Sponsor

Blu-Ray Review - THE STRANGE VICE OF MRS WARDH (1971)

THE STRANGE VICE OF MRS WARDH review
A socialite is haunted by sadomasochistic dreams of her abusive ex-lover.







Review by Jason Abbey

Directed by: Sergio Martino

Starring: Edwige Fenech, George Hilton, Carol Brandt, Ivan Rassimov, Manuel Gil

THE STRANGE VICE OF MRS WARDH shameless films

Shameless Films continue with their quest to include nipple adorned covers obscured in a manner that would make Austin Powers proud. It’s an endearing quality to replicate the style of cheap huckstering that was so common in those pre BBFC video days. It’s a fitting package for a film whose title states a strange vice that is never entirely explained, save for a bit of sadomasochism in flashback that may just be in Mrs Wardh's imagination.


THE STRANGE VICE OF MRS WARDH

An important work for giallo fans, this new Shameless edition lives up to expectation with a more than adequate transfer and a decent set of extras. Sergio Martino may not have the bravura touch when it comes to swooping camerawork and psychedelic weirdness, but in this, his first entry into giallo, he makes up for it with coherent plotting and a sharp sense of pacing. By sticking more closely to the twists and turns and suspense that in book form this genre is known for, and eschewing strong gore, you could almost be watching an episode of Columbo (if Columbo was on holiday in Europe and spent less time being a detective and more time doing the nasty with Mrs Columbo).

Now living in Vienna, the titular Mrs Wardh (Edwige Fenech) is an American socialite who has married her rich husband, it would appear to escape from the clutches of a psychological and physically abusive boyfriend. She may have traded up for a vanilla lifestyle and comfort, but there is something about her nightmares that suggest the sadism she endured was not entirely unpleasurable for her. That Jean (Ivan Rassimov), her erstwhile lover and tormentor, is now back on the scene and stalking her while a string of sexually motivated murders is occurring may not be entirely coincidental.


THE STRANGE VICE OF MRS WARDH

Obviously when fearing for your life from a violent lover, the best option is to jump into the sack with your best friends' cousin and make your life just that little more complicated. To explain the plot would deny its many convoluted pleasures. It may homage Hitchcock, in particular Strangers on a Train, but does so in a style that is distinctly Italian. It’s full of synthetic fabric style that must have been a fire insurance nightmare. It has a memorably hypnotic score that Tarantino pinched for Kill Bill. Its 'have your cake and eat it' approach to sex posits Wardh as a strong powerful female while making sure the camera pores over every inch of her nakedness.

The set piece murders may be the weakest parts of the film; with the exception of the murder of her best friend Conchitta (Carol Brandt) these are standard straight razor murders. Martino makes up for that with woozy psychosexual dream sequences and an eye-opening party in which two ladies start a cat fight in dresses made of paper, with inevitable results.


THE STRANGE VICE OF MRS WARDH

Fenech is great as Julie Wardh, appearing both tough and open minded, but gradually falling apart as she realises she is the target of a murderer. Damaged but never feeble, you get the feeling she could turn the tables on her polyester paramours at any moment. Martino has more fun with his female characters, who seem to have a life outside of the movie. The men can be classed as dapper but dull, sexy but don’t like bottles and cheesy with possible STDs. None would look out of place in an ad for menthol cigarettes.

Scenery, sex, murder, conspiracy with twists and a light smattering of sleaze, all with a beautiful oneiric score. It’s what Italian horror cinema was built for.
Extras:

On the disc, you get both Italian and English soundtracks (the English audio was a bit weak on my system so I opted for Italian) with subtitle options. Picture quality is generally strong for a film of this vintage and quality. There's an introduction by the director to the film and a Martino and Fenech interview. Of most interest is a long form interview with the director, who is clear eyed about the film's qualities and faults as well as the commercial imperatives that sent him down the Giallo and horror route. Add a trailer and a fact track by Justin Harries and you have a nifty set of extras that add some welcome contextualising to this key '70s slasher. The Fenech bio is inessential viewing mind.

The Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh is on blu-ray now from Shameless Films.

discussion by