ARROW BOX SET RELEASE: The Sergio Martino Collection

I’ve gone on record saying that I hold Sergio Martino in the same esteem as Dario Argento and feel that his giallo films are if not as good, often really close to being better. In fact, I’d compare his five-picture run from The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh to Torso to any giallo creator there ever is, was or will be.

Arrow Video has brought together three of his giallo in one impressive looking box set.

The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail (1971): While she makes love to someone else, Lisa’s husband dies in a jet crash. She stands to inherit all of his money, despite them being basically separated. An ex-lover has a confrontation with her, threatening her with blackmail. She pays up — some money now, then some when she gets the letter where she wished that her husband was dead. But a gloved hand finds the letter and kills the ex-lover!

Lisa has to go to Athens to collect the money, but runs into one of her husband’s ex-lovers, Lara Florakis (Janine Reynaud, Succubus) and a knife-wielding maniac. Peter Lynch (George Hilton from All the Colors of the Dark) saves her and takes her to the hotel. She asks for all of the money in cash, despite warnings to how dangerous that is.

That same maniac tries to kill Peter, then comes back to kill Lisa, sharp jazz wails staccato punctuating each stab of the knife, each rip across her body. Jump cuts and flashes and the room is covered by the police, who question him.

An INTERPOL agent, Inspector Stavros (Luigi Pistilli, The Good, the Bad and The Ugly, Your Vice is a Locked Door and Only I Have the Key), offers to help Peter with the case and the moment he goes to talk to Lara, he’s attacked by the gloved man.

That brings in Cléo Dupont(Anita Strindberg, Who Saw Her Die?), a journalist who pretty much instantly falls in love with our hero. They go up to his room, but it’s been turned over by the police, with even the bed sliced open looking for the million dollars that went missing when Lisa was killed.

Turns out the gloved man wasn’t on Lara’s side — he or she slits her throat, then runs up a spiral staircase as a guard gives chase. This reveals a room full of one-eyed baby dolls and a strange oil painting. Between the woman’s face against the glass with blood spraying everywhere and these reveals, this film is really tipping its hat toward Argento.

The bodyguard chases after the killer, but is knocked off the roof. One slash across the fingers and we have another dead body. It’s 45 minutes in…and most of the IMDB cast is already dead!

That said — there’s a stewardess that gets the gift of scorpion earrings from an unseen lover. So there’s that.

Meanwhile, Peter and Cléo make love on an orange shag couch while a peeping tom watches from the window. You know how Bruce Banner always has on purple slacks and you wonder, “Who wears purple slacks?” Peter does.

The peeping tom wants him to move his car, which is blocking the garage. That said — he’s awfully creepy about it. Peter moves the car and then gets back to business time. PS — if you’re into late 60’s/early 70’s patterns and fashions, you may fall in love with this movie.

While George was out, the killer snuck in. Good thing he forgot his keys! He stumbles in at the last second, but Cléo has already been sliced up. The cops suspect Peter — but they also find a scorpion cufflink that looks just like the earrings we saw earlier.

Oh yeah — about that stewartress’s boyfriend? Yeah fights the killer, only to get his eye hacked out. Somewhere, Fulci was smiling.

Cléo is out swimming off Peter’s yacht and finds the money buried in a cave. Like a Republic serial villain, he reveals his entire plot. He worked for years to make money and saw rich people just throw it away. He put everyone against one another and even had a partner who would do the killings while he was in the room. It’s all rather simple as the police find and kill him before he can hurt her.

The Arrow Video release of this movie has an audio commentary with writer Ernesto Gastaldi, moderated by filmmaker Federico Caddeo (in Italian with English subtitles); interviews with Hilton and Martino; an analysis of Martino’s films by Mikel J. Koven, author of La Dolce Morte: Vernacular Cinema and the Italian Giallo Film; a video essay by Troy Howarth, author of So Deadly, So Perverse: 50 Years of Italian Giallo Films; a trailer; an image gallery and a reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Chris Malbon.

Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key (1972): Has a movie ever had a better title? Nope. Sergio Martino’s fourth entry into the giallo genre, following The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh, The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail and the previously reviewed All the Colors of the Dark, it refers to the note that the killer leaves to Edwige Fenech’s character in Mrs. Wardh. And the title is way better than the alternate ones this film has — Gently Before She Dies, Eye of the Black Cat and Excite Me!

