THE STRANGE VICE OF MRS. WARDH (1970) Limited Numbered Edition Blu-ray
Director: Sergio Martino
Shameless Screen Entertainment

Shameless Screen Entertainment teases out THE STRANGE VICE OF MRS. WARDH on a new limited edition Blu-ray.

The return from Washington D.C. to Vienna of diplomat Neil Wardh (Alberto De Mendoza, HORROR EXPRESS) and his wife Julie (Edwige Fenech, PHANTOM OF DEATH) coincides with the killing spree of a razor-wielding sex fiend. Left alone by her busy husband to wile the days away shopping and the nights at parties, Julie is disturbed by the reappearance in her life of ex-lover Jean (Ivan Rassimov, SPASMO) with whom she had a sadomasochistic relationship that enabled her own blood fetish with beatings and slashings with broken glass. Although she rebuffs his advances, Jean continues to pursue her. She finds comfort in the arms (and bed) of Australian playboy George (George Hilton, MY DEAR KILLER), the long-lost distant cousin of her best friend Carol (Christina Airoldi, TORSO) whose "specialty is courting women in the presence of their husbands." When Julie receives a call from someone trying to blackmail her by threatening to tell Neil about her dalliances with George, Carol goes to meet the blackmailer in her place and turns up as the next victim of the slasher. Julie accuses Jean of being the killer but he has a seemingly watertight alibi. When the killer makes another attempt on Julie's life, George whisks her off to Spain, but the attempts on her life continue and she starts to distrust all of the men in her life.

The first and most popular giallo helmed by Sergio Martino, THE STRANGE VICE OF MRS. WARDH was mounted in the wake of the critical and financial success of Dario Argento's THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE. Martino had previously served as production manager on two earlier gialli produced by his brother Luciano and starring Caroll Baker: Romolo Guerrieri's THE SWEET BODY OF DEBORAH (also with Hilton) and SO SWEET, SO PERVERSE. While the film features a black-gloved, razor-wielding killer and a body count, WARDH was more of an attempt to continue the thriller formula with less expensive but appealing stars; as such, it's handling of the Argento giallo aspects like the killing sequences and police procedural scenes is given somewhat short shrift in favor of the "chamber giallo" aspects of the aforementioned films as scripted here by regular collaborator Ernesto Gastaldi (LIBIDO) with a greater interest in the love triangle and gaslighting while pushing the investigating police commissioner (Carlo Alighiero, THE CAT O'NINE TAILS) and Julie's concerned doctor (Manuel Gil, THE ROBBERS) given little to do until the climax. In spite of this, the plot twists work for the most part and the preoccupation with melodrama allows for more nudity and sex than one would see in an Argento film of the period, as well as more picturesque backdrops for the jet-setting characters. Martino, credited cinematographer Emilio Foriscot (FRANKENSTEIN'S BLOODY TERROR), and regular operator and future DP Giancarlo Ferrando (IRONMASTER) stage Julie's flashbacks and paranoid, sadomasochistic nightmares inventively with stark lighting, shifting focus, whip pans, and slow motion with the accompaniment of the un-Morricone-esque yowling scoring of Nora Orlandi (DOUBLE FACE), a vocalist who had contributed some Edda dell'Orso-like accompaniment to the Stelvio Cipriani's scores for DEATH WALKS ON HIGH HEELS and THE DEVIL WITH SEVEN FACES.

Released theatrically by Maron Films as NEXT! in a version shorn of pretty much all of the nudity and gore, this was the version that ended up on VHS by Video Gems in a panned-and-scanned and squeezed print while the uncut English version turned up as BLADE OF THE RIPPER on such labels as Saturn Productions and Regal Video in a squeezed, cropped, and grainy, grotty transfer without credits. Gray market mail order label European Trash Cinema created a composite of the English audio and a semi-letterboxed Italian sell-through tape in the 1990s but NoShame came to the rescue in 2005 with a DVD featuring a PAL-converted anamorphic transfer of an HD master created from the original 2-perf Techniscope negative with English and Italian audio tracks, English subtitles, and extras. In 2010, MYA reissued the same transfer as BLADE OF THE RIPPER minus the extras and no subtitles for brief bits where the English reverted to Italian. Shameless followed with a UK DVD featuring the same master (without NTSC conversion artifacts) and some of its own extras.

