Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key

Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key

"What did Irina tell you? That she shares her bed with a crazy alcoholic murderer?"

Irina Rouvigny (Anita Strinberg) has a rough life. Her unloving husband Olivero (Luigi Pistilli) is a failed writer with an Oedipal complex who drinks too much, sleeps around, and parties every night with the hippies from the local campgrounds. She lives in a crumbling mansion and even the cat, Satan, seems to have it in for her. When Olivero's young mistress and then the maid turn up dead, Irina suspects her husband, but still helps him cover up the crimes, hiding bodies in the cellar. Things get more complicated when Olivero's hot-blooded niece, Floriana (Edwige Fenech) shows up for an extended visit. Floriana proceeds to seduce Irina and her own uncle (plus a young motorcycle racer), taking both sides and plotting with each to kill the other. But who is playing who in this game of cat and mouse?

The story is based on Edgar Allan Poe's "The Black Cat," (though very loosely) and he even gets a screenwriting credit.  Anita Strinberg gets all my respect for heavily downplaying her beauty for this role. For most of the movie she looks like a strung-out Ann-Margaret. Also, let's address the dozens of flash-cuts of the cat's eyes (or "eye" after Irina gouges one out).  
  • Edwige Fenech made this movie the same year as The Case of the Bloody Iris and her range between the two movies is amazing. Here, she's a young, self-assured schemer in complete control of everything while in Iris, she plays a shy, nervous, more mature woman lost in victimhood.
  • In the film, Olivero shuts himself in his study writing and Irina later sees that he has been typing the same psychotic phrase over and over for page after page: "Kill her and hide her in the cellar wall." Sound familiar? Note that this movie came out five years before Stephen King published The Shining and eight years before Stanley Kubrick's film adaptation.
  • As one YouTube commenter writes, one could easily turn the flash-cuts of the cat's eyes into a drinking game. You'd be drunk before you know it.
  • The title has nothing to do with this film, but it does come from an earlier Martino-Fenech collaboration. The phrase "Your vice is a locked room and only I have the key" appears in a note from the killer in The Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh (a.k.a. Blade of the Ripper).

What the Hell Am I Watching?
The craziest scene in the movie is right at the beginning. Drunk, angry Olivero gets his party guests to dump their drinks into a bowl and humiliates his wife by forcing her to drink it.  Then he sexually harasses the maid as the party guests sing a creepy, taunting song and one young woman strips naked and dances on the table. This scene effectively sets up the creepy atmosphere of the film.

Fashion Moment
There's not much glamor to report here, since the characters are a bunch of downward-spiraling depressives.  All the women try on Olivero's mother's 18th Century costume at some point and that's the nicest article of clothing in the film.

You'll Die At Midnight

You'll Die at Midnight

"Normally the murderer, after the homicidal rage, would surrender."

After police detective Nicola Levi (Leonardo Treviglio) has a vicious fight with his wife, Sara (Barbara Scoppa) he leaves their apartment to cool off, only to discover later that she has been murdered in his absence. It turns out that Sara's murder was committed in the style of notorious serial killer Franco Tribbo, who died in a mysterious fire years ago. Nicola's friend, criminal psychologist Anna Berardi (Valeria D'Obici), is eager to help – partly to aid her friend and partly because she has always been strangely fascinated by the Tribbo case.  Did Franco Tribbo really die all those years ago? Or has his ghost returned to stalk the women of this quiet seaside village? Anna gets help from her graduate students at the local university as well as handsome Inspector Pietro Terzi (Paolo Malco). But as they get closer to the truth, the bodies keep piling up.

