|The Plot: Oliviero Rouvigny (Luigi Pistilli), is a failed writer and husband, who lives with his wife Irina (Anita Strindberg) in a sprawling mansion far from any prying eyes. Luigi has all but dedicated his life to torturing his wife, who he holds an incredible amount of antagonism for despite her being sweet and loving to him. He beats, humiliates and tortures her on a daily basis. He keeps a cat that she hates, which is aptly named “Satan”, and throws wild parties with the young hippies who live nearby. When his mistress is killed, it leaves Oliviero as the prime suspect for the local police who question him theroughly on the issue. Oliviero pleads his innocence but it falls on deaf ears. Especially with his wife, who knows that the night the young woman was murdered – Oliviero was actually late making it in. Things start to look worse whenever the colored maid who lives with this married couple turns up murdered in the hallway. Irina is at first going to report it, but Oliviero stops her due to the fact that no matter what is said Oliviero is going to once again fall under suspicion. Now Irina, who has never had it easy with this man, begins to fear for her life. With their niece, Floriana (Edwige Finech), coming in by train – will the killings stop? Is Oliviero actually innocent? And what kind of devious games will Floriana, who is a proven nymph, bring to the table?|
The Giallo, for those who aren’t completely hip to the Eurocult culture just yet, is a genre within Italian cinema and is sometimes used interchangeably with the word ‘thriller’. At its heart, that’s really what all Giallo films truly are. However, there are these additions to the formula that separate it from your average run of the mill tension-wrought cat and mouse kind of Hollywood affair. The first that comes to mind is the killer: the killer, as the American slasher would later take to the next level, becomes a star in the movie whether his or her face is ever shown. The death sequences can be elaborate, violent, hokey or lame – but the killer is more often than not just as memorable as any character in the movie. The second: red herrings (clues to the mystery inherent within the plot) are thrown about with no remorse and more often than not; there’s no coherent way to really piece together who the killer might actually be. Sometimes the motive is based off of some strange bit of knowledge that we the audience are completely unaware of until roughly the final five minutes of the movie. Sometimes, and really it’s often more times than not, the motive is superfluous and ridiculous. My third and possibly most important feature for separating a Giallo from any other particular genre is: the style. Even if it is in small doses, the crafty Italian directors who made films within this genre may have based their characters off of archetypes or were stuck within the confines of a poor script – but most of them did their best to make their movies visually appealing. Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key is a film that certainly fits all of these descriptions – but while it plays the conventional game of what makes a Giallo, it is at the same time a derisive challenge to the genre and plays out like an attempt at destroying the walls that surround it.
At the time of making the film, Your Vice is… was already director Sergio Martino’s fourth entry into the genre and depending upon who you’re asking, it could be his best or it might be him at his most ordinary. Although I am no personal expert on the man’s filmography, I know enough about both he and the genre to realize something brilliant from him. Slightly forgotten in his own native country, due to it playing poorly with contemporary Italian audiences, the film was thought to have a fairly short lifespan but with Eurocult film fans the world over going over the books and wanting to inspect every film made within the confines of the Giallo formula – it was found and it will never be forgotten. It’s a film that is not easily forgotten and is made so because of both it’s taboo-breaking nature as well as the distinctly iconoclastic breaking of conventions throughout. The latter being one of the first material things I could grasp and take note of with the film. Generally, from the very start Martino throws you into an odd world that at first doesn’t make much sense. Part of this comes from the fact that it so utterly denies convention, but also from the surrealist nature of the opening minutes. The film begins at a party being thrown by Luigi Pistilli’s character (that character being Oliviero Rouvigny) inside of a bizarre bourgeoisie environment, with a gathering of youthful hippies who dance and cavort around him as if he’s some kind of king – but the scene goes sour as he proceed to humiliate his wife by having all of the party goers empty out their wine into a bowl that he tries to pour down his wife’s throat. Your first instinct when watching, in those opening moments, is to think that Pistilli is going to be our leading man. When he spoils the moment and shows his truly violent temperament, we of course know that he isn’t our dashing leading man. He’s no struggling artist who is going to be witness to a crime. This character isn’t going to sleuth around for anyone! That’s one of the things I like so much about it though, because from here on out in the movie – you don’t know where the story is going to take you because no one really steps up into that conventional role of being what we see as the protagonist.
The characters are all so very complex in Martino’s film world. They continually change up genre conventions so your anticipated feelings are swept to the side and only this film and this world matters. The character of Oliviero is placed in what would absolutely be a staple of Alfred Hitchcock’s famous “man framed for a crime he did not commit” archetype, however unlike in any film of Hitch’s we do not so much as like this character! In fact, we hate him and we know that his wife would be better off with him serving a prison sentence. However the film switches its gears up once more when he is genuinely found innocent, due to the actual culprit being arrested! This constant bait and switch that the film plays upon its audience is what I feel makes it so effective when it comes time to eventually reveal an actual mystery! This reveal comes about in only the last quarter of the film and is so effective because the rest of what you have watched has been a constant game. The film toys with its audience on a subconscious level but while its doing that, it is engaging you. It wraps you up in this story until you’re helplessly enthralled in this situation. Despite it being a film with a tremendous amount of taboo shattering sexuality, I think it’s power comes mostly from the storytelling. That taboo sexuality of course comes from the Edwige Fenech character Floriana who during the course of the movie has sexual relations with family members, random gentlemen she has just met and ultimately creates an atmosphere of sexual deviency and power. Her character in the movie knows what she can get away with and how to use her sexual prowess to fool others, and even though Oliviero is a mentally abusive pig, ultimately Floriana isn’t much better.
The incestuous relationships aren’t exclusive to Floriana, as Oliviero himself has a strange sexual attraction to his own mother as we see in each of his scenes of sexual intercourse – all of which feature females wearing his mother’s favorite dress. Without the dress, he is as impotent as a lover as he is a writer. This obsession with his mother is another reflection of his failure as a man, while Floriana’s resort to sexuality as a means of power is a reflection of her own weakness as an individual. Irina, the battered wife (played by Anita Strindberg), her weakness isn’t even necessary to go into since it’s the entire reason she is in her situation in the first place. However, there are some excellent twists and turns in the latter half that reveal her personality as being even more complex than at first thought. However, almost everything about Your Vice is a Locked Room… turns out a surprisingly complex affair. There’s a really great script at work in this film and some excellent direction from Martino, who delivers a solid story with all of the splashes of cinematic adventurism you would expect from a Giallo. There’s also some interesting symbolism at work in this slight retelling of Edgar Allen Poe’s The Black Cat, as the cat itself takes on the name ‘Satan’ and destroys Irina’s white birds, which are ultimately her only reflection of peace and freedom in this captive world of violence and chaos. Yet the cat doesn’t go away and in the end reaps utter chaos on those who have sewn it. Did I mention that this flick is pretty deep? That is if you want to look at it in such a way.
I’ve went through a lot of pontificating on the deeper moments of the film and I’ve talked about the character delivery throughout the story – but I do want people to know that on its base level this is a movie that can be enjoyed simply in a visceral experience. There’s a slight bit of violence (though nothing too gory or violent) and the plot is really excellent in its delivery. However, it isn’t perfect and I won’t try to fool anyone into thinking it is. The final twists, as much as I love them for being so unconventional, are not set-up particularly well throughout the majority of the movie. Had the film dropped some red herrings throughout that we as an audience could have went back upon rewatch and picked up on – it would have made the film so much more rewarding. As it is, it can be slightly jarring how soon it all comes about. However, don’t let that dissuade you, this is a solid four out of five star Giallo classic and should be seen by all fans of genre film!