Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key (1972).
Gothic mansions, torrid affairs, and murder abound in this Giallo classic. Yet, there’s far more going on when taking a deeper look.
Giallo has had a huge resurgence in popularity over the last couple of years. With platforms such as Shudder and Arrow showcasing a multitude of Giallo hits on their services or for sale, modern film fanatics have started showing more continued love for the black leather gloves, razor blades, and gnarly murders these films have to offer.
I recently started my own journey into the delights that the Giallo genre has to offer. It has been a wild and psychedelic ride! One of the qualities of Giallo films that makes them so eye-catching is the multitude of creative and long titles. The Bird With the Crystal Plumage (1970), Don’t Torture a Duckling (1972), and many more such titles promise their viewers a viewing experience that is just as intriguing as it is complicated.
The longest of these titles marks a film that delivers on captivation and complexity in spades in the form of Sergio Martino’s timeless classic, Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key (1972).
What makes this such a noteworthy film—apart from the lengthy title—is how it plays with genre. On the surface, Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key—Your Vice… for short—is your typically melodramatic and flamboyant giallo film.
It has POV murders by a leather-gloved killer, a web of intrigue that links just about everyone to the crime spree, and burgeoning tensions between protagonists.
That notwithstanding, the film is a sum of many individually prominent genres all working in tandem. They coalesce to form what serves as a sort of genre-infused kaleidoscope, or a cinematic jukebox of “greatest hits” that make for a unique and thrilling giallo adventure.
The film’s plot revolves around the tensions building between a bitter, washed up, and misogynistic author by the name of Oliviero (Luigi Pistilli) and his battered and resolute wife, Irina (Anita Strindberg). As a means to feed his aging pride, Oliviero hosts lavish parties for young hippies in their massive manor out in the Italian countryside, wherein he humiliates Irina for everyone’s entertainment.
Amidst the increasing abuses suffered by Irina at the hands of her husband, there is a killer lurking in town that is targeting young women. Strikingly, the victims seem to have some direct or indirect link to Oliviero. To make matters worse for the destructive couple, Olivero’s flirtatious niece, Floriana (Edwige Fenech), decides to visit the manor at the peak of the murders raging through town.
The film’s plot consists of numerous intertwining stories and character motivations build tension continuously by switching up the source of it. It is no surprise that the film might have a storyline stuffed full with different inspirations and plot devices when glancing at the writer’s credits.
Your Vice… has a total of five credited writers including: Luciano Martino, Sauro Scavolini, Ernesto Gastaldi, Adriano Bolzoni, and Edgar Allan Poe (for various plot elements taken from his short story, “The Black Cat”). Usually such a large list of writers for a single story would be cause for concern, but here it results in an interesting experiment in the intersection between vastly different genres. So, what genres can we find in Your Vice…, and how can we spot them?
Spotting The Genre
The most prominent genre present throughout Your Vice’s 1 hour and 37 minutes is, of course, Giallo. As the film is marketed mostly as a Giallo film, it would be disappointing to not have our favorite tropes featured. However, the genre is only evident at certain key moments. When there is a murder taking place, Martino makes use of the beloved point-of-view framing the genre is known for.
Likewise, Bruno Nicolai’s score kicks into high gear each time we are shown someone running from a stalking killer. The familiar elements are there, they are just not as regularly present as they would be in a traditional Giallo film.
It can be quite confusing upon first viewing, as the film opens with a gentle, romantic theme over an artistically slowed down shot of a naked couple writhing over each other in a white bed. The film opens far more like an erotic thriller than a Giallo, because, in a way, it is.
When there is no carnage on screen, Martino focuses principally on the hyper-sexual and violent relationship between Oliviero and Irina. Irina’s struggle to break away from her husband’s continued abuses is the driving force of the film. Her emotions are presented through the use of genre throughout the film.
Irina – The Thread That Binds
When Irina is at her wit’s end, the film focuses mostly on her relationship with the family cat, Satan. Every scene featuring the temperamental feline takes inspiration from the Edgar Allan Poe short story, “The Black Cat.” In Martino’s film, Irina is the one who sees the cat as the embodiment of her mental duress — rather than the husband, as is the case in Poe’s story.