Martino wastes no time at all getting into the crazy in this one — Oliviero Rouvigny (Luigi Pistilli from A Bay of Blood, Iguana with the Tongue of Fire, Death Rides a Horse) is a dark, sinister man, a failed writer and alcoholic who lives in a mansion that’s falling apart (If this all feels like a modernized version of a Poe story like The Fall of the House of Usher, it’s no accident. There’s even an acknowledgment that the film is inspired by The Black Cat in the opening credits.). His wife, Irina (Anita Strindberg from A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin and Who Saw Her Die?), suffers his abuses, but never more so than when he gathers hippies together for confrontational parties. He makes everyone pour all of their wine into a bowl and forces her to drink it, then humiliates their black servant Brenda until one of the partygoers starts singing and everyone joins in, then gets naked. This scene is beyond strange and must be experienced.

The only person that Oliviero seems to love is Satan, the cat that belonged to his dead mother. A black cat that talks throughout every scene he’s in, his constant meows led to my cats communicating with the TV. God only knows what a 1970s giallo cat said, but it seems like his words spoke directly to their hearts.

One of Oliviero’s mistresses is found dead near the house, but he hides her body. The police suspect him, as does his wife. Adding to the tension is the fact that Irina hates Satan, who only seems to care about messing with her beloved birds.

Remember that servant? Well, she’s dead now, but not before she walks around half-naked in Oliviero’s mother’s dress while he watches from the other room. She barely makes it to Irina’s room before she collapses, covered in blood. Blood that Satan the cat has no problem walking through! He refuses to call the police, as he doesn’t want any more suspicion. He asks his wife to help him get rid of the body.

Oliviero’s niece Floriana (Edwige Fenech, pretty much the queen of the giallo) is in town for a visit, learning how Oliviero hasn’t been able to write one sentence over and over again for three years, stuck in writer’s block (and predating The Shining by 5 years in book form and 8 years away from Kubrick’s film). Unlike everyone else who tolerates Oliviero’s behavior or ignores it, Floriana sees right through the bullshit. The writer is used to seducing every woman he meets and she initially rebuffs him, even asking if it’s true that Oliviero used to sleep with his mother. He angrily asks if it’s true that she’s a two-bit whore. “Those would be two bits worth spending,” is her caustic reply.

Irina confides all of her pain to Floriana as the two become lovers. And another girl gets murdered — perhaps by Oliviero. Then, a dirt bike racer comes to drop off milk and hit on Floriana. Whew — I was wondering when this film would get hard to follow and start piling on the red herrings!

After being questioned by the police, Oliviero comes home to choke his wife. He stops at the last second…then we’re off to the races! The motorbike races! The milkman loses when his bike breaks down, but he’s the real winner — taking Floriana back to the abandoned house that he lives in. And oh look — there’s creepy Oliviero watching the action.

Meanwhile, Satan has gotten into the coop and chowed down on several of the birds. Irina catches him and they have quite the battle. He scratches her numerous times before she stabs him in the eye with a pair of scissors. An old woman watches and is chased away by Irina’s yelling.

She’s afraid that her husband will kill her once he learns that she killed Satan. And Oliviero keeps wondering where the cat is, especially after he buys the cat his favorite meal from the store — sheep eyes. That said — Satan might not be so dead, as we can hear his screaming and see him with a missing eye.

Floriana puts on Oliviero’s mother’s dress, asking if this is what the maid looked like before she died. Whether it’s the dress or the forbidden family love or just her beauty, he rips off her dress — at her urging, mind you — and begins making love to his niece. We cut to Idrina, caressing her pet birds, when Oliviero confronts her with scissors and questions about Satan. He almost stabs her before he ends up raping her inside the coop, while Floriana looks on. She playing them off the other, even telling Idrina that she’s slept with her husband. She also tells her that Oliviero wants to kill her, so she should kill him first.

Idrina wakes up to the sound of Satan, but can’t find him anywhere. What she does find is her husband in bed with Floriana, who is belittling him. With every sinister meow, there’s a zoom of the cat’s damaged eye. Finally, Oliviero attacks her for spying on him, slapping her around before he leaves to write. She walks the grounds of the mansion, seeing the motorcycle rider make a date with Floriana and catching sight of Satan, who runs from her. In the basement, she finds scissors and the hidden bodies of her husband’s lover and the murdered maid. In a moment of clarity — or madness — she stabs her husband while he sleeps. The sequence is breathtaking — a giallo POV shot of the murder weapon intercut with the same sentence being typed over and over interspersed with all of the abuses that Oliviero had wrought upon her. She stabs again and again before Floriana interrupts, asking her if it was easy. The sentence that the author had written again and again was him claiming that he would kill her and there was a space in the wall for her, so obviously, she had to kill him.