Shameless' region free Blu-ray carries over the NoShame and Shameless DVD extras along with a new 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 2.35:1 widescreen transfer is certainly derived from a new HD master sporting more naturalistic skintones (Hilton is still tanned but not so orange) while retaining bold saturation in the blood and wardrobe, as well as revealing more information on all sides of the frame. The first shot after the credits of Fenech and De Mendoza descending the escalator looks a bit fuzzy but that may be either a patch up or some harried location shooting because the image improves after that. The image does not always pop as one would hope but the detail is superior, although not what one might have gotten from a 4K scan of material that seems to be in better condition than what was used for ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK. The English and Italian LPCM 2.0 mono tracks are mostly improved over the DVDs. The opening credits cue has always been mixed low as the sudden interjection of the sounds of an overhead airplane reveal just before the first slashing, and a patch of dialogue during the party scene sounds like it was spoken by the character through a Styrofoam cup (this does not appear to effect the music and sound effects) while dialogue by other characters in the next shot sounds fine. Other cues mixed low on the soundtrack call attention to themselves, but they are also there on the DVDs if you know to listen for them. The optional English subtitle track translates the Italian track, revealing some differences between the translations while also confirming that Hilton's character is supposed to be Australian even in the Italian version. Unlike the earlier DVD releases, the opening and closing credits are in English and appear to be the export credits rather than the U.S. credits which cited the post-production tinkering of film doctor Fima Novak – the BLOOD COUPLE version of GANJA & HESS, the U.S. version of WEB OF THE SPIDER, the English edits of Lina Wertmuller's BLOOD FEUD and Mauro Bolognini's THE INHERITANCE – while the Sigmund Freud epigraph included only on Italian prints has been translated and digitally reproduced in English in a plain font (it is tempting to think that the English credits have also been recreated but the wavering of the closing credits suggests they are opticals).

A Martino introduction (0:09) plays before the feature, and "Dark Fears Behind the Door" (31:02) has been ported over from the NoShame DVD and features the contributions of Martino, his producer brother Luciano, Fenech, Hilton, and Gastaldi. Fenech recalls acting in the German/Italian THE SINS OF MADAME BOVARY and how Luciano Martino decided that additional scenes were required to cut it together. Sergio Martino recalls discusses the earlier gialli with Carroll Baker and how the rising costs caused Luciano to decide to reboot the formula with new but recognized actors including Fenech and Hilton. Hilton recalls quitting his native Uruguay to work in Italian and being cast in westerns before WARDH which launched his giallo career. Gastaldi discusses the story structure as well as justifying necessary elements like sex, nudity, and the de rigueur shower murder. Fenech and Rassimov also affectionately recall Rassimov and Airoldi (daughter of the Spanish co-producer) who is now a producer whose credits include Michele Soavi's DELLAMORTE DELLAMORE.

"Thrills, Chills & Cleavage" (22:32) has been ported from the Shameless DVD, and is actually just as rewarding a viewing since Martino gets through information from the previous featurette about the earlier gialli with Carroll Baker, his brother discovering Fenech in the Bovary film, and casting her for WARDH to convey his pride in the "cinematographic success" of the film. He takes great pride in some sequences like the park killing which he admits draws from Dario Argento (particularly FOUR FLIES ON GREY VELVET), notes the contributions of operator Ferrando, concedes abusing the zoom lens to wring emotional effect, and cites costume designer Riccardo Domenici (THE WHIP AND THE BODY) as set designer rather than the quota-credited team of Cubero-Galicia. He recalls the inclusion of additional nudity to give the censors something to cut, noting the differences between the positive copies and the original negative (also revealing that he disapproves of the inclusion of material from the negative of MOUNTAIN OF THE CANNIBAL GOD on the newer transfers that was not included in the previous export/Italian cut). In addition to discussing Fenech, Hilton, and Rassimov, he also highlights the Alighiero. He discusses how Italians did not believe thrillers set in Italy were credible until the release of Steno's EXECUTION SQUAD, necessitating settings abroad including Vienna here while the Spanish sequences were a concession to the Spanish co-producer.

"The Genesis of Mrs. Wardh" (7:11) is a visual essay of clips and stills from the film accompanied by text reiterating Fenech's story of how she got into filmmaking and cast in the film. A pop-up fact track by Justin Harries (misspelled "Harris" on the menu) from the DVD covers a lot of the same ground as the two featurettes while also expanding on the careers of the performers. The presence of the NoShame featurette makes the track a bit more superfluous (especially when the text discussion is padded out with a thumbnail history of Sigmund Freud on the basis of the film's epigraph). The title is one of Shameless' numbered limited editions and features a reversible cover with a variation on the Italian poster on the front and the American NEXT! poster reproduced on the inside (the preferable option in this case). (Eric Cotenas)