You'll Die at Midnight (not to be confused with Death Stalks at Midnight) is the work of director Lamberto Bava , the son of giallo pioneer Mario Bava and protegee of Dario Argento.  The younger Bava is a perennial film student and in this movie he borrows or makes reference to a lot of other, better films. If you look closely, you can find references to Psycho, Four Flies on Gray Velvet, The Girl Who Knew Too Much, The Shining, Halloween, and The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, just to name a few. And these references range from subtle use of props and locations to full-on shot-for-shot re-makes and brazenly copied plot elements. Which isn't to say that You'll Die at Midnight isn't effective. By 1986 the traditional giallo was dying away because audiences preferred the bloodier thrills of slasher flicks. I'd like to think that Lamberto was trying to make a slasher-like giallo full of these references, to remind people about all the classic films that inspired him.
  • One of the many things Lamberto Bava borrows from Argento is Claudio Simonetti, Argento's longtime composer, who is sometimes credited along with his band, Goblin.
  • The village is beautiful and I have to wonder where this movie was filmed. It's a bustling, youthful seaside town with a university and a large natural history museum, but it has the Medieval architecture of a tiny, ancient city. Be careful, though – the fog can roll in quickly and unexpectedly.
  • None of the various titles make any sense. But then again, who would see a movie called You'll Die Around Mid-Afternoon Between Three and Five PM?
  • Actually, the title may be a reference to the 1971 giallo The Man With Icy Eyes, in which  Antonio Sabato and Barbara Bouchet receive threatening notes reading "You'll die at midnight."
What the Hell am I Watching?

During the fight with Sara, Nicola is stabbed in the shoulder with an ice pick, about two inches deep. We're talking serious muscle and nerve damage here and he just walks it off like it's nothing. A little gauze does the trick.

Clearly, Italian hospitals need better security, if anyone can walk in off the street and look up confidential patient files.

You know things are going to get good when Anna's three female grad students move into a large abandoned hotel to finish their thesis papers.

One of my favorite scenes was in the hotel kitchen. The killer attacks Monica (Eliann Miglio) with a knife and she fends him off with a hand mixer... until the cord pops out of the wall. You know that's how the circular saw scene from My Dear Killer should have gone.

 Fashion Moment


Lamberto Bava loves to drop visual clues to the identity of the killer throughout the movie and You'll Die at Midnight has a prime example.  Here's Nicola's apartment, the site of the first murder. Note the white decor with neon yellow accents:

Now here's an outfit Anna wears a few days later. Notice how her clothes tie her to the crime scene:

In fact, her outfits become darker and darker thoughout the film, but the yellow accents remain a constant motif:

In this shot, Carol has just had an encounter with the killer and is now wearing yellow to indicate her connection. Remember that the Italian word for "yellow" is... "giallo."


Mind. Blown.

The Bird with the Crystal Plumage

The Bird With the Crystal Plumage

"What's happening to me? This damn thing is turning into an obsession."

Sam Dalmas (Tony Mustane), an American living in Italy, is walking home one dark night when he sees two figures struggling inside a brightly-lit modern art gallery. He is able to scare off the shadowy attacker, but the victim, gallery owner Monica Ranieri (Eva Renzi) is badly wounded. Sam tells the police what he saw, but he can't shake the notion that one detail is missing – one important clue that could change everything. He becomes fixated and, with the help of his girlfriend Julia (Suzy Kendall) begins investigating the three other murders attributed to the attacker. The trail leads him to a reclusive painter, a stuttering pimp, and a rare Russian bird, but the closer he gets, the more danger he is in, as the killer tries to make Sam the next victim.

Director Dario Argento burst onto the Italian movie scene in 1970 with this incredible feature – one of the finest gialli ever made. We see that from the beginning of his career, Argento's talent was to take the predictable conventions of the genre and turn them on their head. Brightly-lit scenes can be as scary as shadows and darkness, ultra-modern settings can be as eerie as gothic mansions, and modern technology and scientific methods can take the place of old-fashioned sleuthing. Plus, the script is peppered with great little character moments and some very clever mis-directs. There are several great suspenseful moments of dramatic irony where the audience discovers a clue before the characters see it. If The Bird With the Crystal Plumage were better-known among mainstream audiences in the U.S., I think it would rank high on lists of the best twist endings in movie history, along with The Sixth Sense, The Usual Suspects, and The Sting.

Another enormous influence on early Argento films (and especially this one) is Michaelangelo Antonioni's 1966 art film Blow Up, in which a fashion photographer (Deep Red's David Hemmings) slowly realizes that he inadvertently witnessed a murder. While this basic plot can be seen reflected in Crystal Plumage (and several subsequent Argento scripts), it's Antonioni's stylish direction, modern flair, and cool hipster characters that Argento really took to heart. Perhaps The Bird With the Crystal Plumage could be seen as a synthesis of Mario Bava's classic structure with Antonioni's ultra-modern sense of style.

