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

Director: Sergio Martini (Italy). Year of Release: 1972

So, let’s see. There’s Oliviero, an ageing and drunkard writer who hasn’t published anything in years. Oliviero holds parties for the local hippies in his huge villa, while he humiliates the maid Brenda using the vilest racist and sexist language. Meanwhile, the hippies sing eerie folk songs and then get naked, giving everything a Wicker Man vibe. Oliviero is also prone to blackouts, most notably while people are being murdered and he might need an alibi.

Then there’s Oliviero’s wife Irina. Irina is red headed and looks like she could be a bit crazy. Then again, she’s a female character in the sort of film where women are, in general, a bit crazy. Oliviero regularly hits Irina and tells her how easy it would be to kill her. In an early scene, he invites all the attendees at one of his hippie parties to pour their unfinished drinks into a bowl which he then forces Irina to drink.

There’s Oliviero’s niece, Floriana, who’s there to look young and a little slutty, and to make googoo eyes at the milkman. The milkman takes her to watch him playing motocross (which verb is appropriate to use for people doing motocross?) where he takes an early lead and crashes before the end. He then takes Floriana to the top floor of a big house where the only furniture is a sleeping bag, and instructs her to take her clothes off.

There’s Oliviero’s mother who now only exists in Oliviero’s imaginiation and as a portrait of her dressed as Mary, Queen of Scots. Oliviero has a dress just like the one she wears in the portrait, which he urges women to wear shortly before he sleeps with them. You get the feeling that Oliviero’s relationship with his mother wasn’t entirely healthy-

Finally there’s Oliviero’s mother’s cat, Satan, which feeds on eyeballs. Satan also likes to eat the doves which Irina keeps, and creeps the fuck out of her, appearing in her nightmares. Irina does everything she can to harm him, including gouging out his eyes with a pair of scissors. Unfortunately, she does this while the local busybody is cycling past collecting empty bottles.

Young women, many of whom have slept with Oliviero, start to be murdered in a very bloody fashin. Irina initially provides Oliviero with an alibi, but the police don’t look entirely convinced. Eventually, one thing leads to another, someone pours oil on the road to make a motorist skid, then burns the oil to remove the evidence, there’s a death foretold when someone is pushed off a cliff, and part of the basement is bricked up to enclose 2 corpses and Satan, the cat.

There is a lot of violence in this film, most of it gratuitous. After watching it, we discussed whether this sort of film normalizes violence. I wasn’t sure, as the violence is so cartoonish that it can be hard to connect the abundance of blood we see on the screen with anything that would happen in real life. And yet there is a sinister feeling to it, that makes you feel that some sort of revenge is being carried out on all the female characters.

If the violence is a little over-the-top, it’s demure compared to the sex. There’s barely a scene without one of the women taking off her clothes (the men generally get to keep their kit on). Irina and Floriana get to engage in the least convincing lesbian sex scene ever. The combination of excessive violence and unnecessary sex gives the impression of a film that has been written, conceived and directed by men. Rarely has the male gaze been more pervading.

Your Vice is a Locked Room… is so batshit crazy that it makes no sense to judge it on the plot. Yes it is unsettling, just like an Edgar Allen Poe book (the film is based on a Poe short story), but what exactly is the point of this? Are we being unsettled so that we question long-held assumptions, or to enforce old clichés? You feel that we are being asked to become complicit in something which is affirming social injustice. And this is before we get to the rape and violence against women.

When geek reviewers say “this would be cancelled for so many reasons today”, statements like this deserve an intelligent response. And while we rarely want to go down the road of banning pieces of art (however lowbrow), it is worth asking the question: just what is the point of this? What are we being invited to enjoy here? The fact that the film is fairly well made – within its own parameters – means that we can admire the style while missing what is actually being said.

The end credits start with a statement, something like “Any similarity to real events is entirely coincidental”. It’s a knowing joke, but one which urges us to join the conspiracy of power. Of course this didn’t happen, haha, but wouldn’t it be funny if it did? Maybe we should have learned to distance ourselves, and just joined in the fun. But this feels irresponsible. There are most definitely parts of this film to admire. But its hard to get beyond the dangerous tropes that it is playing with.

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