The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh

The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh

"A wall is no use against Jean. What I need is protection against myself."

Julie Wardh (Edwige Fenech) is, outwardly, the respectable wife of the American ambassador to Austria, Neil Wardh (Alberto DiMendoza), but in secret, she hides S&M fantasies and a kinky blood fetish. Upon returning to Austria, Julie begins an affair with the rakish George Corro (George Hilton), cousin of her friend Carol (Conchita Arioldi). At the same time, a razor blade-wielding maniac is terrorizing the city, murdering beautiful young women, and Julie thinks her stalker, ex-boyfriend Jean (Ivan Rassimov) might be responsible. Someone has been leaving bouquets of roses for Julie with  vaguely menacing notes, Julie is being blackmailed over her affair, and before long, Julie herself is being chased by the killer. Is Jean responsible? Or maybe it's someone else in her life?

The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh (not to be confused with Vice has Black Stockings) is equally well-known as Blade Of the Ripper and is Sergio Martino's first giallo. It's also one of his best. In addition, this is the first of four films to star giallo's "golden couple," Edwige Fenech and George Hilton.  While the film starts off hitting all the standard beats, the last 20 minutes really shake things up with some fantastic twists and double crosses, making this film a standout of giallo storytelling.

  • There's a shower scene which was obviously influenced by Psycho. We see the killer's shadow slowly creep up on a shower curtain before he tears it open and hacks up the poor victim. But it's over pretty quickly and it's missing the pathos of the Hitchcock version.
  • Besides Psycho, there's a clever take on Strangers On a Train as well.
  • Carol is a great sidekick. In the tradition of giallo films, she's the free-spirited, worry-free counterpoint to the more sensible main character.
  • One of the notes on a bouquet of roses includes the phrase "Il tuo vizio é una stanza chiusa dal di dentro e solo io ne ho la chiave." This line became the title of Martino and Fenech's next collaboration, Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key.
  • Some of the music from Mrs. Wardh was used in Kill Bill Vol. 2.
  • Ivan Rassimov re-joined Martino, Fenech, and Hilton a year later in the film All the Colors Of the Dark. It's not a giallo, but rather a supernatural thriller in the same vein as Rosemary's Baby.
  • There's a scene where Carol goes to an empty park at closing time in place of Julie in order to pay off the blackmailer. She is chased through the woods and murdered by the killer – a scene which closely resembles a memorable part of Dario Argento's Four Flies On Gray Velvet. Argento's film was released only 11 months after Mrs Wardh hit theaters, but production schedules were fast. Did Argento "borrow" ideas from Martino? I'll leave it up to you to decide.
  • Director Sergio Martino is known for his Westerns and that style of film making permeates this giallo. This is especially noticeable during the one-on-one desert showdown at the end.
What the Hell Am I Watching?

Julie's fantasy sequences are mesmerizing and beautifully shot in slow-motion. Especially the first one in the rain, when we don't know at first what's going on.

At a party, two women are wearing paper dresses.  Along comes some drunk jerk who tears the back of one of them. The other woman starts laughing and the woman with the torn dress just lunges at her. They both fall to the floor shredding each others' clothes until they're both naked, while the rest of the party-goers just laugh and stare.

Fashion Moment

George has an awesome collection of sunglasses. There's this Elvis-inspired pair...

...and these mirrored aviators.

Also, check out the Wardhs' space-age apartment.

This exact same set, with its distinctive wallpaper and architecture, was also used in The Red Queen Kills Seven Times.

Don't Torture a Duckling

Don't Torture a Duckling

"The killer is a maniac. But his mind works in a semi-logical pattern 
which has a reasonable meaning for him."

Young boys are turning up dead – strangled to death – in a provincial Italian village. As the police work to find the killer, they must also deal with the townsfolk, who cling to old superstitions and believe in vigilante justice. Newspaper reporter Andrea Martelli (Tomas Milian) teams up with rich, visiting city girl Patricia (Barbara Bouchet) to see through the irrational fears that obscure the case and find the killer. Was it really the village idiot, Giusseppe (Vito Passeri)? Or did the local mystic, Francesco (Georges Wilson), and his daughter, Maciara (Florinda Bollcan) murder the boys with black magic? Only the kindly priest, Don Alberto (Marc Porel), seems rational enough to help. But could he be hiding a secret of his own?

