AKA IL TUO VIZIO E UNA STANZA CHIUSA E SOLOL IO NE HO LA CHIAVELI, EYE OF THE BLACK CAT, EXCITE ME!, GENTLY BEFORE SHE DIES
ON BLU-RAY: NOW, from ARROW VIDEO in the EDGAR ALLAN POE’S BLACK CATS: TWO ADAPTATIONS BY SERGIO MARTINO AND LUCIO FULCI boxset
RUNNING TIME: 96 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Oliviero Rouvigny is a failed writer and an alcoholic. He lives in a crumbling mansion with his wife Irina, who is scared of Oliviero’s cat, Satan, that used to belong to his late mother. To fight boredom, Oliviero sleeps around, organises decadent parties for local hippies, and humiliates and abuses Irina in front of the guests. When people connected with Oliviero start to wind up dead, he becomes the prime suspect, while at the same time his paranoia builds and leads to more abuse of Irina, Then his long lost niece Floriana shows up out of the blue, and who’s the grey haired man lurking around….
Edgar Allan Poe’s brilliant short story of madness and guilt has understandably fascinated many horror filmmakers, though screen adaptations tend to either expand on it and incorporate other elements [sometimes from other Poe tales] or just use the title and a few ingredients – usually the presence of a black cat – and then concoct a new story. Lucio Fulci and Dario Argento both made versions of it [and if only Mario Bava had tried his hand at one, though the story’s basic themes do show up in some of his films], and Luigi Cozzi also turned in a picture entitled The Black Cat, though that wasn’t the original title and said film has nothing whatsoever to do with it! Arrow Video offer two Italian adaptations [or rather semi-adaptations] of the story, and a fascinating contrast they make. Sergio Martino’s Your Vice Is A Locked Room And Only I Have The Key is a picture I’d been interested in seeing for some time now, largely due to its crazy title [in a genre full of crazy titles], and it didn’t disappoint, though structurally it’s an odd film really, an especially sleazy giallo for the first half of its running time, then a rather clever variant on Poe’s tale, with the rarely used detail of the cat losing its eye, topped up with some Les Diabolique-style twisting and turning. Some modern viewers who are PC-inclined may find it, as is often the case with this type of movie, a little sexist, but generally it’s a lot of [slightly disreputable] fun and the way its story unfolded certainly surprised me.
Your Vice Is A Locked Room And Only I Have The Key was Martino’s fifth giallo and its title actually comes from his fourth one, The Strange Vice Of Mrs. Wardh, when Fenech’s character receives a cryptic letter from the killer with those very words. By now there was a virtual stock company of technicians and even actors for Martino’s giallos, though the script, mainly by Ernesto Gastaldi but also with contributions from Adriano Bolzoi, Luciano Martino and Sauro Scavolini, had to be slightly rewritten to accommodate Fenech who was considerably older than the part had originally been written as. Gastaldi was actually inspired by a well known murder case called the Fenaroli Crime in the late 50’s where one spouse set up an elaborate plan to murder the other while being in another city. The film was shot in and around a villa next to a tiny village near Padua. To make the cat’s fur bristle, they had to get a different dog every day to antagonise it, otherwise the cat would get too used to the canine and not provide the desired response. Your Vice Is A Locked Room And Only I Have The Key was something of a box office disappointment after Martino’s previous giallos had done really well, and wasn’t widely seen overseas either, though its reputation has improved. In the special features for Arrow’s Blu-ray, Martino says that he thinks that his films were better than what critics thought at the time, but not as good as people often say they are today.
After the opening credits show blurry images of two people having sex [letting you know that there’s going to be a hell of a lot of sex in this picture, though relatively unexplicit], we’re introduced to our chief male protagonist Oliviero Rouvigny holding one of his parties, and he’s a truly unpleasant piece of work who is first shown pouring wine into a fruit bowl, then forcing it down his wife Irina’s throat in front of everyone, before groping a maid and uttering some comments that PC types would no doubt be up in arms about today. In fact this maid character basically exists so that other characters can make racist comments about her [though this is more pronounced in the English dub than in the Italian], but I can’t imagine many folk watching this particular film are of the ‘easily offended’ variety so let’s move on! Now this Oliviero guy, as well as being an abusive husband, a letch, a cheat and a drunk, also has a strange fetish about, of all people, Mary Queen Of Scots, and not only has a dress which replicates one that she wore but has a picture of his mother wearing the dress up on the wall. “Is it true you slept with your mother in her bed? I mean, when you’d grown up?” asks one character of him, though this particularly thread isn’t really developed further aside from most of the female characters happening to find the dress and putting it on, one of whom, for no apparent reason, pleasures herself once she’s wearing it [see, I told you this film was sleazy].
