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No Shame Films presents
The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh (Lo Strano vizio della Signora Wardh, aka Blade of the Ripper, aka The Next Victim) (1970)

"Nothing brings us closer than having a vice in common."
- Jean (Ivan Rassimov)

Review By: Mark Zimmer  
Published: June 02, 2005

Stars: George Hilton, Edwige Fenech
Other Stars: Cristina Airoldi, Ivan Rassimov, Alberto de Mendoza
Director: Sergio Martino

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nudity, sadomasochistic abuse, sexuality, violence, gore)
Run Time: 01h:36m:24s
Release Date: May 31, 2005
UPC: 850752001493
Genre: suspense thriller


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A- B+A-C+ B+

DVD Review

The gialli—lurid Italian sex-laced thrillers with black-gloved killers—got a start in earnest with Dario Argento's 1970 film Bird with the Crystal Plumage. The success of that film rapidly led to imitators, including this seminal Italo-Spanish picture from later that year. Not only did it cement many of the qualities of the genre (after all, a single film does not a genre make), but it also was the first thriller directed by popular Eurocult figure Sergio Martino. Perhaps most importantly, it introduced the amazing Edwige Fenech to the gialli, a road she would travel down numerous times during the 1970s.

Mrs. Julie Wardh (Fenech) is the wife of a diplomat, Neil (Alberto de Mendoza), on assignment to Vienna where a black-gloved serial killer is hacking up young women with a razor. Fidelity is not Julie's strong suit, for she soon runs into old lover Jean (Ivan Rossimov), who is deeply obsessive about her, and a new one, George Corot (George Hilton). But when the killer observes Julie cheating, he broadens his horizons to include blackmail, though a little homicide wouldn't offend him either. Soon Julie is deep in trouble and on the run for her life, with none of her three men able to protect her. Or is one of them actually trying ot kill her?

Fenech really leaps into the role with abandon, with its copious nudity and de rigeur shower scenes. She has a bright enthusiasm that's quite appealing over and above her obvious physical attributes. She's aided by some creative fantasy sequences that might or might not be memories of her time with Jean. Mrs. Wardh also has serious issues over her "strange vice," a fetish for blood and cruelty that has deeper echoes in the killer's modus operandi, and Fenech does nice work with this distasteful subject matter, giving it a level of compulsion mixed with deep sensuality. The lovers, Hilton and Rassimov, are suitably intense and play off Fenech quite well, making for credible confusion in her character. Mendoza's portrayal of the husband could have easily been given an oversimplified cuckoldry, but the part has levels of depth to it that are well established; he credibly still loves his wife, even though frustrated at her infidelities and seeming obliviousness to the danger she is in.

The film is very much of its time, with its pre-AIDS atmosphere of free love. There are also some delightful sequences that the ancient among us will appreciate, such as a pair of models wearing paper dresses; surely everyone who thought about such garb fantasized about what would happen if the dresses were to be torn up and so it occurs here, devolving into a catfight and a lesbian orgy. (You can't say Martino doesn't know his market.) He stages the big scenes quite well, most notably a nail-biter as the killer pursues Julie in a dark parking garage, blinding and confusing her with headlights before moving in for the kill. It's visually devastating and perfectly paced.

Like many Italian thrillers of its day, The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh suffered various indignities when imported into the US, including retitlings and severe cutting. No Shame enters the Eurocult world with a fine restoration here, bringing the picture back to its original length (or nearly so) and restoring as much as 15 minutes over prior US releases. The added running time is necessary and assists in clarifying how this picture helped launch the gialli with style.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B+

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: Those only familiar with this picture in its previous pan-and-scan incarnations are in for a revelation: the anamorphic Chromoscope widescreen picture demonstrates Martino's careful framing that was destroyed by cutting off the sides. Color is vivid, another step up from the faded and brown representations of the picture previously. One hates to niggle about a transfer that is such a marked improvement over what has been seen before, but the picture does seem unaccountably soft, as if undue filtering has been applied to it. Mild MPEG ringing is also visible in hard contrasts, but it's certainly watchable. Although No Shame does its transfers for the Italian market, I detected no signs of PAL/NTSC conversion such as ghosting.

Image Transfer Grade: A-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoItalian, Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: Both Italian and English mono tracks are provided; the correct one depends on your perspective since Hilton is saying his lines in English and the rest of the cast is saying theirs in Italian. The sound quality of the Italian track is significantly beefier than the English version. The bass on the Italian track seems somewhat artificially boosted and gets a little boomy at times, though it is certainly effective and low ranges have good impact that is even house-rattling at times. The memorable score by Nora Orlandi (referenced by Tarantino in Kill Bill Volume 2) sounds rather shrill on the Italian track, but it comes off better than on the English version, where it's often muffled and occasionally inaudible. The English version, since it was never fully dubbed, also has some silent gaps.

Audio Transfer Grade: C+

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Documentaries
1 Featurette(s)
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 01h:12m:53s

Extras Review: No Shame has assembled a fine set of supporting extras for this release. Foremost is a modern set of interviews (30m:58s) with Fenech (who still looks stunning), Hilton, and Martino, among others. There's plenty of good information here, though it is in subtitled Italian. Martino also provides a three-minute introduction to the film, shot at the Venice Film Festival screening. The original Italian theatrical trailer is included, though unfortunately subtitles were not provided for it. A poster and still gallery is somewhat disappointing, with only a handful of images. A nice booklet contains bios and selected filmographies for Martino, Hilton, and Fenech. On the negative side, chaptering is quite thin, with only 12 stops. The subtitles were poorly (but very literally) translated and often are less than clear, with entire words missing, though the general sense of them can usually be made out.

Extras Grade: B+

 

Final Comments

An important film in the history of the Italian thriller, starring Edwige Fenech at her most luminous, and sporting a good transfer in the original aspect ratio, with some useful extra materials to boot.

 


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