Giallo masterpiece: YOUR VICE IS A LOCKED ROOM AND ONLY I HAVE THE KEY review
Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key is directed by giallo master Sergio Martino (The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail) and it’s about a has-been writer called Oliviero (Luigi Pistilli) who is a real dork. He spends most of his time being a prick, getting drunk and cheating on his super-hot wife (Anita Strindberg). Anyhoo, he becomes the prime suspect when one of his mistresses is found with her throat slashed. Then comes the day when Oliviero is visited by his slutty niece (Edwige Fenech) and it comes as no surprise that the horny bastard ends up in bed with her too. But what does come as a bit of a surprise is that the niece and the submissive wife become more and more sexually attracted to each other. And the plot thickens when even more people drop dead, while a fat cat named Satan lurks in the background. This is a very sensual film, well-made and it has a creepy atmosphere, a bizarre sing-along, clever twists, gory murder scenes and probably one of the strongest casts assembled for a giallo, including Ivan “Man From Deep River” Rassimov (in a silver wig) and two of my favorite actresses; Anita Strindberg and Edwige Fenech. The film is influenced by the writings of Edgar Allan Poe, and the cool title is a reference to Sergio Martino’s earlier giallo The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh (also with Fenech) in which the same phrase appears in a note sent by a killer.
Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key (“Il tuo vizio è una stanza chiusa e solo io ne ho la chiave”) Release year: 1972 Country: Italy Director: Sergio Martino
Often cited as “the grandaddy of all cannibal flicks,” The Man From Deep River is really much more of a Mondo with story than a cannibal flick. It’s also very light on the gore scenes we’re accustomed to in the genre- that doesn’t mean there aren’t gore scenes, honest; just that there are somewhat less of them. It’s still got a lot of the expected trappings of the genre- Ivan Rassimov appears, again, in a leading role, and Me Me Lai (credited here with the surname Lay- make your own jokes) is naked for most of the picture. There’s animal violence, bizarre “true” rituals that may or may not be, and implied racism. There. That’s it; you can quit reading the review now.
We’ve probably kicked the term around, but let’s define what a Mondo is. The Mondo film genre was an Italian (aren’t they all on Baryonyx?) phenomenon kicked off by Mondo Cane, which translated means something like “A Dog’s World;” I would expect the English translation of that to be something like “It’s For The Dogs.” The Mondo genre, and Mondo Cane, could just as easily be called “Shockumentaries” both in intent and content; typically, the films showed strange rituals from around the world and, most tellingly for our purposes, lots and lots of animal gore.
Most tellingly at all, if you’re Ruggero Deodato and have a score to settle with the media, much of the footage was faked.
So the documentaries were produced and consumed quickly, but by as early as 1972 they began to lose steam. They would continue to be produced for decades after this (see the popular, controversial, and also often faked Faces of Death series for proof of that) but one possible way to revive the genre was to add a plot to the ethnographies presented on screen. The Man From Deep River is the first example of this and the last attempt for the genre to be presented as much documentary as story; that said, Cannibal Holocaust earned much of its notoriety by claiming to depict true events, and most of the films in the genre (including the pornography Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals!!!) claimed to be based on true events in some way, though I don’t think anyone has ever believed most of them.
Let’s talk about that newly added plot. Rassimov plays a photographer, John Bradley, who travels to what I take to be Thailand to photograph what I assume to be nature. He goes to a kickboxing match (is this one of the bizarre rituals?) and drunkenly kills a man who pulls the knife on him first. Realizing he’s up shit river, he takes off for a week to some other river. As he does, the man who rents him the boat to travel a native and cannibal infested river (I wonder what sort of return on investment he gets for his boats?) warns him to stay where the river is wide. Once it turns narrow, it gets dangerous. Apparently, if a river is narrow, it is also deep.
So naturally this happens.
