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It’s Not Nice to Anger a Devil of a Cat

by Tony Nash

(A Part of The Cycle of the Melodic Gialli)

(Spoiler Free)

(All opinions are of the author alone)

(This review is of the Italian Language version)

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Il Tuo Vizio e una Stanza Chiusa e Solo Io ne ho la Chiave (Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key/Eye of the Black Cat) (1972) R ****/12

Edwige Fenech: Floriana, the Niece

Anita Strindberg: Irena Rouvigny

Luigi Pistilli: Oliviero Rouvigny

Ivan Rassimov: Walter, a Stranger

Franco Nebbia: The Commissario

Riccardo Salvino: Dario, the Delivery/Race Driver

Angela La Vorgna: Brenda, the Maid

Daniela Giordano: Fausta, Oliviero’s Student Lover

Nerina Montagnani: Signora Molinar

Written by: Ernesto Gastaldi, Adriano Bolzoni, & Sauro Scavolini, from a story by Luciano Martino & Scavolini based on The Black Cat by Edgar Allan Poe (as E.A. Poe in Italian Version)

Directed by: Sergio Martino

Synopsis: Depraved alcoholic writer and former teacher Oliviero torments his suffering wife with physical, mental, and emotional abuse, sleeping with their maid and the local intellectual hippie students, and even sic’s his equally depraved black cat Satan on her. When one of his former student’s is found dead with her throat cut, the police immediately suspect Oliviero, whose affair with her was widely gossiped on. Complications further arise when Oliviero’s free-spirited and lusty niece Floriana arrives for an extended vacation, discovers the goings on, and sleeps with the suffering wife.

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Sergio Martino, one of the lesser talked about auteurs of the Giallo genre, culminates a brief and exceptionally well crafted collaboration with sister-in-law Edwige Fenech in Vizio. Building an original tale around the famous conclusion to Edgar Allan Poe’s classic story The Black Cat, the Martino brothers and their favorite writers Ernesto Gastaldi and Sauro Scavolini weave a tale of paranoia, murder, revenge, greed, money, and sex, all with a sinister black cat right in the middle of it. While Poe’s tale was more in the lines of Psychological Horror with hints of the Supernatural, Vizio is a full out Mystery and Suspense Thriller that leaves the audience constantly wondering what is going on, who the killer is and what they’re after, and who the killer’s next victim will be. That one of the three main characters is a complete degenerate and psycho, that anyone else could be committing the murders within the film seems impossible. As with any good Thriller, nothing is ever what is seems and characters could very well be hiding dangerous secrets.

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Edwige Fenech, a Maltese/Italian actress born in French Algeria, is an exotic delight in the role of Floriana. The character was originally written as an 18 year old college girl, but was aged slightly to accommodate Fenech, who expressed interest in the part rather than that of the wife. Normally known for playing the seductive and beautiful damsel in distress, Fenech got to show off her talents as an actress with the role of the femme fatale. One of the many symbols of both the Counter-Culture and Feminist Movements, Floriana defies many of the standard cultural and societal roles of women of the day: sexually liberated, independent, and in control. Fenech has the character constantly looking and watching, seemingly waiting for someone to make a mistake so she can take advantage of it, much like a lioness on the hunt. From the get go Floriana makes no bones that she’s sexually promiscuous, exchanging sensual innuendo laden barbs with her lecherous uncle, and easily seducing both her emotionally distraught aunt and later a handsome delivery boy. The latter openly hints that Floriana is possibly bi-sexual, or just knows how to play at sensual triggers. Very little is mentioned of her past, other than that she spent quite a bit of time at a Commune, which does confirm her hippie like lifestyle, but nothing else is ever really said about her. While she clearly sees her uncle as a depraved ego maniac with tendencies to violent reactions when crossed, she seems to be a little less than interested in helping her aunt get away from her uncle’s grasp.

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Anita Strindberg, a Swedish actress who immigrated to Italy for work, gives one of her best performances as Irena. Like with Fenech, Strindberg, who normally played independent and smart women, gets to stretch her range as an actress with the role of a woman driven to the brink of insanity. Also like with Floriana, little of Irena’s life before marrying into Oliviero’s depraved royal family is never mentioned, so it’s impossible to judge if she was a good person or a bad one at an earlier time. While clearly emotionally drained and constantly in fear of both her husband and his pet cat, it’s bizarre that she hasn’t ever attempted to previously break away from him and start a new life somewhere else. Her hatred of the cat Satan is as such that she’s actually threatened to kill him, rather than go after her husband, baffling viewers and characters alike as to why she hates the animal more than her husband.

