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Director: Sergio Martino
NoShame Films

Director: Sergio Martino
NoShame Films

Although he’s not nearly as celebrated as the likes of Mario Bava, Lucio Fulci or Dario Argento, Sergio Martino was a major contender in the world of the giallo, helming such noteworthy offerings as ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK and TORSO (both titles available on DVD). Now, a spanking-new DVD company, NoShame Films, is inaugurating their “Sergio Martino Collection” with the director’s first two giallos: THE STRANGE VICE OF MRS. WARDH and THE CASE OF THE SCORPION’S TAIL, available on Region 1 DVD for the first time. NoShame is also promising a Region 1 release of Martino’s YOUR VICE IS A CLOSED ROOM AND ONLY I HAVE THE KEY (for fall of 2005), and we can be rest assured that Martino’s stylish sinema of crime and sex is in very good hands!

THE STRANGE VICE OF MRS. WARDH (1970) is better known to American audiences as NEXT!, THE NEXT VICTIM! and BLADE OF THE RIPPER. Julie Wardh (Edwige Fenech) and her diplomat husband Neil (Alberto de Mendoza) return to Austria during a series of murders where a black-garbed, black gloved killer is slashing up a number of pretty females. Julie’s husband is never around for her and with their relationship being shaky, she has weird dreams and daydreams about her ex-lover Jean (the incredible Ivan Rassimov) and their seemingly sadomasochistic relationship. Jean makes a habit of stalking Julie, periodically sending her bunches of roses with odd, threatening notes attached. She is soon invited to a swinging party (the highlight being a catfight where the participants strip each other’s clothes off) by her friend Carol (Conchita Airoldi, the pot-smoking, breast-groped hippie chick in Martino’s TORSO) and she is introduced to Carol's pretty boy Irish cousin, George (George Hilton), who becomes obsessed with Julie and becomes her lover. Her illicit affair causes a blackmailer to phone, demanding money to keep his trap shut. At the meeting place, Julie’s friend is assaulted and killed when she goes to meets the blackmailer in her place. Now thinking that she could be the next victim, Julie takes off to Spain with new lover George, but the excursion unwraps into a devastating nightmare.

THE STRANGE VICE OF MRS. WARDH is a prime example of the Italian thriller genre, owing a lot to Hitchcock, but updating the sex and violence quotient for 1970s audiences. With many twists and clever plot devices, there’s a sufficient level of suspense that helps the colorful film maintain its entertainment value. Martino delivers a intriguing travelogue of exotic locations and alluring imagery, which depicts the characters as the superficial jet setters without any cares. Blending the intense music of Nora Orlandi with arty and erotic visuals, the film has a very misogynistic edge to it, with beautiful women (often nude) being slayed in gory fashion. Julie’s (Edwige Fenech’s) violent dreams are stylized with such images as her being raped in the mud during a wild rainstorm, as well as her lover taunting her with shattered glass before being intimate. The film was clearly a vehicle for the beautiful and talented Fenech, as the camera simply loves her. She went on to star in a number of giallos, and George Hilton (who just graduated from being a 1960s Spaghetti Western idol) was often her co-star.

THE CASE OF THE SCORPION’S TAIL came the following year, and it adhered to the same pattern of a darkly-dressed maniac on the loose, which was a carbon copy figure in giallos since Bava’s BLOOD AND BLACK LACE. In England, Lisa Baumer (Evelyn Stewart) is busy having a night of passion with her lover when she receives word that her husband, Kurt Baumer, has died in an airplane explosion. His demise means she’ll inherit $1 million from the insurance company, which she’ll have to fly to Greece to collect. Once there, she picks up the fortune in dollar bills, and runs into a number of dubious characters who want a piece of it. Kurt's mistress Lara Florakis (Janine Reynaud from Jess Franco’s SUCCUBUS) and her brutish lawyer (Luis Barboo, another Franco regular) accuse Lisa of being responsible for Kurt’s death, so they demand half of the insurance money. Meanwhile, Lisa is being tailed and protected by insurance investigator Peter Lynch (George Hilton), but he can’t prevent her inevitable murder and the loot being stolen. Peter too is now a suspect in the eyes of an Interpol agent (Alberto de Mendoza) and a tough cop (Luigi Pistilli). Soon, beautiful newspaper journalist Cleo Dupont (Anita Strindberg) enters the picture and embarks on an investigation with Peter as more murders ensue, and she too becomes a would-be victim.

THE CASE OF THE SCORPION’S TAIL is another well-mounted thriller in the hands of Sergio Martino, despite some laughable special effects that include a toy airplane exploding in place of the real thing, and a painfully fake prosthetic dummy of a woman’s body being slashed. While arguably not as successful as THE STRANGE VICE OF MRS. WARDH, this still benefits from an intelligent, unpredictable script (which, like PSYCHO switches heroines much to the viewer’s surprise) and some good character performances, namely by Hilton and the charming Swedish bombshell Anita Strindberg, who goes topless several times to show off her surgically enhanced assets. The murders are surprisingly brutal, with one victim getting his eye gashed out with a piece of a broken bottle. The blaring score by Bruno Nicolai is a true highlight and ranks with the best ones that Ennio Morricone did for similar Italian thrillers of the period.

NoShame has done a fantastic job presenting these two Sergio Martino titles on DVD for U.S. fans. Both are presented widescreen in their original 2.35:1 aspect ratios with anamoprhic enhancement. Both are digitally mastered from the original vault 2P negatives, and look pretty flawless for 30+ year-old films. There are virtually no blemishes of any kind to be found, and the bright colors have nice depth and lively fleshtones. There are serviceable English and Italian language options, with optional English subtitles. On STRANGE VICE, for some reason, the music on the English dub blanks out briefly every time a scene with a hand-signed note (written in Italian) is seen on screen. It’s not like this on the Italian dub, and you can also read what the notes say (as well as an introductory quote from Sigmund Freud, also in Italian) by using the subtitle option.

Each film has its own featurette, running about 30 minutes long. THE CASE OF THE SCORPION’S TAIL includes a featurette entitled “Creepy Crawl: The Scorpion’s Shadow,” which features interviews with director Sergio Martino, producer Luciano Martino (Sergio's brother), writer Ernesto Gastaldi and star George Hilton. Lots of informative tidbits are shared, but even better is that in addition to these four gentlemen, actress Edwige Fenech is present on the other disc’s featurette, “Dark Fears Behind the Door.” Fenech is still as beautiful as ever, as she discusses meeting producer Luciano Martino, working with director Sergio Martino (who she jokingly refers to as “the true sadist in all those films”) and her friendship with co-star Hilton. All the interviews are in Italian with accompanying English subtitles. STRANGE VICE also includes a 3-minute video of Martino introducing the film at a recent Venice Film Festival. Both DVD also include their original psychedelic theatrical trailers, poster and still galleries, and booklet inserts that embody well-written bios. (George R. Reis)