The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh (Lo strano vizio della Signora Wardh) is a giallo that I’ve been trying to track down for what seems like years. With the unfortunate demise of the excellent No Shame DVD label it’s been out of print, but has now been re-released by Mya DVD under the alternative title Blade of the Ripper.
This is perhaps one of those cases where excessively high expectations can lead to disappointment. It’s really just a by-the-numbers giallo, although it’s certainly made with style and flair.
Mrs Julie Wardh (Edwige Fenech) is married to a respectable financier, but she has a dark secret. She has a taste for kinky sex, a taste she used to indulge with her ex-lover Jean. Julie likes to be dominated and humiliated. Now Jean has turned up in her life gain, and she fears that her colourful sex life may become a public scandal. And Jean seems more obsessed with her than ever.
Vienna (where the film starts out) has been rocked by a series of violent sex murders. When Julie starts to receive gifts of flowers accompanied by messages including veiled threats to reveal her past sexual indiscretions she fears that Jean may have become completely unhinged, and may even be the sex murderer. To add another complication to an extraordinarily convoluted plot Julie has acquired an admirer, the cousin of her friend Carroll. This admirer, George (George Hilton), shows an astonishing degree of perseverance in trying to get into Julie’s bed.
In fact getting into Julie’s bed proves easier than expected. But now Julie has a jealous husband, a persistent new boyfriend and an obsessed and possibly deranged ex-lover, which is enough to make any woman’s life somewhat stressful. When blackmail threats follow the threatening letters she finds her life becoming more and more out of control. And after witnessing a grisly crime scene she starts to see blood everywhere. And Julie has a kinky sexual fixation with blood to begin with.
If you think the plot is already complicated, we’re only half an hour into the movie!
This film has pretty much all the standard giallo ingredients. A series of sex murders? Check. A baffled police inspector who is making no headway is solving the case? Check. A black-gloved killer? Check. A fiendishly complex storyline with countless plot twists? Check. Edwige Fenech taking her clothes off at frequent intervals? Check. Other actresses taking their clothes off at frequent intervals for no reason whatsoever? Check.
So all the ingredients are there. The main problem is those plot twists. Yes I know it’s a giallo and outrageous and unlikely plot twists tend to go with the territory, but this one doesn’t quite come together in a sufficiently convincing manner, and it requires a lengthy expositional epilogue to explain the plot.
Of course a shambolic plot doesn’t really matter in a giallo as long as the movie is executed with sufficient visual extravagance and panache. The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh is just about stylish enough to compensate for its weak story, although Sergio Martino’s direction lacks the spectacular set-pieces that you’d get from an Argento, or the visual subtlety that a Luigi Bazzoni might have given it.
My personal preference is for the more unconventional entries in the giallo cycle, so perhaps the reason I wasn’t overly impressed by this one is that it’s just a little too much of a basic stock-standard giallo. If you’re a fan of the giallo genre you’ll find plenty to enjoy, and it’s undeniably entertaining in a slightly silly sort of way. I’d rate it as a decent second-rank giallo.
The Mya DVD apparently uses the same transfer as the No Shame release, and although it lacks the extras that the No Shame version included in terms of image quality it’s one of Mya’s most impressive offerings so far.