Director: Sergio Martino
NoShame Films

Digging once again into the filmography of underrated Italian director Sergio Martino, NoShame Films has finally released his most obscure entry in the giallo genre: YOUR VICE IS A LOCKED ROOM AND ONLY I HAVE THE KEY. Better known under its export title GENTLY BEFORE SHE DIES (the title which I will refer to in this review), this film never saw an American release, theatrically or on video, and has been a popular grey market favorite for years. Thankfully it has made its legitimate home video debut through this well done disc.

Washed-up alcoholic writer Oliviero lives in a decadent villa, previously populated by his late beloved mother, with his unhinged wife Irene. Throwing lavish parties for local hippies instead of writing his next novel, Oliviero finds joy in humiliating his wife in public, smacking her around and raping her in front of the shy black maid, and has a strange relationship with his pet black, Satan, who seems to have it out for Irene. A series of murders seems to implicate Oliviero as the culprit, and when the maid ends up dead one night in his mother’s favorite Victorian dress, Irene finds it hard to believe he isn’t the killer! Enter Floriana, Oliviero’s beautiful niece, who invites herself to stay at the villa for an unspecified period of time. She begins to seduce both husband and wife, and as the murders continue, the question arises: what is Floriana’s motive for being there?

Italian giallo fans can now rejoice, as Martino’s final giallo has been released to DVD! However, it’s a wise choice to release this obscure film as the last in a series of Martino gialli because it’s easily his worst. Not to say it doesn’t have its moments of merit and some successful sequences, but it’s far too ploddingly-paced and predictable to be much fun. Let’s lay the cards on the table: the series of murders, while beautifully shot and filled with tension, are merely thrown in to provide a catalyst for one of the leads’ sinister plot. Only one of the murders is tied in directly to the storyline, which owes a lot to DIABOLIQUE and Poe’s “The Black Cat” and “The Tell-Tale Heart” (only “Black Cat” is credited as an influence in the credit). The final revelation during the last act of the film is a nice series of plot twists which might surprise a viewer or two (the ending is such a cliché I’m surprised Martino and screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi used it!), but the preceding 80 minutes are wall-to-wall bitching, moaning, back-stabbing, and anguish involving the three main characters. There’s even an irritating sing-a-long sequence five minutes into the movie and a very long motorcycle race to drag the pace even more! GENTLY BEFORE SHE DIES is not a very fun film to watch, plain and simple, even though its reputation as a lost classic precedes it. Fans of Martino, Edwige Fenech, and gialli in general will want to check it out, for sure, but it’s nowhere near the excellence of the earlier ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK, STRANGE VICE OF MRS. WARDH or CASE OF THE SCORPION’S TAIL. All three are far superior to GENTLY, which feels rushed and plays like Martino had to deliver another giallo to cash in on the success of his earlier thrillers.

One of the reasons GENTLY BEFORE SHE DIES is a hard film to recommend, let alone sit through, is that there are no heroes in this film, no likable characters at all for the audience to sympathize with. Floriana is a sociopathic opportunist whose motives in life are greed and horniness. Oliviero is a boozer and a wife-beater. Irene is a perpetually weeping bundle of nerves who is always straddling the line of sanity and mental breakdown. The three leads, all Eurocult favorites, are game, but can’t do much to save this almost unbearable film. The late Luigi Pistilli (who tragically committed suicide in 1996) made a living playing bastards in Italian films, from THE LIBERTINE to TWITCH OF THE DEATH NERVE to THE NUDE PRINCESS, and he is an appropriately slimy bastard here, too. You never see him when he isn’t drunk or despondent, and about 75% of his screen time is spent threatening his wife and waxing poetic about the cat. Boring! Anita Strindberg, she of the rock-hard implants, grates the nerves as Irene, the unhappily married nutcase. She’s either being harassed and tormented by Oliviero, or being seduced into lesbian lovin’ by Floriana, and in either scenario she is a weak and uninteresting character. Only in the last act does she really start to impress as her façade begins to crack and we realize that she isn’t as crazed as she led us to believe. But she was more of a screen beauty than a genuine actress, and it’s hard to root for her throughout the film, especially as she chews scenery left and right. Her one interesting scene finds her stabbing Satan’s eye out after her massacres her pen full of doves!! Of the three leads, Edwige Fenech manages to escape with some interesting sequences. She boffs her duds to have sex in a sleeping bag in an abandoned building, looks ever so cute with a short hairdo, and unlike her other gialli, plays a conniving villainess using sex as her weapon. Ivan Rassimov is wasted as a mysterious friend of Irene’s in an atrocious white-blonde wig! I found myself more interested in the brief subplot of a big-city whore coming to visit the small town to work for a local Madame than the rest of the film. Maybe because she wears a garish blonde wig and adds some humor when she gets pinched on the ass coming off her train. I believe she’s played by Carla Mancini. One of the better aspects of the film is the score by Bruno Nicolai, which gets repetitive after a while (like most of his giallo soundtracks), but has a beautiful flute-driven main theme over the opening credits.

At least the film looks good! Digitally remastered from the original negative, NoShame presents the essential version of GENTLY BEFORE SHE DIES presented 1.85:1 widescreen with anamorphic enhancement. Previous video versions have been plagued with disgusting image quality, but those problems are corrected here. Blacks are solid and deep, colors are lovely, and there is virtually no grain or other blemishes to report! The image is clean and crisp, with sharp contrast and looks brand-spanking-new! As with NoShame’s other discs, two audio options are offered, the English dub and the original Italian with English subtitles. In the case of this film, as it was shot in Italian, it’s much more preferable to watch it in Italian with subs. The English dub actually does a very bad job rewriting the dialogue to match the lips of the actors, ruining the meaning of some important lines. Try watching it in English with the subs on to see what I mean.

Interviewed once again for this disc are director Sergio Martino, screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi, and star Edwige Fenech! They seem to be very proud of this film, and offer interesting anecdotes such as the motive for including the misleading series of murders, its lack of success at the box office, the naked dancer during the sing-a-long being an uncredited Dalila di Lazzaro (FLESH FOR FRANKENSTEIN), various memories of the cast, and the art of film editing. Fenech shares a bizarre memory of the local cuisine and relates how Tarantino reminded her this was her first bad girl role (obviously he never saw THE SEDUCERS, FIVE DOLLS FOR AN AUGUST MOON, or the many other films she shot as a sexpot during her early days). Her feelings about Luigi Pistilli and Anita Strindberg are even more interesting, as well as her descriptions of the Martino crew as a big family. Martino says he didn’t care much for the film until recently, and actually goes into discussing TORSO and his affection for it (it’s his favorite of his gialli, which seems an odd choice considering the competition). He mentions he doesn’t think GENTLY is overly morbid, which I found very surprising!

Also included on the disc are a stills gallery of lobby cards, Italian locandinas, and promotional photos and a collection of trailers for NoShame’s other Martino discs: THE STRANGE VICE OF MRS. WARDH, THE CASE OF THE SCORPION’S TAIL, THE BIG ALLIGATOR RIVER, and GAMBLING CITY. (Casey Scott)