Director Lucio Fulci has said that Don't Torture a Duckling is his favorite film and it's a really good choice. Personally, I think L'Aldila (The Beyond) is his masterpiece and that A Lizard In Woman's Skin is his best giallo, but Duckling has a lot going for it. Besides his handful of gialli, Fulci is best known for his gore movies and Duckling acts as a bridge between the two worlds, with plenty of blood and shocking edits throughout.
  • The clash between the modern world and old-world superstition is a major theme throughout the movie, exemplified by the modern highway that passes by the village and the contrast of free-spirited Patrizia in the town full of villagers in traditional clothes.
  • The other recurring theme is women taunting and emasculating men. We see this when Giusseppe is turned away by the prostitutes, when naked Patrizia teases the young boy, and later when she teases Don Alberto.
  • The "cliff-hanger" finale is an homage to Hitchcock's North By Northwest.
  • You read correctly - someone actually dies of natural causes in a giallo (though that's not without precedent). In this case, it's Maciara's baby, who was born 15 years prior to the start of the film of complications from a birth defect.
  • The title makes no sense at all. But you're going to say "What about the Donald Duck doll that the little girl beheaded as a way to communicate the killer's identity?" My response: shut up. It's a stupid title.
 What the Hell Am I Watching?

The centerpiece of the film is the scene where Maciara, freed from prison and eliminated as a suspect, is stalked in an abandoned cemetery in broad daylight by a group of vigilante thugs. It's a stunning sequence because it plays out so slowly. And because the beating is bloody and brutal, and because the thugs don't say a word the entire time they're bashing her with sticks and chains. But mostly because of the soundtrack – Peppy American R&B plays on the radio to contrast to the brutality, followed by a soulful Italian ballad, which gives the scene tragic emotional weight. It's clear that Quentin Tarantino applied the lessons he learned from Duckling when he made the famous ear-cutting scene in Reservoir Dogs.

Earlier, when Maciara is being interrogated, she works herself into a wide-eyed frenzy, confessing to the murders. This ends with her on the floor twitching and foaming at the mouth, while the police just stand around, give her space, and watch. This town has the most inept police force in any giallo film. In fact, they blow off crucial evidence and ignore important contradictions throughout the film.

Fashion Moment

As I mentioned earlier, the outsiders really stand out in this little village. None more so than Patrizia, who likes to wear bright colors, low tops, and high skirts. This expensive-looking outfit is a good example.

The Girl Who Knew Too Much

The Girl Who Knew Too Much

"Oh mother. Murders don't just happen like that here. "

Nora Davis (Leticia Roman) is a young American tourist and an avid reader of crime novels, who has an exciting first day in Rome. First, the kind man on the plane who offered her a cigarette is arrested at the airport for smuggling marijuana. Then, after her elderly host dies unexpectedly of a heart attack, she runs for help and is knocked unconscious on the Spanish Steps by a mugger. In her delirious state, Nora witnesses a woman getting stabbed to death nearby but when she awakes, no one believes her story, dismissing it as the result of too many mystery novels and a youthful imagination. When Laura (Valentina Cortese), a neighbor of Nora's late host, lets Nora stay at her apartment, things seem to return to normal – until the maid reveals that a murder really did take place, just as Nora described... ten years ago!  Did Nora experience a psychic vision of the crime? Or could it just be a delusion, brought on by the marijuana cigarette she accidentally smoked? And who is the stranger in the shabby sport coat who follows her around? With help from the handsome Doctor Marcello Bassi (John Saxon), Nora intends to untangle the mystery!

The Girl Who Knew Too Much is cited as the first giallo - the movie that started the craze for stylish Italian murder mysteries. It's also Mario Bava's last black and white movie.  Even if the title wasn't a giveaway, it's not hard to see that this film is Mario Bava's homage to Alfred Hitchcock. It borrows many of Hitchcock's favorite themes and stylistic cues, like the creative use of suspense, touches of humor to counter-balance the dark subject matter, and a director cameo. Even though the killer's motives don't really make sense and the plot is driven by an outrageous string of coincidences, this is still an enjoyable film that I recommend highly.
  • Being the first movie of its genre, The Girl Who Knew Too Much sets up quite a few precedents:  the curious amateur detective, a main character with a story that no one else believes, inept police, high body count, flirting with the paranormal, and a story that starts in the middle, expanding beyond the temporal boundaries of the film, just to name a few.
  • Bava mixes genres beautifully in this film, bringing elements of romantic comedy to his crime thriller. It's a shame that more giallo film makers didn't emulate this.
  • There are famous stories about how John Saxon and Mario Bava didn't get along during production of The Girl Who Knew Too Much. I met John Saxon once at a horror movie convention and, while he was charming and friendly and happily autographed my DVD, he evaded all my questions about the film.
  • One of my favorite moments is at the end, when we see rays of light beaming through two bullet holes in a door. It's a dramatic effect that's been copied in countless movies.
  • Dante DiPaolo, who plays the reporter, Landini, was married late in life to Rosemary Clooney. This makes him stepfather to Miguel Ferrer, stepfather-in-law to Debbie Boone, brother-in-law to Nick Clooney, and uncle to George Clooney.
What the Hell am I Watching?

