Lust, Appellate Judge Rob Lineberger names thee Edwige Fenech.
"You'd much rather be drinking from my skull!"—Irina Rouvigny
Do the Italians have a monopoly on women who can sear a hole through the screen with their eyes alone? Perhaps not, but sometimes it seems that way. Edwige Fenech almost melts the camera with her radiance. Even had she been the sole bright spot in this film, it would be worth watching. Fortunately, Sergio Martino gives us more than Edwige, so Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key is that much more worthwhile.
Facts of the Case
Oliviero and Irina Rouvigny (Luigi Pistilli, Scorpion's Tail; Anita Strindberg, Tropic of Cancer) make a fine couple. He holds decadent parties in their stately villa for hippies half his age, while mentally and physically abusing Irina to humiliation in front of his guests. Irina threatens to kill him, or at least his cat, but mostly just acts terrified.
Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key is a giallo (pulp Italian thriller) film, so of course people start dying: the Rouvignys' live-in maid, for starters, and Oliviero's mistress. Irina grows more and more convinced that Oliviero is going to kill her.
Enter Floriana (Edwige Fenech, Secrets of a Call Girl), Oliviero's nubile niece. She flaunts her body in front of Uncle Oliviero, who used to bed his own mother. She soothes Irina as only a woman can. And soon enough, more people will die.
Let's get this title nonsense over with for starters. Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key sounds cool, and is attention-grabbing, but it has virtually nothing to do with the movie. YVIaLRaOIHtK—wait, let's try Your Vice… instead—should really be named The Black Cat, because it is based on Edgar Allan Poe's "The Black Cat." But I wouldn't go see a film called The Black Cat, would you?
Poe may be the backbone, but Martino puts his own stamp on the material. Your Vice… is shocking in its cruelty. I flinched more than once, not from hidden murderers with meat hooks (which Your Vice… has aplenty, by the way) but from mere conversations between nasty people. Irina doesn't feel like drinking at one of the hippie orgies, so Oliviero collects everyone's wine into a bowl and force-feeds it to her like a dog—just before ripping her top off and ogling her breasts. The unfazed hippies look on in a stupor. That scene sets the tone for a film in which everyone is predominantly cruel to one another, everyone has sex with each other, and everyone offers moments of tenderness. It is a perfect embodiment of the competing drives of thanatos and pathos—if you're into 1970s psychology.
In my experience, psychological horror is hard to depict and often ineffective. It is too tough a balancing act, either too ponderous to be gripping or too pop to be taken seriously. When a film actually arouses disgust or pity, or depicts sexual depravity in a way that seems natural, it has achieved something rare. Your Vice… falters often, but it is able to achieve both disgust and sexual depravity without flinching.
Your Vice… is carefully crafted to achieve Martino's intended effect. Giancarlo Ferrando's budding cinematographic skill is part of the puzzle, with solid establishing shots and creative medium shots interspersed with the occasional art shot. Bruno Nicolai capably assists with a brooding score. But the success of Your Vice… is most notable in the direction. Martino clearly has a vibe of contrasting hate and remorse that he wants to sell, and he does what it takes to achieve it.
Take the acting, for example. Anita Strindberg overacts while Luigi Pistilli underacts. Every shocked stare and screwed eyeball by Strindberg is matched by a stone-faced, hair-tousled glance by Pistilli. Somehow, this combination works. If I were to critique either performance, the critique would be short and unflattering. Yet I hardly noticed the performances as the two went at each other like dogs. Martino's direction and Ernesto Gastaldi's dialogue sell the dynamic. Martino said it best himself in the special features: When comparing the adaptive "take it where you can get it" approach of Your Vice… to today's digital editing, he said it was like the difference between making your own pasta and buying it in a supermarket.
In contrast to Strindberg and Pistilli, Fenech is just right. She acts the hell out of this thing. Your Vice… was no slouch before she showed up, but it becomes electric from the moment she takes the screen to the moment she leaves it. Her eyes, her cruelly turned eyebrow, and her wantonly parted lips evoked a whole range of feelings I'm still trying to fathom. In the liner notes, Giona Nazzaro calls Fenech "one of the transcendent European genre icons who ever graced the silver screen," and I'm inclined to agree with him.
The DVD transfer is surprisingly nongrainy, and though a fleck or scratch shows up here and there, the print is in great condition. Detail is not sharp; in fact, the image looks soft and unfocused throughout. Like many films made in the seventies, Your Vice… has faded colors, but they are stable. The expected yellowish tinge doesn't show, which means the color balance has been artificially modified. The net effect is a stable, soft, fudged-with transfer that looks good enough to keep our attention on the film.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
So that's it, right? Your Vice… is a winner. Well, everything I said stands, but Martino's film has its share of problems.
Most notable among them is the identity-disordered plot. The psychological action comes to a screeching halt with interludes like the murder of a call girl, an excessively long motorcycle race that has nothing to do with the plot, and other red herrings. In fact, the central plot is so diluted by fluff that most viewers are confused even about its central tenets.
I've read a handful of postings and another review or two, and most everyone has a different take on the ending. Most agree that it is hokey, so we're good there. (If the word "ending" didn't tip you off, spoilers ahoy!) I think the ending reveals that Irina was never abused until she willed it so. In fact, Oliviero became the victim of her siege of emotional torture. She subtly provoked him, always reinforcing his worst fears about himself, driving him to ruin before she took everything. You know, the old "hell hath no fury" chestnut. The point is, people seem to be fuzzy on the plot—and that's bad.
Part of the issue was balancing how much of Poe's work to translate to the screen. They missed the mark, if you ask me. The worst side plot in the bunch is Irina and that damn cat, Satan. Really, what is the point of this cat? He wails a lot, and always seems to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. He's just like my cat, only I don't go poking out his eye with scissors.
The film runs 96 minutes 36 seconds, rather than the 92 minutes listed on the cover. No biggie, but I have to point these things out. The poster gallery is ho-hum too. At least the interviews are worth your time. Martino is quite open about his thoughts on the film; it is great to watch a lucid director think back over his own film past. The Edwige with the sporty hair bob and simmering eyes has been replaced by a luminous, laughing woman who recounts her discomfort at kissing Anita Strindberg.
What is with people's hair in this movie?
If I didn't properly frame Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key in the context of giallo history, I apologize: I just watch these DVDs as they roll in, and don't have much context to offer. The liner notes will cover you there. It is clear from what little giallo I've seen that Your Vice… attempts something different: actual psychological torture. The film misses the mark as often as it hits, but it hits, and that's what counts. Martino's brooding ruminations on death and loathing achieve a timeless resonance, which makes certain aspects of the film effective even now. Dropping a bombshell like Fenech into the mix favorably tips the scales.
Not guilty by reason of insanity.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: NoShame Films
• "Unveiling the Vice": Interviews with Director Sergio Martino, Actor Edwige Fenech, and Writer Ernesto Gastaldi
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