As well as being an
accomplished novelist and historian, Kim Newman has written a regular column in
Empire magazine for almost twenty
years covering the video (then DVD and eventually Blu-ray) releases no one else
wanted to watch. Rather than serve as an encyclopaedia, Kim Newman’s Video Dungeon: The Collected Reviews is organised, in
a somewhat idiosyncratic style, into thematic rather chapters than simply an
alphabetic or chronological presentation. His identification of recurring
genres or styles has allowed for chapters on “Confinements and Dangerous
games,” “Cryptids and Critters,” “Serial Killers and Cops” and “Weird Hippie
Sh*t,” amongst more recognisable genre descriptions such as “Found Footage,”
“Famous Monsters” and “Secret Agent Men (and Women)” and others.
Spanning almost the
entire breadth of film history and encompassing productions from around the
globe, the reader is presented with hundreds of obscure titles alongside the
occasional classic. From silent film to spoofs and pornography, Kim Newman has
sat through over thirty films featuring Frankenstein and a similar amount
featuring Dracula. The trend for sharksploitation films, which still shows no
sign of abating, is particularly noticeable here as Kim Newman patiently
reviews dozens of films such as Sharkenstein
(2016), SharkExorcist (2015) and the infamous Sharknado series (2013-2016 so far). Refusing to fall into the film
historian’s trap of sneering at anything cheap or new, Kim Newman is fair to
each film he reviews, finding positive elements even in some found footage
films, despite having had to sit through so many.
Being a collection of
reviews of home video releases, there is also the occasional vintage gem in
here, such as Curse of Bigfoot (1975),
LasVampiras (1969) and Confessions
of anOpium Eater (1962). Indeed,
most of the films in the “Weird Hippie Sh*t” section, including Drive, He Said (1971), Toomorrow (1970), Wonderwall (1968) and Permissive
(1970) date from the hippie heyday itself.
Kim Newman’s writing
is distinctive and authoritative, with a gleeful sense of humour for the
absurd, which means that even when the films sound terrible, which they
occasionally do, the reviews are still entertaining to read. It is this skill
which has made his Video Dungeon
column in Empire so enjoyable over
the years, with trusted recommendations as to what to seek out, and what to
avoid. Kim Newman’s Video Dungeon: The
Collected Reviews is highly recommended, particularly for those who think
they have seen a lot of weird films over the years. The chances are high that
Kim Newman has seen more.
Julie Wardh (Edwige
Fenech) is a woman who needs some time off men: she attempts to escape her
sado-masochistic relationship with Jean (Ivan Rassimov) by marrying Neil Wardh
(Alberto de Mendoza), an ambassador at the Italian embassy in Austria. But
things are not that simple. Julie suffers from erotic nightmares, wherein she
makes love to Jean whilst being showered in broken glass, but continues to
proclaim her hatred for him to anyone that will listen, including jean himself.
At a friend’s party, where women tear paper dresses from each other and wrestle
naked, Julie meets the cool George (George Hilton) a man determined to seduce
Mrs Wardh, regardless of her husband or complicated romantic history. He seems
kind and he rides a motorbike, so it does not take Mrs Wardh long to fall for
Of course, this being
a giallo, in the middle of this menage au quattro there is a psychosexual
killer stalking Vienna, murdering prostitutes and other beautiful women at
random. Could the murderer be the vicious Jean, who seems determined to destroy
Julie’s marriage, if not her life? Or is her sanity in question?
Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh is an interesting blend of Hitchcock’s Frenzy (1972) and Clouzot’s LesDiaboliques
(1955), with more red herrings and plot twists than an M. Night Shyamalan film.
Things become even more confusing if you watch this back to back with All the Colours of the Dark (1972, Sergio
Martino), a film made the following year with Fenech, Hilton and Rassimov whose
plot is similarly constructed, right down to the intense dream sequences with
Ivan Rassimov making violent love to Edwige Fenech. Following the rough
template laid out in Mario Bava’s Blood
and Black Lace (1964), where a faceless black-gloved killer murders his way
through a swath of beautiful young women, this film works hard to keep the
audience guessing as to the identity of the sex maniac. Any sense of logic in
the plot is however secondary to the amount of time spent looking at a naked
Edwige Fenech. When she is not baring all for the various men in her life she
is running around looking scared or confused, seemingly to pad out the running
time, the thin script probably only filling fifteen pages.
This is an
entertaining thriller which continues to enthral and fascinate fans. It’s
importance to Italian cinema was confirmed in 2015 when a three-day academic
conference was held at the Austrian Institute in Rome to celebrate the film,
with director Sergio Martino, screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi, composer Nora
Orlandi star George Hilton and this CinemaRetro contributor in attendance.
Although dismissed by serious film critics in the 1970s, the giallo is now seen
as a vital element of Italian film, its influence seen in the slasher films
that Hollywood produced in earnest in the 1980s.
This new Shameless Blu-ray
is an excellent upgrade from their earlier DVD release, and is a great addition
to their burgeoning range of cult Italian film releases. Bonus features
include interviews with both Sergio Martino and Edwige Fenech as well as a fact
track from genre expert Justin Harris.
UK READERS: Click here to order a
copy of The Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh
on Blu-ray, and check out their other giallo releases whilst you are there.