No classic era giallo with so much going for it could be a complete waste of time – and this certainly isn’t a complete waste of time – but Sergio Martino’s fourth foray into the subgenre has the distinct whiff of autopilot about it, despite trying to inject some Poe into the standard black gloved proceedings.
Irina Rouvigny (Anita Strinberg) is seemingly trapped in a loveless, sadomasochistic marriage. Her rich husband, Oliviero (Luigi Pistilli), an alcoholic scribe with a serious writer’s block, serially abuses and ridicules her: including a typically delirious early 70’s scene where, at a raucous dinner party held for the hippie kids from the local camping site (!), he gathers everyone’s drinks and tries to force Irina to down them all in one, spitting at her: “You’d much rather be drinking from my skull!”. Naturally, it all ends in tears, with a blonde nymph bumping her head on the chandelier as she does a naked table top dance amongst the crockery, and some big-haired chanteuse singing a rousing slave song (I certainly don’t remember my parents’ fondue evenings being like this!).
Irina also has to vie for the amorous attentions of her husband: he’s obsessed with Mary Queen of Scots (“A murderess and a martyr!”); he keeps a portrait of her on the wall and a full-length recreation of the gown she’s wearing in the painting in the closet (as you do). He also has wandering eyes (and hands) for their black maid, Brenda – who seems to be the only sane one in the house (well, until she gets all onanistic in Queenie’s gown). Then there’s Satan the black cat, who adores Oliviro but hates Irina with a passion and hisses at her, arching his back at her at any given opportunity. Finally, there’s the comely wench at the book store where Oliverio buys his books, who it turns out used to be an old student of his and who he is currently having an affair with. Things get even more complicated when she is gorily slashed to death by an unseen assailant, in classic giallo garb and armed with a sickle, when she arrives to meet Oliverio at an illicit meeting in an abandoned mine.
The police are quick to question Oliverio, and reveal to his wife his adulterous ways. However, Irina gives him an alibi despite having her doubts, leading him to spit, “It will spoil your image of me running around carving up pretty women’s throats.”
Next to turn up dead one dark and stormy night is Brenda the maid, slashed to death as she fondled herself whilst wearing the Mary Queen of Scots costume. Even though Irina and Oliverio find her bloody body at the top of their mansion’s staircase they rather hilariously don’t question who killed her (avoiding the question that if it wasn’t them then shouldn’t they be at least a tad concerned that a homicidal maniac may be lurking behind a plant pot?). However, coming to the rather more logical conclusion that one slaughtered nymphet in the local vicinity might look suspicious, two is downright incriminating. They decide to brick up poor Brenda behind the wall in the wine cellar, under the watchful eyes of Satan the cat (see where this one is going Poe fans?).
Irina and Oliverio try and keep an air of normality, and pretend that they had to let Brenda go. Aiding this sense of everything-as-normal they get a wire from Oliverio’s niece who has invited herself to come and stay at the chateau. Last time he saw Floriana she was a goofy little girl, so imagine the couple’s surprise when Edwidge Fenech slinks onto the screen in a fury of crimpolene and polyester, complicating things even further. And if that wasn’t enough, how about Ivan Rassimov trampling the rhododendrons and casting his silent, beady eyes on the unfurling and increasingly gothic proceedings …
Seen in isolation, YOUR VICE would probably come across a lot better, however, having recently seen Martino’s wonderful NEXT! (1971) and THE TALE OF THE SCORPION’S TALE (1972) it’s difficult to shake the feeling that he’s treading water somewhat here. The director recycles many of the plot devices that made NEXT! such a joy; especially shameless is the revelation half way through of who has been carving up the local beauties (an assured bit of misdirection in NEXT! but here is just comes across as a little lazy). And, if you were under any illusion to its magpie tendencies, Martino’s film even takes its name from an enigmatic note Fenech received in the earlier giallo. Also, the script is a lot weaker than his earlier films and there’s some plot holes big enough to drive a Ferrari through (although, it’s fair to say we wouldn’t be watching this kind of film if those kind of things bothered us too much!). It also doesn’t help that the film stops dead for what seems like an eternity just so Floriana can watch the local hunky delivery boy take part in a motor-cross rally (a shameless bit of padding if ever I saw one).
All of Martino’s gialli have an a fair amount of naked flesh on display, but YOUR VICE diverts the most from the staple thriller conventions and into erotica territory – which may be good news to you, depending on what you like to get out of these films, but here it only helps to increasingly dissipate any thrills Martino manages to create. This may also go to explain how the film was sold mostly on its sauce angle, as EXCITE ME!, in the UK when it had a brief theatrical run in the early 70s. The film’s casual racism also rather dates it, no more so in a jaw-dropping scene where the killer seethes through gritted teeth, “It was I who had your darkie killed!”.
On the plus side, Martino teases out some magnificent performances from his staple gang. Anita Strinberg gives one of her best performances as the harassed Irina, and manages to remain convincing throughout without too much scenery chewing. Of special interest is Edwige Fenech’s turn as the foxy Floriana, who, for once, plays a character with a dark side (she usually played the sexy innocent caught up in a deadly game), who connives and plays each of the main characters off each other. Of course, this diversion doesn’t mean her clothes don’t fall off at any given opportunity. Fenech admirers will be happy to know that she merrily bonks her way through the cast (well, with the exception of Satan the cat!).
Martino scored big with NEXT!, subverting the conventions of the giallo, but here he proves true that old adage that lightening rarely strike twice. While, admittedly, there’s much to enjoy here (the film is chock full of those delirious absurdities that only Italian thrillers of this period can get away with straight faces), and the plot twists certainly do entertain and surprise just as they should, I guess it just suffers in comparison with his earlier films. Luckily, Martino seemed to get a second wind with his last 70s giallo, TORSO (1973), before he abandoned the subgenre for good.
female:4 / male:4
1) Female has throat slit
2) Female slashed with sickle
3) Female slashed with sickle
4) Male has throat slashed
5) Male stabbed to death with scissors
6) Male killed in motorcycle crash
7) Female killed in motorcycle crash
8) Male pushed off a cliff