Your Vice Is A Locked Room & Only I Have The Key, (1972) – Reinventing Gialli

I have seen a lot of these movies. My University dissertation was on these movies. I feel like I can speak from a place of authority on them. So if I was to say that more than almost any other Giallo I keep coming back to Your Vice Is A Locked Room & Only I Have The Key, despite my favorite Gialli being Tenebrae, that might surprise you, because in so many ways it’s a different kind of movie. In a way, this can be epitomized by the fact that while most Gialli are inspired by, if not directly based on, crime & detective novels like Agatha Christie’s, (Ten Little Indians), or Edgar Wallace’s, (What Have You Done To Solange?), and this movie is based on The Black Cat by Edgar Allen Poe. 

What I mean by this is, that while Your Vice Is A Locked Room & Only I Have The Key is a murder mystery, features outrageous murders, a luscious score, beautiful cinematography, and outrageous twists, albeit satisfying ones, it is much more focussed on the moral torpor of the characters along the way. The police only really show up to drive the plot forward for our characters when they’re required to, and the film is much more about the moral darkness that drives our central character to take certain actions. The film is much about revelations of who a person truly is, who they can become, what their secret layers are, than unfurling the murder at the heart of it. This is a film that reminds us that not long previous the same filmmakers made All The Colours of the Dark, another famous Giallo where there’s not even really a murder mystery when you get down to it, but it centers on the unfurling anxiety of its central character as she slowly loses control of her life. Now, it’s not as if writer Ernesto Gastaldi hadn’t written super mystery driven stories in the past such as Short Night of the Glass Dolls, Death Walks At Midnight, or even for the director of Your Vice Is A Locked Room & Only I Have The Key, Sergio Martino, The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail. It’s just Gastaldi’s writing philosophy when doing thrillers of focussing more on logical mystery than scares, although he does both well, that leads to such character focussed mystery stories and probably landed him jobs on such character-driven westerns as Day of Anger or eventually Once Upon A Time In America

I feel like I’m filling my quota for the word count here just by rattling off stupidly long Giallo titles in full, and no can stop me!

Anyway, Your Vice Is A Locked Room & Only I Have The Key follows incredibly rich couple Irina and Oliviero who are in a no good very bad codependent toxic abusive relationship in which Olivero is constantly the vilest piece of shit you have ever seen in you’re whole flipping life, (that fact that he doesn’t feel like a cartoon villain is a testament to the skill of the writing & filmmaking). The film opens with them hosting a party for the local rich and well off in which he is publicly a drunkard and abusive and racist and no one seems to give a shit, (a delightful piece of social commentary). Irina feels trapped in her relationship and when their maid is murdered, (did she do it, did her husband do it? He certainly seems to be gaslighting her that she did it when it really doesn’t look like she did), her situation only seems to become more claustrophobic and precarious and dangerous. Salve is provided by the arrival of the Giallo icon and Martino regular Edwige Fenech whose rogue and unpredictable element begins to drive the unfolding and twisted psycho-drama towards its tragic and somewhat spiritual conclusion. 

Giallo has a long history of social satire and speaking truth to power through the language of cinema in a way their directors often admit. Dario Argento has said he set out to make films as a “trashing of bourgeois ideals” and films like Tenebrae specifically to attack the predominant force the Catholic Church was in Italian culture. Sergio Martino has said that he was specifically trying to make films in the early seventies about the changing roles of women in society at the time, and Lucio Fulci was a fucking communist. Your Vice Is A Locked Room & Only I Have The Key does this in many ways. The first of all is its depiction of queer relationships as an inherently liberating thing. That social and sexual relationship, even as it gets twisted in the third act, provides a salve and respite from the toxic heterosexual relationship the film starts in. The other way is by having the parallel of the opulent rich being murderers, and racists, and abusers, and no one really bats an eye. There’s also the quasi-religious ideas here though. In a society where there is a historical legacy of fascism and there’s a problem with the intertwining of church and state, having a cat that symbolizes Satan providing this ever-present malevolent force in this big, empty, old house in which class-driven abuses of power take place… that carries a lot of potent symbolism, especially given the end of the movie that I refuse to spoil. The whole movie basically is a spit in the face of the catholic establishment and their values. It says that this corruption at the highest of the levels is the problem and your God will refuse to protect you. You feel me? You feel me. The ending essentially says the evil is literally baked into the walls of this old political philosophy that built the structure of the contemporary government, and its morals resonate today. We have not learned, our problems are recurring which means that ultimately, Your Vice Is A Locked Room & Only I Have The Key still has a lot to show us now that we have refused to listen to all this time.

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