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Movie Reviews: YOUR VICE IS A LOCKED ROOM AND ONLY I HAVE THE KEY

Exchange the word “vice” for “love”, frame the second clause and Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I have the Key would be a fitting title for a mid-70’s, quiet storm R&B song. I can absolutely hear Michael Henderson or Ronald Isley singing those words in a chorus that concludes by pushing the metaphor to the brink of literality.

It’s a fittingly excessive title. Just before the film reaches the ten-minute mark it features the following:

  • Public spousal abuse by way of trying to make one’s wife drink a bowl of wine at a party
  • Racist / supremacist sexual harassment of a black maid
  • Impromptu hippy a capella choir singing accompanied by nude table dancing
  • Oedipally influenced psychological taunting and sexual assault

I’m unsure of what drugs the party-people in this scene have indulged in–besides alcohol–but the writers of this film might have had powder-caked nostrils.

At the center of all of the above unseemliness is Oliviero: son of a deceased countess, failed novelist, verified shitbag. He lives in a castle with his poor, put-upon wife, Irina, where he hosts lavish parties for the local tribe of aimless twenty-somethings who call his dead mother a whore when he doesn’t even appear to be out of earshot. When he’s not abusing his wife or staring creepily at a painting of his mother–wearing the dress that he still keeps around the house–he’s apparently carrying on affair with pretty young local girl, Fausta, who gets killed shortly after we meet her. Throat slashed by a billhook, a murder weapon used a year earlier in the more infamous and influential giallo film Twitch of the Death Nerve, b.k.a. A Bay of Blood.

Ghastly business, those billhook slashings. As expected, we’ll get a few more before the credits roll.

Giallos are often cited as proto-slashers, and indeed some early slasher movies lifted kills and other elements wholesale from some giallo flicks. Giallos usually have more complicated plots than the average slasher, however, which is likely to be content with a single twist, if any. Your Vice… eventually becomes a twist-pile-up. Not quite on the level of A Bay of Blood (few movies are), but it features a double cross, a triple cross, a quadruple cross; more crosses than a Christian bookstore. Oliveiro is the most obvious murder suspect, but you can probably guess that things aren’t quite so straightforward. Strangely, that doesn’t necessarily make the movie’s plot that much less predictable. Maybe I’ve just seen too many of these.

Bits of interesting dialogue and characterization bolster the material. The black maid who’s just here to get murdered gets a private, contemplative moment just before she’s slain. Yes, that moment is seasoned with random titillation, but with some of these 70’s Euro flicks you can almost convince yourself that the nudity is about the art and about gazing upon erect nipples, not just the latter.

In another instance, Oliveiro tries to insult his adult niece, Floriana, who’s just asked him whether the rumor that he slept with his mother is true. “Is it true about you being a two-bit whore?” he says. Floriana coolly replies that that would be “two bits well spent.” We’ve barely spent much time with the young lady by then, but she’s already proven herself endearing.

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The film also has some moments of macabre visual panache. A shot of a victim being dragged downstairs was especially striking to me. And when the killings slow down for a stretch, we get an out-of-nowhere gross-up close-up of sheep eyeballs in cream, a delicacy that only a cat named Satan could love.

Oh shit, had I not already mentioned that Oliveiro owns a cat named Satan? It was his mother’s (who he definitely slept with) and its favorite snack is sheep eyeballs in cream. This is worth emphasizing because despite such grotesqueness, Your Vice… still never manages to be as outlandishly memorable as many of its contemporaries. Maybe it’s because the stakes feel lower than they should on account of the murders somehow feeling like a subplot through most of the movie, considering the first few victims might’ve had ten total minutes of screen time between them. The movie does an admirable job of kicking things into a higher gear during the third act, but those efforts bear the faint odor of desperation by the end, when Your Vice… closes with its barely-earned homage to Edgar Allan Poe.

Nonetheless, it is a solid horror/thriller from a distinct time and place.

Final Grade: Worth a watch.

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