That’s right, before long he is captured by a tribe of canni- scratch that, these are your garden variety, fun loving, yet still murderous and treacherous natives. So they kill his guide but keep him, surmising that he must be part fish due to his wetsuit. Anyway, it isn’t long before he tries to escape with the help of an old woman who speaks English (whatever) and fails, but in doing so kills the strongest warrior of the village.
Uh oh, right? Wrong. The tribe thinks this is pretty cool and inducts him as a man, kicking off a series of rituals over the course of three days that, oddly, we only see one day of. So he’s part of the tribe and, in a bizarre ritual, earns the hand of Me Me Lai (named Mariah in this one), which is both intimate and features her mother watching. I don’t know. Anyway, eventually he decides to call his unborn son “my little black savage” and, furthermore, not to return to civilization. Some other stuff of importance happens, but realistically, that’s the idea.
Oh, right, cannibalism.
You could be forgiven for forgetting that this is a cannibal genre flick from that description, but the film does touch on the subject, almost accidentally, and depending on who you listen to managed to start a shitacular film craze that haunts me to this day. Anyway, the neighboring tribe are evil cannibals, and two attacks occur with them in the film, with just one (pictured above) featuring cannibalism. I’d seen it before, because the footage also appears later in Eaten Alive! Much of the animal violence also appears in the later film. And it’s no wonder why.
You see, both films were directed by Umberto Fucking Lenzi, our nemesis from earlier, who can’t make a decent picture and wasn’t about to start giving a damn now. While the scene is effective, it’s also a sidenote and ultimately seems intended to shock the audience. You’d think cannibalism would be portrayed as a ritual, since that’s, well, sort of the focus of the whole Mondo craze- show rituals in other parts of the world and pass them off as legitimate. Since the story is called out as fictional, are we to believe that this attack is fictional? Or that cannibal attacks do still happen in part of the world- but that it’s not something that appears in an ethnography of a tribe’s rituals, since it’s more of a raving attack.
In a lot of ways, actually, this makes the best argument for the “cannibalism happens amongst primitives” hypothesis we see in a lot of later films. When cannibalism is ritualized, it is a sign of an advanced religious culture- but roving bands of cannibals eating people in random attacks? That’s primitive. Maybe Lenzi was on to something here- but based on his later work inCannibal Ferox, probably not.
Also, this guy shows up.
So, is this really the film that started the cannibalism craze? Baryonyx says: yes. It’s been suggested before that Jungle Holocaust was meant to be sort of a sequel to this film early in production, and that would certainly indicate relation between the two films- the former a sort of mock-mondo and the latter a full blown cannibal adventure flick, and one of the first. Cannibal films could have come from anywhere in the world, but they came from Italy, home of the Mondo film genre, and that’s damning evidence, too. You see, The Man From Deep River isn’t fully a cannibal film- it’s probably more Mondo than Carne- but it’s the missing link between the two, a step in the evolution of a genre that had no idea what was coming next- although Lenzi certainly remained a part of it.
And while Lenzi certainly remained a recognized name in the cannibal genre, this is the only film I’d feel comfortable suggesting he innovated. Eaten Alive! is more or less a rehash of Jungle Holocaust, which was a tremendous step forward for the genre, and Cannibal Ferox is more or less a grossly inferior version of Cannibal Holocaust. If the idea was his, I credit him for it; and as we’ve seen that Lenzi was, on occasion, capable of innovative thought (see the fast zombies in Nightmare City for evidence of that).
What’s strangest of all is that the film hit drive ins around 1972, but the film that bears the most relation to it is Amazonia: The Catherine Miles Story in 1985. Perhaps it’s telling that, as the genre died out, it tried to go closer to its roots; that the excesses of Cannibal Holocaust and Cannibal Ferox might have been what was killing it. But it couldn’t have been more wrong. It’s like Baryonyx always says- any time you begin a genre with a slow paced, overly romantic, animal gore filled piece of monkey shit, making another one doesn’t take you anywhere you haven’t been before. View this film like you’d view the first dinosaur; something important and influential that we’re still talking about today, but damned if we’re not glad it’s over.