Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Strange Vice Of Mrs. Wardh

Sergio Martino's giallo masterpiece `The Strange Vice Of Mrs. Wardh' (also under the inferior titles: `Next Victim' or `Blade Of The Ripper') is one of the best films in the Italian cult genre. This was Sergio Martino's first ( the pun) stab at a Giallo thriller, and it's one that defines the genre as much as Argento's `The Bird With The Crystal Plummage'. Directed in 1970, Sergio Martino set the standard for Italian Hitchcockian slasher films. His use of fancy camera angles to explore the art of killing is quite entertaining while at the same time unsettling (an example of this, has a man being shot while we see it happen in the sunglasses of the killer). Sergio Martino also incorporates a surreal travelogue of exotic locations (all the characters seem to be on permanent holiday) and erotic imagery, which depicts the Italians as the ultra hip jet setters of the 70's. Mixing the seductive and intense music of Nora Orlandi with these visuals, the viewer is captivated by a darker attraction, which cannot be justified. The viewer is barraged with misogynistic violence and female cruelty, while simultaneously being lured into the debauchery setting through the lush veneer. The film also weaves a convoluted plot, that has more then one murderer (I counted four!), and everyone seems guilty. Fresh from the Spaghetti Western genre, actor George Hilton was beginning to make himself a name in the Giallo world. Though he'd previously been in `The Sweet Body Of Deborah', `The Strange Vice Of Mrs. Wardh' was a meatier role. This film would also be the first of several that paired George Hilton with Edwige Fenech, as they continued to be the tortured couple in various Giallo outings. As a couple, George Hilton and Edwige Fenech seemed to represent exactly where Italy was at in the 70's. They were completely hedonistic, beautiful, rich, sexy, and free with passion yet completely shallow. They maybe shallow, but they are still more beautiful and nicer then the victims around them. It's the cardboard beauty that is the allure, yet their characters are never allowed to develop to be anything more then pawns for the mystery at hand. They represent our shallow fantasies, and unreal nightmares they represent a dream state. Ever notice how the characters never converse, but rather make statements, it never feels real. Along the way, we are introduced to other characters played by genre regulars Ivan Rassimov and Alberto de Mendoza. The story proceeds with a killing of a prostitute in a car by a sex crazed maniac. Then it moves on to Julie Wardh (Edwige Fenech) a rich wife to an Ambassador Neil Wardh (Alberto de Mendoza) who is being harassed by her ex-boyfriend Jean (Ivan Rassimov) who used to violently have sex with her. At a party she meets George (George Hilton) a handsome playboy, who likes to drive fast on motorcycles and wear white leather fringed jackets and aviator sunglasses. Suddenly the sex crazed murderer begins to kill women around her, while psychologically torturing her. The film lifts a reference or two from Psycho (there's a shower murder) and other Hitchcock films, but one must realize that this film fits into a genre known as Giallo, which is unique in it's own way. Though homage is paid to American mystery films, these films are still very much a product of Italy. It's this very genre that influenced `Dressed To Kill' and other American slasher films, not the other way around. It's these films that have the stylistic flair, where the likes of DePalma learn their craft by stealing. Some call it Euro Trash, or exploitative, but they refuse to see the finer aesthetic of the film. It's really just exploring the art of murder. This film is a must see for fans of Italian genre cinema, and should be done in widescreen.

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