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News Article

Giallo Fever: 'The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh'

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An ambassador, Neil Wardh (Alberto de Mendoza), and his wanton wife, Julie (Edwige Fenech), arrive in Vienna for business in the midst of a vicious killing spree that has everyone in a panic. Julie's return to the city rouses memories of former lover Jean (Ivan Rassimov) and their sadomasochistic relationship. It also helps that her husband is utterly dull, busy, and inattentive. The restless Julie has a dark secret that only Jean knows about: blood frightens her, but it also arouses her unimaginably. Julie's cruel ex-boyfriend stalks her and sends unnerving love letters, but she finds comfort at swinging parties and in the arms of another man, George (George Hilton). As the city's body count begins to rise, and a mysterious caller threatens to expose her adulterous and kinky secrets, Julie suspects she's next and that Jean is behind the murders and madness. She escapes to Spain with George for a fresh start, but death follows her. In typical giallo fashion, a series of plot twists and red herrings leads to a tension-filled finale that reveals all isn't what it seems.

The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh was Sergio Martino's first entry in the giallo canon and remains one of the most powerful, stylish, and sultry of the genre. The 1971 film was also one of the first gialli that starred the alluring Edwige Fenech. Both director and screen siren (as well as Rassimov and Hilton) would go on to collaborate on the sexadelic All the Colors of the Dark and the awesomely titled Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key— which is a line that appears in one of Jean's letters to Julie. It's a shame the underrated filmmaker created only five films in the genre, but they're easily as evocative as gialli's greatest.

The most visually striking moments in the movie take place during intoxicating — and violent — slow-motion dream sequences that recall the sadistic relationship Jean shared with Julie, set to Nora Orlandi's seductive, eerie score. (The lovers' theme song, "Dies Irae," would later appear in Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill: Vol. 2.) The scenes embody the heady blend of sex and death that the genre is known for. But the genuinely entertaining performances aren't limited to sex scenes. Strange Vice is one of the rare gialli that features compelling dialogue — with a few biblical references thrown in for added naughtiness — and convincing acting, even while several of its stars saunter around topless. Look for several influential set pieces that appeared in later films — like the park stalking that predates a similar scene in Argento's Four Flies on Grey Velvet. Imaginatively framed shots, exotic locations, plenty of black gloves, and gleaming switchblades add to the potency of Strange Vice's psychosexual atmosphere, making it essential viewing.

 

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