“Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key”: Italian giallo psycho-sexual thrills from ’72

By on May 11, 2017

The wonderfully-titled Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key (Il tuo vizio è una stanza chiusa e solo io ne ho la chiave) — now streaming in our selection of Arrow Video titles over on Night Flight Plus — is a very loose adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s suspense-filled gothic short story “The Black Cat,” set in a crumbling villa in rural Italy.

This sleazed-out Italian giallo psycho-sexual thriller from 1972 really has a lot of thrills to offer, including bisexual decadence and debauchery, drugged-out orgies, hints of incest, prostitution, hippie exploitation, a knife-wielding killer on the loose, lots of bloody gore, any number of red herrings, and a mysterioso black cat named Satan.

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Your Vice — which has been released under several alternate titles, including Gently Before She Dies, Eye of the Black Cat and Excite Me! — is also memorable for screen starlet Edwige Fenech’s several sexy NSFW nude scenes.

The Algerian-born Fenech — in her first bad girl role as “Floriana,” the niece of “Oliviero Rouvigny” (Luigi Pistilli), a failed writer and alcoholic — gets top billing in the film, but she doesn’t appear until a half-hour into the story.

After comes to pay a visit to her aunt and uncle’s dilapidated mansion estate near Venice, she learns there a wave of murders, including a girl who gets brutally butchered, has already begun to sweep through the small rural Italian town.

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Floriana soon learns that her uncle Oliviero feels trapped in his loveless marriage and he’s also stuck writing the same sentence over and over, much like the amateur author Joseph Grand in Albert Camus’s The Plague, who obsesses over the opening sentence of a novel he’s been trying to write (he keeps writing the same sentence “again and again with small variants” Camus tells us).

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Oliviero is an abrasive, abusive drunk asshole who amuses himself by holding drunken orgies, much to the displeasure of his long-suffering frazzled wife “Irina” (Anita Strindberg, in her best work to date as the cheated wife who goes over the edge).

He even goes so far as to publicly humiliate in front of his eccentric friends at some of these orgies and parties, inviting the local hippie youth who are camping nearby.

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The film’s memorable opening sequence, in fact, features an uninhibited, breast-baring girl dancing while surrounded by a bunch of dope-smoking bikers and college students.

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Irina, it turns out, is also afraid of Oliviero’s cat, Satan, which used to belong to her husband’s late mother, who continues to haunt his vivid imagination (he was kind of a mama’s boy, apparently).

The Portuguese title of the film when it was released in Brazil, by the way, was No Quarto Escuro de Satã, which translates roughly to In Satan’s Dark Room.

When the lovely Floriana appears on the scene, it’s no surprise that Irina finds comfort in her arms … and in her bed.

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Then, Oliviero’s mistress, a young student, is found murdered, and the drunk writer becomes the primary suspect.

When their maid Brenda (Angela La Vorgna) is found stabbed to death soon thereafter, Oliviero ends up trying to figure out just what the hell is going on in his villa.

Meanwhile, he hides her body behind the wall in his wine cellar to avoid more suspicion from the police inspector, who is beginning to stop by on a regular basis.

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The cast includes the always-sinister Ivan Rassimov in a supporting role, but it’s really Fenech’s Floriana — who ends up pitting Oliviero against his wife Irina in order for her to get what she came for — who steals the film away, just as she did in some other fine Italian giallos, including Mario Bava’s Five Dolls for an August Moon, and Andrea Bianchi’s Strip Nude for your Killer, to name just a few.

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Your Vice is a delight to watch, with wild camera angles (courtesy of the great cinematographer, Giancarlo Ferrando), and clever editing (especially repeated quick cuts to Satan’s peering cat eyes).

Bruno Nicolai’s mesmerizing score is also quite excellent, too, but it’s the film’s decidedly non-politically correct themes and topics — including touches of racism, misogynism, sadomasochism, voyeurism and more than a bit of the ol’ Oedipus complex — which may turn the most viewer’s heads today.

