By Scott Dorward
Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key (Italy, 1972)
“Murder has a habit of involving all sorts of people for no reason.”
OK, I admit it. The main reason I selected Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key was its name. Sure, I’ve heard good things about the film over the years, but how can you resist a title like that? Also, while I reviewed The Editor, I haven’t tackled a proper giallo yet this month. So here we go…
Irina is married to a horrible man. Her husband, Oliviero, is an alcoholic and second-rate writer who takes every opportunity to abuse and belittle her. At least part of the strain in their relationship stems from Oliviero’s twisted relationship with his late mother. While she may be dead, her influence lives on in the house, embodied by her vicious black cat, Satan, who hates Irina.
When a mysterious murderer first kills Oliviero’s mistress and then the couple’s maid, the two begin to suspect each other. In their paranoia, they decide to hide the maid’s body in the cellar of their sprawling villa out of fear that the police will suspect them too.
The situation grows more complicated when Oliviero’s niece, Floriana, comes to stay with the couple. She seems to have her own agenda, seducing everyone around her in an attempt to establish control. As the string of murders reaches an unexpected conclusion, Floriana’s machinations initiate a new cycle of violence and betrayal.
While it’s not immediately obvious, Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key has an interesting and unusual narrative structure. The standard giallo murders of the first half are almost a red herring. While they set up what follows, the murders themselves are almost incidental. The actual story owes more to Edgar Allan Poe than, say, Mario Bava.
I assume that the sheer sexuality of Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key must have been daring for its time. This is a film with a great deal of nudity, not to mention sex between women and incest. To a modern audience, however, I suspect the abuse heaped upon Irina and some of the other women will be far more shocking. This is a film where sex is a means of coercion and cruelty more than an expression of love or desire.
As an aside, Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key must have been a boon for lazy film critics. All you have to do is mention the title a few times and that’s half the word count of your review!
The reviews I’ve read of Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key have been uniformly glowing. By the halfway point, I found myself wondering if I was watching the same film as everyone else. Barring a couple of fairly by-the-numbers giallo murders and the casual cruelty heaped on Irina by Oliviero, not very much was happening. The dialogue was clunky but at least the production design was pretty enough. Still, if I hadn’t been reviewing the film, I might have given up.
Happily, things pick up once Floriana enters the story. Her coquettish manipulations may not be overly original but they are compelling. And as the serial murder subplot is resolved and the story develops down more gothic lines, the film grows more and more interesting. While any Poe fans will see the ending coming a mile off, it is still gratifying when it arrives.
For all the gothic elements of Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key, it definitely has the dreamy atmosphere and twisted eroticism of giallo. It is, however, a lot more coherent than similar offerings from, say, Dario Argento or Lucio Fulci. More interestingly, it isn’t really a murder mystery, especially following the narrative gear-change around halfway through. This makes it stand out in a fairly crowded subgenre.
All in all, I was a little disappointed with Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key. While it won me over in the end, the first half of the film tried my patience. And although its cruelties prove essential to the story, it’s still hard not to see them as misogynistic. Still, it’s an interesting piece of genre history and one of the more unusual approaches to Poe I’ve seen on screen.
The October Horror Movie Challenge
Please do join in and share your own thoughts with us about this or any other films as the month goes on. You can usually find us on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, Discord, or lurking in the dark corners of your home.
If you would like to play along at home, my provisional selections are:
- 1 – Baskin (2015)
- 2 – The Bar (2017)
- 3 – The Editor (2014)
- 4 – The Beach House (2019)
- 5 – The Mummy (1959)
- 6 – The Wind (2020)
- 7 – Tigers are Not Afraid (2018)
- 8 – Voices From Beyond (1991)
- 9 – Dearest Sister (2016)
- 10 – Patrick (1978)
- 11 – The Transfiguration (2016)
- 12 – The House at the End of Time (2013)
- 13 – The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (1920)
- 14 – The Hallow (2015)
- 15 – Night of the Demons (1988)
- 16 – Deep Dark (2015)
- 17 – The Witch Who Came From the Sea (1976)
- 18 – Black Sheep (2006)
- 19 – The Battery (2012)
- 20 – Eaten Alive (1976)
- 21 – Satan’s Slaves (2017)
- 22 – Evolution (2015)
- 23 – The Mortuary Collection (2019)
- 24 – Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood (1973)
- 25 – The Dead Center (2018)
- 26 – Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key (1972)
- 27 – Here Comes the Devil (2012)
- 28 – Two Thousand Maniacs (1964)
- 29 – Gretel & Hansel (2020)
- 30 – The Stepfather (1987)
- 31 – In Fabric (2018)
Be warned that I may alter this list according to availability, what I feel like watching at the time, and sheer capriciousness.
A Final Note
If you have been enticed here by these posts, please do look around at some of our other film reviews. We also have a podcast, called The Good Friends of Jackson Elias, which occasionally covers horror films. If this appeals, you might want to check out some of the following episodes.
- The Fly
- A Dark Song
- The Thing
- The Ritual
- The Wicker Man
- The Stone Tape
- Event Horizon
- The Witch
- INLAND EMPIRE
- Nightbreed and Lord of Illusions
- Maléfique and The Ninth Gate
- Re-Animator and From Beyond
- Repulsion and The Babdook
- Man Bites Dog, Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon and S&man
- A selection of weird films
- David Cronenberg
- The films that scared us most
If you dig through the archives, you will also find episodes about a wide variety of horror stories and games. Happy nightmares!