There were certain rites of passage you had to go through to earn your spurs as an Italian movie director in the sixties, seventies and eighties. Gothic spooker starring Babs Steele or any cheekboned starlet who vaguely resembled her? Check. Spanish-shot oater as part of an ongoing western series featuring a brand-name anti-hero? Check. Cheapo plastic SF flick encasing your cast in costumes so shiny the studio lights reflected in them? Check. Convoluted contemporary thriller where the plot stops every ten minutes for the Costa-Gavras or Bertolucci-isms to be rudely interrupted for someone in a stylish boutique outfit to have their throat garrotted by somebody else in an equally modish brimmed hat? Check. Mawkish tearjerking drama about a sickly hospitalised preteen who isn’t going to bother writing a Christmas list this year? Check. Cannibal and/or zombie outrage? Goes without saying. Some years ago I even created a fictional filmmaker named ‘Ferdinando Truccari’ (anglicised to ‘Ferdy Fake’) and compiled his extensive and varied filmography to illustrate the very point I’m making – ‘Truccari’ did everything from Bond knockoffs to macaroni Mad Maxes before climaxing his ‘career’ with the inevitable ‘Black Rambo’ (the Bobby Rhodes vehicle that never was, naturally). Somewhere along the way, Ferdinando crafted an adaptation of Poe’s ‘The Black Cat’. Of course he did.
In the real world, ‘The Black Cat’ inexplicably became one of the essential stepping stones for any Italian director, aspiring or established. Fulci staged a version in an English village, ladling on the blood and guts as usual; Luigi Cozzi attempted a bizarre wrap-up of the Three Mothers trilogy using Poe’s title, by all accounts failing to pay his cast and crew in the process if Caroline Munro and her bank manager’s tales of woe are to be believed; and even Argento gave Poe a go, with Harvey Keitel on blistering method form as photographer ‘Rod Usher’. Preceding all of these, giallo maestro Sergio Martino took a stab at walling up half of his cast in IL TUO VIZIO E UNA STANZA CHIUSA E SOLO IO NE HO LA CHIAVE, or YOUR VICE IS A LOCKED ROOM AND ONLY I HAVE THE KEY. Raincoat-garbed punters at U.K. fleapits and triple-screen outlets were spared having to remember all that, being lured in instead by the catchy alternate title EXCITE ME and the promise – for once, fulfilled to a large extent – of seeing the luminous Edwige Fenech in the nip.
Edwige takes her tantalising time getting here, turning up over half an hour in but instantly grabbing the viewer’s attention and proceeding to spice up the otherwise traditional “who’s murdering who, who is going to be next and why?” fare on offer here. Like ‘Satan’, the none-more-black moggy who prowls around the outskirts throughout, Edwige doesn’t have a deal of a connection with the main thrust of events but boy are you glad she’s there.
My earlier comment about Martino taking a ‘stab’ at the classic source material is perhaps erroneous, since knives unusually play little part here – instead, the killer (or one of them – heh, heh, heh…) prefers more visually spectacular weaponry in the form of a vicious-looking scythe blade, brought into play in a couple of stunningly directed and edited set-pieces accompanied by the most driving, frantic section of Bruno Nicolai’s masterly score.
Several different characters wear a lavish gown styled upon one sported by Mary Queen of Scots, a treacherous cliff edge comes into prominence more than once, there’s a pavement cafe conversation about the benefits of European integration which makes more sense than anything I’ve heard from David Cameron or Michael Gove during our own current in/out E.U. debates, and even at the point where the plot grinds to a halt, it does so in order for us to watch five minutes of velocity-packed motocross.
The film is also crammed with rounded and well-developed supporting figures, from the bunch of hippies taking nightly advantage of their well-off host’s hospitality to my favourite, the ancient rag-and-bone crone wheezing along on her overloaded trike, all propping up the roll call of such Euro-staples as Anita Strindberg, Luigi Pistilli and Ivan Rassimov. And might YOUR VICE… have been a favourite of one Stanley Kubrick? Ten minutes from the end, there’s the terrifying revelation that a novelist character has simply been spending their working hours typing out the same chilling sentence over and over and over…