunt Millie (the girl's Aunt) knocks him out, is a complete stranger, allowing Oliviero to wiggle out from under his wife's blackmail. The next night, Ilena investigates the chicken coop outside their villa and finds Satan, the appropriately named cat (named after Oliviero's mother), feasting on her pet birds creatures which, besides her lesbian relationship with Floriana, are one of her few comforts. Before we can scream animal brutality, she gouges out its eye. Escaping, the cat's howls and haunting presence becomes an effective symbol of her guilt and terror, as well as a precursor for things to come. Floriana's character is particularly disturbing in her attempts to convince husband and wife to kill one another. Backstabbing and secret liaisons rush headlong into a bloody climax where guilt and innocence are showed to be empty words. Expectations are expertly dashed, and the only morally redeeming quality (not that one is needed) is the pleasure of seeing a bloody-minded killer receiving poetic justice poetic, get it?
    There is no saving grace in this film, no faith or redemption. There is simply excess, greed, pain, and torture. There is pleasure and pain, flesh and blood. "Oh, yes," to paraphrase a modern movie, "there will be blood." A commercially minded director, Martino still imbues many of his films with artistic sincerity, vision, and dedication to craft. For every hack job like Big Alligator River and his post-apocalyptic work there is the grand delirium of All the Colors of the Dark or the shattering, heartbreaking anguish of Your Vice, where he employs traditional conventions of the Giallo to focus on both the physical and emotional aspects of the war between illusion and substance.
    Passion energizes this movie, the actors infusing believability into character. A disturbing opera of betrayal, sexual indulgence, and death, the script's explosive moments of lust and violence are accompanied by undeniable emotional resonance. Generous amounts of skin and blood are mirrored by surprisingly believable dialogue, careful camera compositions, and a self assured directing style.
    With this thriller, the Martino brothers and Ernesto Gastaldi clearly sought to revitalize the increasingly trite conventions of the formulaic thriller and their own creativity. Just as the action takes place in an isolated villa instead of the typically busy, dirty cities so often featured in the Italian thriller, so do the creators approach their characters and the credible if shockingly grim events of the story in a more personal, almost self-respective manner. As described in excellent liner notes by Richard Harland Smith, Martino and Gastaldi are "attempting something more pastoral, more Gothic, and altogether more personal." The brooding, sexually charged borderlands between hate and love, life and death, redemption and sin are further emphasized by characters whose plots and perversions are brought disturbingly close to home, daring us to sympathize with them. Many Giallos from Argento to Fulci operate in an emotionally cold wasteland where the identities and motivations of the killers closely guarded secret until the final, shocking revelation. While this helps create suspense, it also stressing a gap between story and audience involvement. In Your Vice, however, the horror and loathing of the characters, and the sordid, deadly games these they play, are personal. This is a personal movie, making the carefully staged moments of murders, chaotic chases, and familial betrayals more shocking precisely because of our emotional involvement.
    Including two of my favorite Euro-babes, Edwige Fenech and Anita Strindberg, the acting is as believable as it is enticing. Fenech alone makes the film worth the cost, giving a wonderful performance as a multi-dimensional villain rather than the victimized man-meat she's often depicted as. Sex on high heels, Fenech is want and desire and danger all rolled into one, symbolizing in her contradictory innocent and voluptuous glances the very essence of Giallo. Strindberg is given a major role here as well, also encouraging her to play a meaty, complex character unique from her usual roles. The versatile Luigi Pistilli and Ivan Rassimov round out the cast, the former outstanding as the bastard patriarch.

NoShame's image quality for the DVD is for the most part excellent. While some problems are noticeable in wide shots, any such minor quibbles are compensated for by the obvious care that went into the film's presentation and extras. The audio quality is quite good, including English and Italian dubbing, in original mono, as well as English.
A wonderful marriage of content and form, NoShame adorns this accomplished entry in Martino's cannon of thrillers with informative and generally enticing extras. First off, and most satisfying, is the making of documentary, Unveiling the Vice, which runs for 23 minutes. Comprised of interviews with Martino, Edwige Fenech and Ernesto Gastaldi, wherein they discuss their memories of the film, their comments show intriguing peeks into their personas and beliefs concerning not only the film in question, but political issues, their own importance, and life in general. While there is no trailer for Vice, which is lamentable, four other Martino vehicles are featured, as is a gallery featuring poster designs and still photographs. The packaging includes a booklet of liner notes (see above) and talent bios illustrated with movie stills.
In conclusion, this is giallo as it should be: moist, wet, and dripping with not only blood and style but intelligence. Get it, savor it, and feel that Italian thriller goodness! 3/17/06