Your Vice is a Locked Room and only I Have the Key
DIr: SERGIO MARTINO
GEn: ITALIAN GIALLO
An offshoot from the purist Giallo that would be delivered by Dario Argento and Mario Bava, Sergio Martino’s Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key is a slice of Gothic horror under the guise of f. gialli that’s simultaneously shocking and triumphant. A revisionist update of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Black Cat, Your Vice... takes a familiar story of revenge and guilt and updates it for the lurid nature of 1970s Giallo cinema. Delivering strongly on exploitative content, a running disgust at counterculture, and visual flair that would rope together the varied nature of Gialli.
However, what sets Your Vice apart from other Giallo is a phrase that appears in nearly every article about it: psychosexual. Attitudes toward sex is a running theme throughout the film, with the antagonist Olivero (Luigi Pistilli), a washed up debaucherous writer, using it as a weapon against his wife Irene (Anita Strindberg) and maid alike. Olivero is a brutal figure, leading a lifestyle of constant alcohol and drug consumption in the decadent parties that have made his mansion notorious in the local town, while emotionally manipulating those closest to him. Not long into the film one of his lovers is murdered by a cloaked figure and Olivero is named the primary suspect by the police. With Freudian ideology running deep, Pistilli’s performance explores the relationship between sexuality and personality. An exchange between Olivero and his niece Floriana (Edwige Fenech) even hints towards an Oedipal complex.
Fenech had already appeared in Sergio Martino’s 1972 supernatural tinged Giallo All the Colours of the Dark and his 1971 classic The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh (where the name 'Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key' is directly lifted from one of the sinister notes that the film’s killer sends to a future victim). In both of these roles she plays a protagonist hunted by a Satanic cult and a mysterious assailant; an early example of the horror “final girl” (a woman protagonist who is tormented by an assailant until overcoming them in the film’s climax). It wasn’t until Your Vice, her third picture with Martino, that she would be able to take on a more morally dubious role and challenge stereotypes surrounding the genre, according to Giallo expert Troy Howarth.
Here, Fenech and Martino explore two themes that would recur throughout the Giallo genre: fear of the counterculture and empowerment of women. The counterculture was seen as the enemy throughout Giallo, which usually took place in capital cities following prestigious members of the community, models, actors, police, and so on. Your Vice was made swiftly after the end of the hippy movement, presenting those clinging to the ideologies of free love and lives of excess as being morally reprehensible in levels equatable to Olivero. Attending his parties, they indulge themselves, and say nothing regarding Olivero’s predatory behaviour, or blatant racism. It would be easy to write this off as a plot device to explain how Olivero’s alcoholism could lead to blackouts that spur his paranoia about the murders, but this is a trait repeatedly showing in the Giallo genre making it more likely to be a statement about the 70s mindset, as social and political change happened across Italy.
This reactionary social change leads into the theme of empowerment within the film. Russ Fischer would describe Gialli as “films about obsessions and sublimated desires, fetishistically detailed with black gloves, lacquered nails, shining knives, and opulent interiors... Imagine Playboy magazines from the ’70s come to jerky life, animated by madmen”. On the surface: yes. It is easy to see how these films could be construed as mere titillation with a mild misogynistic edge, given the sadistic way in which they show objectively attractive women being attacked and/or killed. But Emily Gosling argues that the roles offered to women in Giallo were equally as often the murderer as their male counterparts and many pictures ridicule the idea of hypermasculinity with a strong woman in the leading role. Your Vice takes this formula to extremes through the punishment Irene suffers at the hands of Olivero, but Martino cleverly avoids the violent voyeurism through the film’s twist laden final third, and makes the film a dissection of hypermasculinity and a study on resilience. It’s far from perfect representation, playing into Gialli’s exploitative edge when the opportunity arises, but once the story moves into a revenge narrative and draws elements from Edgar Alan Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart as well as The Black Cat, it plays the viewer’s disgust as justification.
Your Vice is a strange footnote in Giallo’s history. It’s a perfect encapsulation of themes that would recur over the genre’s short lifespan and contains one of the most iconic femme fatales in Fenech’s performance. A paranoid Giallo which updates a beloved gothic horror short for a modern audience. Despite the tongue twister of a title and some of the more explicit scenes, this is the most accessible film in this series.
The full version of Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key is available in full for free on YouTube in 720p HD.
So Deadly, So Perverse by Troy Howarth
Black Gloves and Knives: 12 Essential Giallo Films by Russ Fischer, featured in Indiewire
The original scream queens who gave giallo cinema its feminist edge by Emily Gosling, featured in Little White Lies
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Patrick is a freelance journalist working in Edinburgh, currently writing for ShortCom. He has always been interested in cinema, but developed particular obsessions for horror and Studio Ghibli. He post written reviews on his social media platforms and will soon be starting a podcast.
ABOUT NEON EYE
Neon Eye is a film production company based in Edinburgh. As well as offering a platform for these curations and an accompanying video podcast, the company also creates and produces creative films of varying forms, from documentary to drama, and commercial videos for other companies, individuals, and enterprises.