Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key is an unconventional giallo that is in part an adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe's "The Black Cat." It features one of the scuzzier groups of principals in film, and it has a refreshing political incorrectness.
Oliviero (Luigi Pistilli) is a writer who parties away his days in a mansion with his beautiful but harried wife, Irine (Anita Strindberg), and their "housemaid," Brenda. His habit of rounding up all the hippies from the local campground and bringing them over for all-night festivities has not escaped the notice of the local populace, who already regarded the family as crazy. In short, Oliviero is sliding. He is drunken, foul-mouthed and cruel, and his life of indulgence leaves him little time to write. He spends his days pounding whiskey and obsessing over his mother's portrait.
Oliviero has a pair of black companions whom he uses to torment Irine: Brenda, with whom he openly carries out an affair, and a cat named Satan that was his mother's and was inherited along with the mansion. Satan is a foul-tempered cat, and he menaces Irine's doves in the same way that Oliviero plays cat-and-mouse with Irene. The cat also has a habit of showing its displeasure when Irene speaks ill of Oliviero, and it attacks her randomly. More randomly even than Oliviero, who speaks increasingly openly of a desire to kill Irene.
A young woman is murdered when she shows up to meet Oliviero. He has no alibi and is immediately suspected by an atypically competent giallo detective. Brenda is murdered while Oliviero is still under suspicion, so he hides her body in a cellar wall rather than draw further attention. It soon becomes clear that someone is aware of Brenda's death and is taunting the couple.
This mess of murder and marital dysfunction isn't complicated enough, so Oliviero's niece Floriana invites herself over for an extended visit. Oliviero is unhappy about this until he sees that she is played by Edwige Fenech. He then wonders what new taboos he can violate. Floriana, remarkably, is open to this, although her main object of attention is Irene. The younger girl seduces and instigates them both as she works an agenda of her own.
The Gothic element of the mansion is present. In true Poe fashion, it reflects the state of its inhabitants. It is in disrepair and is crumbling. The stone walls pass little sunlight and create a depressing feel that matches Oliviero's condition.
YVIaLR is only half giallo. Its giallo element is completed about halfway through, at which point the Poe-derived part of the story kicks in. This is worked into the plot in a way that ties the film's prior events together and contains some surprises. The ending even finds a way to one-up Poe in the irony department. For those unfamiliar, the storyline goes like this: A man on the brink of sanity grows furious with his wife's hated cat, so he puts its eye out in a fit of rage. He later murders his wife and entombs her in the cellar wall, but unknown to him the cat is sealed in with her. Yowling from within the cellar wall tips investigators off to his guilt. That's a slight spoiler, but you still have to watch the movie to find out who kills whom. The film plays out like a race between Oliviero and Irene to see which will kill the other.
There are many interesting twists and turns in this version of the story, and those have been left out here. It's left to the viewer to discover the various surprises. Just know that everybody is playing everybody. Don't take "interesting" to mean this is some kind of BBC mystery for sedate viewers to enjoy in their sitting rooms while puffing on a pipe- this film has some extreme elements, the least of which are its bloody murders. Animal cruelty, spousal abuse, racism, betrayal, murder, blackmail, adultery, voyeurism, incest: This is as unsavory a bunch of main characters as will be found outside of a Rob Zombie or John Waters film. This movie can't be said to have an optimistic take on the male-female relationship, as its male lead is an abuser and its females are either manipulative schemers or anonymous sex providers. Floriana sleeps with everybody- man or woman, family or friend- maybe as a way of keeping her friends close and her enemies closer. The standout shock element is the mutilated face of the cat, shown repeatedly in close-up.
One could find a sleazier or scarier giallo without trying very hard, but there aren't so many that stretch the boundaries of the genre the way this one does. The one knock on this is that it is so relentlessly dark that it becomes more depressing than impactful.