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Martino — who, like many Italian directors, also used a number of American-sounding aliases for some of his film work, including Julian Barry, Martin Dolman, Serge Martin, Christian Plummer and George Raminto — often worked with Fenech, who in the 1970s was also married to his brother and frequent collaborator, producer Luciano Martino.

Martino also worked with a lot of genre actors, such as George Hilton, who was married to his cousin, Ivan Rassimov and Claudio Cassinelli, as well as famed Italian screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi.

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The title of this film actually comes from a scene in a previous giallo thriller of director Sergio Martino’s, 1970’s The Strange Vice of Mrs. Ward (Strano Vizio della Signora Wardh, Lo, later released as Blade of the Ripper).

In that film, a mysterious note, apparently sent by a killer, reads “Il tuo vizio e una stanza chiusa e solo io ne ho la chiave” (“Your vice is a locked room and only I have the key”). Martino liked that particular phrase so much that he used it for this film’s title.

“The Black Cat” has been adapted quite a few times, including Edgar Ulmer’s 1935 version, Lucio Fulci’s 1981 adaptation, and the Dario Argento version which takes up one half of the odd Two Evil Eyes film, released in 1990.

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In addition to the brevity of Poe’s original short story — it is less than ten pages in length — writers who have adapted it usually embellish their work with additional material, which is what happened with Your Vice.

The screenplay — credited to Adriano Bolzoni, Ernesto Gastaldi and Sauro Scavolini — also makes references Poe’s masterful stories “Cask of Amontillado” and “Tell-Tale Heart.”

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Sergio Martino

Prior to directing Your Vice, Martino (born in Rome in 1938) had directed quite a few films in differing genres, including a Mondo Cane-style documentary in 1969 called Mondo Sex (Italian: Mille peccati… nessuna virtu and later released as Wages of Sin), which like its predecessor mixed up potent grisly film footage with reconstructions of the same.

He also wrote and directed 1970’s Naked and Violent, also known as America cosi nuda, cosi violenta.

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Martino then directed a spaghetti western (Arizona Colt Returns, 1970) and wrote and directed a few ribald soft-core sex comedies (Cugini carnali was released as High School Girl in 1974).

Your Vice was Martino’s fourth giallo film, actually, following 1970s’s aforementioned The Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh (Lo strano vizio della signora Wardh,), 1971’s The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail (La coda dello scorpione,), and 1972’s All the Colors of the Dark.

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Torso (1973)

He would continue to have success in the giallo genre, and would continue to do so over his long career.

Martino seemed to have the particular skillset for those colorful films, and is likely remembered mostly for a couple of those that followed, including Torso (1973’s I Corpi Presentano Tracce di Violenza Carnale, starring Suzy Kendall), and 1975’s Too Young to Die, starring Claudio Cassinelli, Mel Ferrer and Lia Tanzi, and the psychedelic They’re Coming to Get You ( Tutti i Colori del Buio, aka Day of the Maniac).

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After directing Your Vice, Martino continued to expand his cinematic horizons, working on exploitation fare, sci-fi movies  — like 1978’s The Mountain of the Cannibal God, aka Slave of the Cannibal God, aka Primitive Desires, (with Ursula Andress and Stacy Keach) — and  tough crime dramas, including 1973’s The Violent Professionals, and 1975’s Chopper Squad aka Silent Action, and Gambling City, aka The Cheaters.

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Your Vice is one of the best 70s exploitation thrillers we’ve seen, and one of the best films we’re offering on Night Flight Plus.

Although the narrative sometimes moves at a slow, deliberate pace, there are lots of unpredictable plot twists and turns before the film climaxes in a satisfying end.

Horror fans, in particular, may even recognize similarities to Bob Clark’s great Black Christmas, as this giallo and that dark 1974 early slasher scare-fest share a lot of visual similarities, particularly during their respective climactic finales.

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Read more about giallo films here, and be sure to check out our entire selection of Arrow Video titles, which we’ve got streaming for you over on our Night Flight Plus channel!

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, assistant editor for the When You Awake blog, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.