Italian cinema is like another country to paraphrase Ian Rush: similar but decidedly different. They may have ruled European art-house from neo-realism through to the titans of total control such as Fellini and Antonioni but the Italians also had their own take on Hammer horror or was it film noir?
Giallo took elements of both to create over-plotted, bloody and erotic horrors taken from an everyday life in which everyone behaves suspiciously and no one is to be trusted. It’s an uncertain world and one that AllMovies described as sometimes “…a head-spinning experience in style over substance." The attempt at this result is deliberate with a generous of naked female flesh, artfully shot violence and sublime, swoonful scores (here from Nora Orlandi).
Giallo is Italian for yellow; the colour used to denote thriller books and as these pulp fiction stories were presented on film, blood red and blackness became the main signifiers…
So it is at the start of the film a man in black, who drives a black car strikes out at a woman using a cut throat razor: a violent killer is on the loose and we know it could be anyone of the characters on film – or more than one...
|Julie is suffocated by her husband's diplomatic discipline|
Her mind drifts to a violent confrontation with her former lover Jean, who assaults her in a rain-sodden wood only for the two to make passionate and intense love… back to reality she leaves the cab and as she enters her apartment block spots a black sports car just like Jean’s… Once inside the bell boy brings her a bouquet of red roses with a message from Jean. Will she ever be free of him?
Julie tries to brush the thoughts off as she heads to a party with her best friend Carol (Conchita Airoldi). The party’s a swinging affair as these things could be in 1971 but the girls behave themselves especially as Carol’s dishy cousin George (George Hilton) is there discussing his inheritance with co-benefactor Carol.
|Carol and Julie eye the talent|
|Jean raises a glass... not for the first time|
That night Julie has a dream that graphically illustrates the kind of relationship she used to enjoy with Jean: fifty shades of scarlet with smashed glass submissiveness the tip of the iceberg. But Jean wants away and to escape not just Jean but this side of herself…
|Julie and Jean enjoy a bottle of wine...|
Julie and Carol see the headlines on a shopping trip brushing off the co-incidence… returning to Julie’s flat they find George, he’s clearly seen something he likes but Julie is trying for the straight and narrow with Neil. But when the girls go to restaurant they find that George has booked a table for them – Carol is playing match-maker for her bored friend.
|Julie and George go biking|
Still the flowers keep on coming and Julie receives a phone call threatening to reveal her proclivities… the caller asks to meet her in the park but assuming the blackmailer is Jean Carol offers to go instead and to set him straight… but in one of the film’s most unsettling sequences Carol meets the knife man and is killed.
|Carol walks to her doom|
Dusty verdict: The plot is quick-moving and becomes more detailed as we race towards to conclusion. Julie escapes to Barcelona with George but cannot elude the man in black for too long…
I won’t give away the ending as it would take a many more words to explain how the film gets from A to B… it’s a bare knuckle ride of fantastic twists and turns.
The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh is well directed by Sergio Martino and not as graphically violent as it could well be - a plus in my book - with the suspense created by well-shot atmospherics and fine acting. Edwige Fenech is the stand out as the woman with the strange hobby who needs the chance to escape from an almost ludicrous amount of bad fortune… and whilst Ivan Rassimov excels as the most obvious threat to her life and happiness; he's not the only one!
The film is available at collectable prices from Amazon on DVD but you can also rent it from Love Film.