Martino hammers this home by bookending the scenes between Irina and Satan with longer stretches of Gothic horror. The shots are elongated and quieter in order to heighten the maddening qualities the vast estate possesses from Irina’s perspective. This all comes to a head at the end of the film, when the narrative finally fully borrows from Poe’s tale by having Satan accidentally trapped in the cellar wall along with the corpses that had been placed there earlier on.
Irina’s only reprieve from the continuous physical and emotional abuses she must undergo seems to be sex. The eroticism present in Your Vice… often blurs the line between assault and kink, as Irina dives headlong into sexual encounters with both Oliviero and his niece, Floriana. The film takes on an entirely different tone for these scenes. The score softens to a sultry whisper as the camera lingers on closeups of the bodies on screen.
These scenes drift between sensuality and tension, emphasizing the erotic thriller that drives everything forward. Sometimes sex is a tool for Irina to find relief in a world that is designed to dismantle her bit by bit.
At other times, sex is a weapon used against her as a show of dominance, or in order to take away the one simple pleasure she had available. The interplay between these modes of sensuality lead Irina to eventually fight back, which leads us to one of the more surprising genre elements present in the film.
Twisting and Turning
When watching a Giallo film you can comfortably expect a good murder or three. It is also quite common to find some convoluted scheming going on amongst the protagonists. The writing team behind Your Vice… took this Giallo tradition and went full heist film by the third act.
Once Irina finally disposes of her husband, the plot takes an unexpected turn revealing that Floriana pitted the couple against each other so she could acquire a box full of old jewelry. She blackmails Irina, saying she would go to the police about the murder if she was not given the jewels. Irina complies, but it is not long before she has taken care of Floriana.
Irina’s might is shown in full force throughout the third act as she literally removes everyone from her life, even her secret accomplice. The whole bit is played off like a proper film noir with a focus on meaningful glances, high fashion, and numerous plot twists.
With all of these genre elements at play at the same time, the question arises: How is Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key still a giallo film? After all, film noir, erotic thrillers, and Gothic horror all tend to feature murder of some kind. Sometimes these murders are more gruesome than others, depending on the direction the film is taken.
Furthermore, the intensity of the film’s score is in harmony with the intensity of the scenes being presented to the viewer. Therefore, it makes sense that the score would get a bit faster-paced when someone is running for their life. What makes a giallo? Is it black leather gloves? How about point-of-view murders? The short answer to this is that it comes down to stylized camera work and sound.
All of the murders in this film contain either a singular or a few giallo stylistic elements to accompany them. Once the traditional “man with black gloves” is unceremoniously removed from the picture, giallo is still present through the camerawork.
Hallmarks such as opening a shot on a close-up and zooming out slowly as the tension rises, and panning the camera in a wide angle with visual elements in the foreground are consistently returned to.
In some scenes there are nods to other giallo classics, such as the violent storm raging outside of the brothel just before we are shown the interior, which harkens back to the opening and closing scenes of Blood and Black Lace (1964). These visual elements are peppered throughout the film, even when the other genre conventions are the main focus.
The score also relies on the same piece of music to punctuate every murder. Not only is this piece reminiscent of other Giallo films, but it is also only used in Giallo-centric scenes. The score trades the strange tones of the harpsichord, used in more erotic scenes, for a thumping guitar and bass combination that would remain a Giallo staple for years to come. The careful use of audio helps differentiate the mood and tone of each scene, which, in turn, allows for the different genres present to shine on their own.
For the reasons mentioned above, Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key is most certainly a giallo film. However, it is more than that. It is like a tapestry woven with different materials and colors. Upon first inspection, it is just a tapestry-like any other.
Yet, when taking a closer look, the different materials become visible and reveal the artistry hidden behind the image on the surface. The way genre is crafted in the film presents the viewer with an examination of the overlap and interplay between genres.
More importantly, it is a fantastic visual and audio example of how a film can be more than one thing at any given time. So, the next time you consider a particular film to be just one thing, keep this undersung giallo classic in mind. Take a deeper look. You never know what treasures there might be waiting to be found.