  • Legendary composer Ennio Moriccone composed the jazzy, noisy, avant-garde score. Cues from this score can be heard in Quentin Tarantino's Death Proof and Sam Raimi's Drag Me to Hell.
  • Near the beginning, Sam is startled by an old lady in the street. That old lady is Maria Tedeschi, who would go on to play scowly Mrs. Moss in The Case of the Bloody Iris.
  • A work of art holding a major clue in the case is a theme that would re-appear in a lot of Argento's films, including Deep Red, Four Flies on Gray Velvet, and Susperia.
  • In regards to the tally above, it should be noted that three of the murders and one attempted murder occur before the action of the movie starts.
  • Argento's whole approach to the giallo was so startlingly new and exciting that it has been copied over and over by successive film makers. Many of them bow to the master with a similarly wordy title involving an animal, an adjective, and a body part.  Some such films include The Cat with the Jade Eyes, The Iguana with the Tongue of Fire, and The Black Belly of the Tarantula. Argento's own follow-up, Cat O'Nine Tails, also follows this trend.

What the Hell am I Watching?
The Bird With the Crystal Plumage seems to be about breaking with the conventions of thriller cinema, which include dark houses, helpless women, and black cats. I think maybe Sam is literally destroying the conventions when he is tricked into eating cat stew.

Fashion Moment
I covet Sam's brown leather jacket, but I have to give it up to costume designer Dario Micheli for putting the hit man in a windbreaker of bright yellow (or in Italian, giallo). He's literally an asassino giallo (a "yellow killer" or a "giallo killer") in every sense. It may not be practical, but it sure is stylish. And it's a great wink to the audience.

Short Night of the Glass Dolls

Short Night of the Glass Dolls

"There are both good and evil in crime... they're not separate."

Gregory Moore (Jean Sorel) is an American journalist in Soviet Prague who finds himself on a slab in the morgue – paralyzed and fully conscious, but pronounced dead. As he lies helpless, Greg recounts the mysterious events of recent days: His girlfriend Mira (Barbara Bach) disappeared without a trace after a fancy cocktail party, leaving behind all of her clothes and her passport. Greg and his colleagues Jessica (Ingrid Thulin) and Ivan (Relja Basic) set out to find her, questioning the city's corrupt elite. They soon discover that Mira's disappearance is one of many, linked to a dark conspiracy hidden within the walls of an exclusive chamber music society. Can Greg piece together the clues? And will he recover from his paralysis before doctors can perform a lethal autopsy?

Short Night of the Glass Dolls (not to be confused with Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll) has a really ingenious hook – the main character is actually trying to solve his own murder. And because he is paralyzed and flashing back to the events, it's still a somewhat plausible scenario, where his recovery is a possibility. The city of Prague provides a heavy, almost claustrophobic atmosphere for the film and there are some really well-staged scenes. My favorites include the train-bridge scene, where the murderer is hidden behind a well-timed plume of smoke and the intense final five minutes.
  • Ennio Morricone's score is reminiscent of the dramatic, dissonant work of Krystof Penderecki, with looming strings instead of his usual noisy, funky bop.
  • Ingrid Thulin, who appeared in some of Ingmar Bergman's most acclaimed films like Wild Strawberries and Cries and Whispers, is really slumming here.
  • The structure of the movie, with a main character narrating from the morgue, is reminiscent of Billy Wilder's film noir classic Sunset Boulevard.

What the Hell Am I Watching?

Um... Satanic naked geriatric sex orgy? And, man, those oldies are not shy about it.

No one ever alludes to the fact that Ivan, the Czech reporter, speaks with a thick Scottish burr.

Let's talk about Ivan's hippie girlfriend, who is so stoned when we first meet her that she doesn't realize that Ivan is groping her while telling Greg what a stupid slut she is.

Just as the action starts to amp up, everything comes to a screeching halt for a musical number, "Short Night of the Butterflies."  It's a bright, happy tune sung by a hippie street performer, with lyrics about blood raining from the sky and butterflies getting their wings cut off.

One of my favorite parts is at a concert, where the soloist stops in what is clearly the middle of the piece, stands up, and walks away from the piano. What is going on in this movie?

Also: apparently, tomatoes feel pain.

Fashion Moment 

Greg rocks an awesome string bow tie at the cocktail party. And check out that piping.

But the real fashion winner is Jessica, who stands out from the crowd in her purple velvet pantsuit with matching Gypsy head scarf.