[This October is "Gialloween" on Daily Dead, as we celebrate the Halloween season by diving into the macabre mysteries, creepy kills, and eccentric characters found in some of our favorite giallo films! Keep checking back on Daily Dead this month for more retrospectives on classic, cult, and altogether unforgettable gialli, and visit our online hub to catch up on all of our Gialloween special features!]
Happy Gialloween! The timing on this year’s theme is actually pretty perfect, because I have slowly begun dipping my toes into the giallo waters over the past few months. Once upon a time, giallo and Italian horror in general was a big “no” for me. It all seemed too weird and too unfocused. I just didn’t connect with Italian storytelling and would always wind up frustrated and bored.
But over time, I have come to warm to more loose, more abstract styles of storytelling, and decided to give it another go. And I really have been enjoying what I have been seeing. Sometimes age, life experience, or just changing tastes merit another chance on some of the art that you initially pushed away.
Over the past few months, I have watched (and enjoyed) films like Tenebrae, Don’t Torture a Duckling, Deep Red, and The Bird with the Crystal Plumage. And while I am in no way a giallo expert, I am slowly feeling my way through the genre and figuring out what I like about it and what works for me.
Which leads me to today’s feature: Your Vice is a Locked room and Only I Have the Key. Based loosely on Edgar Allen Poe’s story "The Black Cat," and directed by Sergio Martino, the film follows Oliviero Rouvigny (Luigi Pastilli) and his wife, Irina (Anita Strindberg). The pair live in the Italian countryside in an aging villa. Oliviero is a formerly successful writer and a currently successful alcoholic who spends his days drinking, philandering, and finding new ways to abuse his long-suffering wife. It’s not uncommon for Oliviero to throw lavish dinner parties, with the centerpiece of the evening being the public humiliation of Irina.
Before long, Oliviero becomes the prime suspect in a series of vicious murders. Irina has her doubts about his innocence, but covers for him all the same. She fears his wrath and retribution if she were to speak out against him. However, the arrival of Oliviero’s niece Floriana (Edwige Fenech) brings a new dynamic and power balance to the household. Floriana is a beautiful and enchanting woman, and both Oliviero and Irina find themselves drawn to her. The strange triangle that forms between the trio becomes the tipping point for this precariously stacked tower of cards.
The film is very sexually charged, jumping between the strained relationship between Oliviero and Irina, to Oliviero’s trysts with a local bookstore clerk and his lust over their maid, Brenda. Oliviero is also struggling with some sort of an Oedipal complex following the death of his mother. Once a famous actress, he keeps a painting of her in an elegant, Shakespearean-era costume hanging in the house. He has also kept the gown itself, and falls into a sort of sexually driven madness whenever anyone puts it on.
Adding Floriana into the mix only complicates things, as she shows an interest in both Oliviero and Irina, while also starting a relationship with a local deliveryman. Even if you take out all of the murders, the story has all the makings of a Harlequin romance with various sexual relationships at play and their corresponding mind games.
Any good giallo has to include a slew of bloody murders, and Your Vice is no different. While not as drawn out as in some of the other films I’ve seen, they are still distinct and shocking moments that bring the violence, create tension, and drive the film forward.
The thing that really makes this film work for me is the way it all comes together in the finale. We spend a lot of time with the characters, seeing them explore their feelings of sexual attraction (sometimes combined with sheer repulsion). We see them manipulate one another and plant the seeds of twisted ideas. But when the final truth is unveiled, it is a very satisfying truth because of the tangled web we have just walked through with them. While the movie never outright lies to the viewers, not everything was as it seemed, and the final shift in our power dynamic is one that almost leaves the viewer breathless. It really does have that tantalizing quality of a dime store mystery novel, and has the audience hooked until its final moments.
Keep an eye on our online hub throughout October for more of our Gialloween retrospectives!