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Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key (1972) October 19th, 2020

Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key is a giallo film. Giallo, Italian for yellow, became shorthand for the genre of pulp mystery-thriller novels with standardized yellow covers popular in 60’s and 70’s Italy. The color uniformity may have reinforced the bad practice of judging a book by its cover, like I did when I made the well-informed decision to watch Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key with no more information than its genre and avant-garde title. I’m being hard on myself, I also knew that the fine people at Arrow Video regarded Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key enough to publish a vibrant 2k scan in their blu-ray release.

In Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key, Oliviero, a formerly successful playwright, has descended into decadent squalor in his stately Italian manor where drunken orgies and spousal abuse are common occurrences. Then the killing starts. His relationships to the victims and his inability to establish alibis due to his blackout drunk nights make him a primary suspect in several nearby murders. Oliviero seeks comfort in the bottle and the arms of women, including his niece Floriana who’s just arrived in town for a visit.

Spoilers

The rest of the movie is a garbled convolution of plot twists and sex scenes. Olivier is bedding Floriana, Floriana beds Oliviero’s wife Irina, Irina is secretly bedding Walter, and Floriana’s bedding the motorcycle delivery boy Dario… before it is eventually revealed that Irina had framed Oliviero for at least one murder in an attempt to drive him mad so she could escape and take his valuables. At one point it seems like Irina and Floriana may have been in cahoots but I’m not going to pretend I could follow the plot flawlessly, in the end nearly everyone is dead and betrayed each other before Irina is the last woman standing in the mansion when the police arrive. She almost gets away with it, the police are almost gone, if not for getting caught in a lie. She insisted that their pet cat Satan was missing or dead as part of her alibi to the police but they hear the cat meowing from the basement before leaving and insist on helping Irina find it. They hear the cat through the cellar walls before the police begin tearing the plaster down to free the cat only to discover Oliviero’s hidden body in an abrupt and unmotivated homage to Edgar Allen Poe.

Perhaps I would’ve liked Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key if I hadn’t felt like it had two tacked-on endings lifted from other stories. My wife and I had watched Lucio Fulci’s The Black Cat not 17 days prior and two days before that we’d started our October movie overload with the classic Les Diaboliques and both films were present in our minds while watching Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key. Please stop reading this blog and watch Les Diaboliques immediately because I am about to spoil it. The twist ending revealing a plot to drive someone mad enough to die or become institutionalized so you can inherit their wealth is directly stolen from Clouzot’s masterpiece. Perhaps you’re reading this and jumping to Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key‘s defense for these cannot be the only two films where a family member has plotted to kill another for financial gain. You are correct, they are not, but that’s not the only bit stolen from Clouzot. There’s the small matter of the sequence where the victims of the madness-plot discover a typewriter alone in a room with a ghostly message written on it’s page. That bit is crucial to the significance of the older Les Diaboliques and hackneyed in Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key. It’s a prime example of why it’s important to understand what’s come before, if I had seen this poor imitation first it could’ve colored my experience with the original and that first experience with a film is irreplaceable (remind me to tell the horror story of watching Toy Story 4 in the theater sometime).

I’m concerned that I don’t like giallo movies. I really wanted to. I had this romantic notion after discovering the genre that it would whisk me away to Italy where new movies were just waiting to be unearthed. I got excited about exploring this new kind of vibrant and seductive horror films. But my experience hasn’t been what I expected, the giallo films I’ve seen are more police procedural mysteries like Don’t Torture a Duckling and Deep Red instead of the horror mysteries I enjoyed like The Bird With the Crystal Plumage and Susperia. I’m aware that some argue The Bird With the Crystal Plumage isn’t a horror film and that Susperia isn’t a giallo film but they’re the best I’ve seen and if they’re not then I have to accept that I don’t like giallo.

I really want to like giallo. I want to be in the cool cinephile in-group that understands and appreciates what the genre offers. But being honest with myself about my own tastes is more important than pretending to like something I don’t. I think the divergent road between the giallo I do like and those that I don’t is the presence of horror elements. I haven’t enjoyed the movies that lean too much on the police mystery elements but I really like those that lean into the visual language of horror films. If you know of any horror-rich giallo films I haven’t reviewed or mentioned in this blog please suggest them in the comments.

So in the end I learned why it’s important not to judge a book by its super cool cover and it’s bizarrely long name. You cannot know the quality of a story simply by its superficial exterior.

PS: But this poster for Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key is pretty cool right? I’d watch a movie with that poster… damnit… maybe I didn’t learn anything after all.

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