Your Vice Is A Locked Room And Only I Have The Key


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Your Vice Is A Locked Room And Only I Have The Key
"Undulating bodies and splattering blood stand in for more explicit imagery and give the impression of spectacular excess."

One of those films that's guaranteed to get attention if only because of its title, Your Vice Is A Locked Room And Only I Have The Key is an early giallo by Sergio Martino that sees him start out as he means to go on, with vivid characters and totally OTT plots. Whilst it draws heavily on Edgar Allan Poe's short story the Black Cat, it also owes something to the work of the Marquis de Sade in its depiction of an aristocratic libertine abusing eveyone around him as he tests the limits of his power and searches for something that can still satisfy his jaded appetites.

That libertine is Oliviero (Luigi Pistilli). Once a successful writer, he has lost his ability to create since the death of the mother he adored (and with whom, it is implied, he might have had a more intimate relationship than is usual). He takes out his frustration on wife Irina (Anita Strindberg), who gives the impression that she was once excited by his domination and humiliation of her but that it has long since descended into abuse as he no longer has any interest in her feelings. Maid Brenda (Angela La Vorgna) is also abused, publicly, as he makes racist jokes about her to his friends; unusually for the period, we get to see how this makes her feel, and La Vorgna is a standout in her small role, undercutting the melodramatics we see elsewhere.

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Life in Oliviero's stately home changes pace as a result of two events. Firstly, his niece Floriana (genre stalwart Edwige Fenech) comes to visit, seducing him and Irina in turn but clearly possessed of an agenda of her own. Secondly, somebody starts murdering young women in the area, starting with his mistress Fausta (Daniela Giordano) - and, naturally, he becomes the prime suspect.

Pistilli manages to bring a reasonable degree of depth to a character whose emotional arc is very limited, but it's Irina who moves to the centre of the film as it progresses, growing increasingly dissatisfied with her lot and coming to suspect that her life may be in danger. Her feeling of vulnerability is enhanced by the presence of Satan, a one-eyed black cat who was once the bosom companion of Oliviero's mother, and whom she therefore suspects of being her enemy. The deceased mother watches from the wall Gene Tierney-style. Spare but well considered set design creates a space that really feels like it's been lived in for a long time, leaving the shallow Oliviero struggling to make his mark on a world in which he is far from the only monster.

The film manages to suggest a lot of sex whilst showing very little directly, and it also gives the impression of being a lot more violent than it really is. Undulating bodies and splattering blood stand in for more explicit imagery and give the impression of spectacular excess, helped of course by the gorgeous location and some great costumes. Although the dialogue is often clumsy and the story quite silly in places, this is a film that will delight genre fans.

Reviewed on: 18 Nov 2017
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The mistress of a burnt-out novelist is brutally murdered - and she's only the first.

Director: Sergio Martino

Writer: Luciano Martino, Sauro Scavolini, Ernesto Gastaldi, Adriano Bolzoni, based on a story Edgar Allan Poe

Starring: Edwige Fenech, Anita Strindberg, Luigi Pistilli, Ivan Rassimov, Daniela Giordano

Year: 1972

Runtime: 92 minutes

Country: Italy

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