Of course this is a giallo, so we soon get a murder set piece where a student who Olivier has been sleeping with waits for him behind a building and we get some good suspenseful build-up, followed by a brief chase, some subjective camera and some throat slitting. The murders in this film do show bloody detail [and that 70’s blood really does look fake at times here, though I’ll take it anytime over the painfully obvious CG blood we tend to get today] but are relatively quick. This stuff though is almost forgotten –well, if you’re a straight male – when the stunning Edwige Fenech shows up. For a while, her character Floriana just seems to exist to seduce everyone is sight, including Irina [quite erotic but very tastefully handled scene this]. Of course the Rouvigny black cat is constantly lurking around, though truth be told he’s quite a cute looking moggie and hardly sinister even when he has an eye gouged out. Eventually the killer is killed, or is he? The script really does play some clever tricks on the viewer from now on and, while certain details may not hold up to close scrutiny, really reminds us how well written and even, dare I say it, smart some of these giallos were with regard to their screenplays while still sometimes pandering to the [principally male] viewer’s basest instincts, something which has probably prevented the giallo from getting the respect and serious study, outside of ‘cult’ circles, this fascinating genre deserves. The writers of this one, the most notable one being the underrated Ernesto Gastaldi who was a master at this kind of thing, created a devious, surprising storyline which eventually evolves into a neat version of some of the Poe story with one notable twist, though the director also gives us some seriously dodgy dialogue and ensured that Fenech [along with some of the other female characters] take her clothes off every now and again. Not that I’m complaining about the latter.
Actually, everyone seems to be ‘at it’ in this movie, and tension does take a back seat at times. Floriana’s fling with a motorbike racer is an excuse to pad things out and for the filmmakers to show us a bike race, with some shaky camerawork that may have been shot from an actual bike. Sergio Martino isn’t generally overly showy in his filmmaking style, but does have a knack for strong use of editing, most notably a scene where Irina is advancing towards her husband with a knife, and shots of different colours reflected in the knife are intercut with flashbacks of Oliviero’s abuse to her. The crumbling mansion where three quarters of the action takes place is a memorably gloomy location and Giancarlo Ferrando shoots it with maximum use of darkness and shadows – in fact, he does good stuff with darkness and shadow throughout in a film which is happy playing with old Gothic tropes [lots of thunder and lightning too] – though there are some enjoyably quirky little things in the film throughout to lighten the mood, like a funny old lady whose job seems to be to get rid of the Rouvignys’s rubbish, pushing it around in a little bike, and who says of the cat: “He’s the only intelligent critter around here”.
The cast mostly come up trumps, but it’s Anita Strindberg who gives the standout performance as the terrorised Irina who may be a little mad herself. Bruno Nicolai’s score isn’t as good as what, say, Ennio Morricone would have probably come up with, but provides a lovely main theme with sinister undercurrents, some Morricone-esque suspense passages and nice use of a mandolin. Your Vice Is A Locked Room And Only I Have The Key may have its shaky aspects which are almost part and parcel of the giallo, but overall it’s a strong example of the genre, a quite enticing melange of sex, violence, paranoia, madness and mystery which is often very well crafted. I’m happy to admit that this was the first time I’d seen anything of Martino’s, and I really enjoyed this particular example. He sure knows how to make this sort of thing work. I’ve had a DVD of his Torso [his own favourite of his giallos] sitting around for ages but just not had the time to watch it. I really now need to get my act in gear and watch the thing. And finally I should add that the obligatory bottle of J & B whisky is shown five times [plus one shot of a box of it] in this one, most amusingly during a scene where Oliviero is sitting at a table.The scene is filmed from two opposite angles, yet the label of the bottle he’s drinking from faces the camera in both shots!
Arrow’s Blu-ray of Your Vice Is A Locked Room And Only I Have The Key is an excellent presentation, especially strong on the numerous scenes dominated by black while looking nice and colourful elsewhere. I had the Italian language track on when I watched the film but occasionally switched over to the English language track to compare. Despite most of the cast looking like they are speaking English, the Italian track seems more authentic and flows better, while also having the score recorded a bit louder. The English track is still quite good as these things go and Arrow seem to have done some magic with it as it sounds surprisingly well recorded and natural. Arrow have ported over a featurette from the NoShame DVD and added some good stuff of their own, though the first two featurettes repeat stuff a bit. And, while I don’t think he’s that good a filmmaker himself, it’s always a joy to hear Eli Roth talk about movies and filmmakers he admires and likes.
BOXSET SPECIAL FEATURES:
*Limited Edition boxed-set (3000 copies) containing Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key and The Black Cat
*Brand new 2K restorations of the films from the original camera negatives
*High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations
*Original Italian and English soundtracks in mono audio (uncompressed PCM on the Blu-rays)
*Newly translated English subtitles for the Italian soundtracks
*Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing for the English soundtracks
*Limited Edition 80-page booklet containing new articles on the films, Lucio Fulci’s last ever interview and a reprint of Poe’s original story
YOUR VICE IS A LOCKED ROOM AND ONLY I HAVE THE KEY:
*Through the Keyhole – a brand new interview with director Sergio Martino
*Unveiling the Vice – making-of retrospective featuring interviews with Martino, star Edwige Fenech and screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi
*Dolls of Flesh and Blood: The Gialli of Sergio Martino – a visual essay by Michael Mackenzie exploring the director’s unique contributions to the giallo genre
*The Strange Vices of Ms. Fenech – film historian Justin Harries on the Your Vice actress’ prolific career
* Eli Roth on Your Vice and the genius of Martino
*Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Matthew Griffin
THE BLACK CAT:
*Brand new audio commentary by filmmaker and Fangoria editor Chris Alexander
*Poe into Fulci: The Spirit of Perverseness – film historian Stephen Thrower on Fulci’s Poe-tinged classic
*In the Paw-Prints of the Black Cat – a look at the original Black Cat locations
*Frightened Dagmar – a brand new career interview with actress Dagmar Lassander
*At Home with David Warbeck – an archive interview with The Black Cat star
*Original Theatrical Trailer
*Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Matthew Griffin