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Luigi Pistilli, one of Italy’s most prolific and respected character actors, is a real piece of work and louse in the role of Oliviero. A man with failed ambitions to be a great writer, Oliviero seeks to compensate for his lack of talent by drinking, abusing his wife physically, sexually, and mentally/emotionally, treating the students who frequently visit his ancestral home like intellectual inferiors, and having affairs almost at will. He also displays something of a latent Oedipal Complex with his dead mother whom he speaks of in a bizarre way, this idea heightened when Floriana asks him if he and mother ever slept in the same bed together when he reached adulthood. After one of his students, whom he was having an affair via blackmail, is savagely murdered, he becomes a suspect as he had everything to gain from her death, which only heightens his paranoia and drinking. While clearly frustrated by his life and his failed career as a writer, Oliviero has somehow managed to restrain himself from the desire to murder, either not so depraved and mad as he appears, or because he also suffers from a kind of sexual inferiority complex with any woman. When he states clearly intends to kill his wife to be free to pursue a full on decadent way of life, if he realty did commit any of the crimes occurring within the film comes into speculation.

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A very interesting note to the film is the lesbian love scene between Irena and Floriana. While most love scenes in 70’s Italian films were often chaotic and focused primality on the bodies of the actresses, this one focuses on the faces of actresses Fenech and Strindberg. With the character of Irena’s life being so full of misery, pain, and fear, that her initial tryst with Floriana is soft, loving, and beautiful is a nice change of pace to otherwise . Neither Fenech or Strindberg had any qualms about bearing all on camera, but that Martino and his cinematographer decided to focus on their expressions rather than their bodies, though audiences still see the actresses arms and backs, is an interesting choice and one that provides a well needed tenderness to a sense of constant paranoia and fear.

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While many film adaptations of Poe’s classic tale had little if nothing to do with the Cat itself  or the Cat played only a minor role, and changing the story completely around,  Martino focused on the plot element, keeping with Poe’s basic plot outline, but with a unique twist. The only loss on Martino’s end is that the cat isn’t so much a character within the film as Lucio Fulci’s cat in his 1981 adaptation is (Fulci goes as far as to make him a kind of antagonist). Instead, Martino decides to utilize the cat as a kind of symbolic element, the fear of the unknown and death for Irene, and a memory of his mother and a representation of his descent into decadence for Oliviero. While the viewer isn’t necessarily guided through the film by the cat, he is indeed a spectator, a silent witness to the depravity, the violence, and the insanity of a slowly disintegrating family. That he evokes a kind of sadistic enjoyment and pleasure of his own adds to the creepiness he represents. An interesting note to Martino’s film is that the cat is actually referred to by a name throughout the film: Satan, a nod to the Devil. In Poe’s original tale, the cat’s name is Pluto, (Latinized Ancient Italian Plutone), the Ancient Roman name for Hades, also a representation of the Devil. This adds an interesting point of irony as Irena often refers to him as a beast and a demon, and he has shown at times he derives a kind of joy from her pain and suffering.

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What at first seems like a dark and bleak Melodrama, suddenly transforms into a wild, erotic, and suspenseful Thriller that pays homage to the likes of Agatha Christie, Edgar Wallace, Dashiell Hammett, James M. Cain, and Raymond Chandler. Martino and the screenwriters take the core elements of Poe’s dark tale and weave an interesting original around it, and leave the audience in constant bewilderment until near the very end. Well paced, finely plotted, and well acted, Vizio is an underrated example of a good Thriller with plenty of twists and turns.

(I highly recommend this film for the performances of the three leads and the fine twist in the last 20 minutes of the film that leaves any viewer dumbfounded if they haven’t suspected anything. While not a direct adaptation of the Poe’s The Black Cat, Martino uses the core elements of Poe’s tale and has his screenwriters fashion something that plays well to both Poe’s subtext and to the contemporary views and feelings of the times. Arrow Video yet again proves they are a company that knows how to treat forgotten genre classics of 60’s and 70’s Italian cinema with crisp imagery and clear audio with translated subtitles. The only negative is a slight error in the subtitle translation, but isn’t anything too distracting.)

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Filed under: Film: Analysis/Overview, Film: Special Topics

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