The Girl Who Knew Too Much is really the story of a young murder mystery novel-loving woman who discovers that she's the main character in a murder mystery. It's meta and self-referential before that was even a thing. Basically, it's the Scream of the 1960's.

Fashion Moment

Nora is looking FIERCE in this python-skin trench coat.

Naked You Die

Naked You Die

"You have to tell me! Any moment the murderer could do it again."

St. Hilda College is a prestigious private academy for rich, beautiful young women, but this semester the students are getting an education... in murder! Someone is killing off the girls (and a few members of the staff) and plucky aspiring crime novelist Gille (Sally Smith) wants to be the first to get to the bottom of the case. Before long, Inspector Durand (Michael Rennie) is on the case, sorting out suspects and motives. Could it be dashing riding professor Richard Barrett (Mark Damon), who is having a secret affair with a student? Or perhaps stern Headmistress Transfield (Vivian Stapleton)? What is the killer's motive and why did he ship his first victim all the way to the school in a steamer trunk?

Naked You Die is a fantastic early giallo from Antonio Margheriti, with an uncredited script by Mario Bava. With that kind of pedigree, how could it not be one of the best gialli ever? Bava's fingerprints are all over this one, from the many references to Psycho (two bathroom murders, a top-of-the-stairs attack, and the twist ending) to the mystery novel-loving heroine Gille, who is clearly a variation on Leticia Roman's character in The Girl Who Knew Too Much.  Even though there's almost no blood and the only nudity is fleeting, the story holds up, the pace is quick, and the characters are well-defined. Further, it's a significant stepping stone in the development of the genre: thematically, a direct line can be drawn from Psycho, through Naked You Die to Torso, which led to the development of the slasher flick.

  • Two of the five victims are naked at the time of their death so, technically, the title holds up.
  • Sci-fi fans will undoubtedly recognize Michael Rennie, who plays Inspector Durand, from his most famous role as Klaatu in 1952's The Day The Earth Stood Still.
  • Mark Damon mostly retired from acting in the 1970's and turned his attention behind the cameras. He has become a producer of some major films including Wolfgang Petersen's Das Boot (1981), The Lost Boys (1987), and Monster (2002) starring Charlize Theron.
  • The version available on both Netflix and YouTube is in subtitled Italian, but the translation is full of typos, inaccurate phrasing, and poor syntax. One of my favorite lines goes completely un-translated. Lucille is sneaking out of the dorm to meet her boyfriend under the pretense of going to the showers. Gille runs into her in the hallway and knows what's up:
Gille: Where are you going?
Lucille:  To take a shower.
Gille: Because you're dirty?
  • The theme of a secret teacher-student affair and its impact on a murder investigation would be explored again a few years later in What Have You Done To Solange?
  • Is there a gay character in the cast? I've decided that "gay character" includes lesbians, bisexuals, trans-gender characters and transvestites, so yes.
  • The one animal death is the live butterfly that gets pinned to Professor Andre's specimen board. It's reminiscent of a similar scene in Bava's Twitch of the Death Nerve.
What The Hell Am I Watching?

The movie's main theme song sounds an awful lot like the music from TV's Batman.

One of the victims is strangled by hand from behind, which is impossible – you can't close off a wind pipe from that angle. What the killer does is really more of a Vulcan neck pinch.

The forbidden teacher-student affair is creepy enough, but throughout the movie the two perform role-playing as Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf. I suppose if the girl is in college and over 18 it's not as bad, but still. And after all that, they let the teacher off the hook at the end! Unheard of!

So are we left to deduce by the ending that Gille's father is a secret agent with a license to kill?

Fashion Moment

I love the uniforms at this school. When we first see the girls, they're lounging poolside in these white suits with yellow trim. Even the accessories like hair bows and sunglasses match.

Later, everyone got the memo to wear white. Love the tie.

These stylish green uniforms make the girls look like St. Hilda's is a flight attendant school.

There's even a uniform for bedtime.

Of course, having all the girls in identical uniforms helps drive the plot, which involves the killer striking several times due to mistaken identity.