As for Floriana, all she wanted was the family jewels, which were hidden in the house. They seal Oliviero’s corpse within the wall while Walter watches from afar. He’s played by Ivan Rassimov, who does creeping staring dudes better than anyone else — witness his work in All the Colors of the Dark. And it turns out that he’s the real killer! He’s been typing “vendetta” over and over again. Floriana asks if Idrina was planning to kill her before she runs off into the night, then Walter appears to kiss Idrina. Turns out they were working together all along — she tells him where to find Floriana the next morning. Holy shit — Idrina reveals her whole plot, revealing how she drove her husband crazy, making him believe that he could have been a murderer! She wishes that there was an afterlife so Oliviero’s mother — who she killed! — could tell him how great her revenge was. She ends by wishing that her husband was still alive so that he could suffer for eternity.

Walter sets up an accident that takes out Floriana and her boyfriend, as their motorcycle crashes, sending blood across the white heart of a billboard and out of her lips. He tosses a match on the gasoline-soaked highway, burning both of their corpses. He collects the jewelry and gives it to Idrina, who responds by shoving him off a cliff!

When she returns to the mansion, the police are there, as there were alerted to her stabbing Satan by the old woman. They come inside the house to write a statement, but hear the sound of Satan’s meows. Following the sound, they find him inside a wall — with the corpse of her husband!

Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key is superb. An intriguing story — only a few derailing giallo moments (like the killing of the girl in the room with the dolls and the B roll motocross scenes) — with great acting, eye-catching camerawork and some genuine surprises, it’s well worth seeking out and savoring.

The Arrow Video blu ray of this movie has an interview with Martino; a making of with interviews with Martino, Fenech and Gastaldi; a visual essay by Michael Mackenzie exploring Martino’s contributions to the giallo genre; a feature by film historian Justin Harries on Fenech’s career; Eli Roth speaking on the film and a reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Matthew Griffin.

The Suspicious Death of a Minor (1975): A few minutes into this movie and you realize that you’re watching the work of a master. Sergio Martino made a series of six giallo from 1971 to 1975 that — for me — define the genre. The Strange Vice of Mrs. WardhThe Case of the Scorpion’s TailYour Vice Is A Locked Room and Only I Have the KeyAll the Colors of the DarkTorso and this film point to a high watermark for the genre.

This is the last of Martino’s giallo and doesn’t feature his usual cast, like Edwige Fenech or Ivan Rassimov. It does, however, have Claudio Cassinelli, who was in Murder Rock and What Have They Done to Your Daughters?

Cassinelli plays police detective Paolo Germi, who meets a girl named Marisa (Patrizia Castaldi, in her only acting role before becoming a costume designer) who is soon murdered. She was a prostitute and now, Germi is haunted by her death and wants to find the killers. Unfortunately, Marisa was in way over her head and getting the answers won’t be simple. After all, there’s a man with mirrored shades killing everyone that gets close to the truth.

This film is a combination of poliziotteschi and giallo, shot under the title Violent Milan. It was written by Ernesto Gastaldi, who wrote everything from Werewolf in a Girls’ Dormitory and The Horrible Dr. Hichcock to The Whip and the BodyThe Long Hair of DeathThe PossessedLight the Fuse… Sartana Is Coming, All the Colors of the DarkTorsoAlmost HumanConcorde Affaire ’79 and Once Upon a Time In America.

There’s even a meta moment where the cops question a subject in the movie theater while Martino’s Your Vice Is A Locked Room and Only I Have the Key plays. And look out — Mel Ferrer (Nightmare CityEaten Alive!) is in here as a police captain.

While this film doesn’t reach the lunatic heights of Martino’s finest works, it’s still a gleaming example of how great 1970’s Italian genre film can be.

The Arrow Video release of this film also has extras like audio commentary by Troy Howarth, author of So Deadly, So Perverse: 50 Years of Italian Giallo Films; an interview with Martino and a reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Chris Malbon.

You can purchase this Arrow Video box set from MVD.

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