Welcome back to All the Colors of Giallo, your monthly look at the seedy world of beautiful women, vibrant colors, black-gloved murderers, and just a touch of the supernatural. After revisiting Lucio Fulci’s excellent supernatural Giallo The Psychic (1977) (Aka Seven Notes in Black) last month, it got me thinking about two things: (1) the massive amount of these films that I have consumed over the last several months and (2) the weird places from which these films draw inspiration. That leads me to this month’s topic: “Italian Horror’s Weird Obsessions with Edgar Allen Poe’s The Black Cat.”
Fans of Italian horror will be quick to point out that many of the filmmakers during this era often outright copied a previous film, sometimes only months apart. Sure, Hollywood is a copycat industry, but the rate at which these films were replicated and remade has always fascinated me. This trend becomes even more apparent when scouring the sub-genre looking for inspiration for a monthly article. With that said, it truly is amazing how influential Poe’s work was during this period. While I did briefly touch on it last month, The Black Cat has popped up more than a few times in Italian Horror, not only with last month’s film, but Fulci himself revisited the story again in 1981’s The Black Cat, and even Argento adapted the story for 1990’s Two Evil Eyes. With that said, I felt it necessary to give an overview of Poe’s short story before moving into this month’s Black Cat inspired feature Sergio Martino’s, Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key.
Like many of Poe’s stories, The Black Cat focuses on a man’s descent into madness based around guilt and addiction. In Poe’s story, the narrator begins the story by proclaiming his sanity. He tells of how they married at a young age and glows about his love for animals, especially a large black cat named Pluto. However, as the story progress, the narrator begins to rely more and more on alcohol, and this leads to abusive behavior, including towards Pluto and his wife. After one incredibly brutal night, the narrator returns home and notices Pluto’s reluctance to come near him. This leads to another violent rage in which the narrator removes one of Pluto’s eyes.
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Despite regretting his behavior, the narrator again lashes out at Pluto, this time hanging the cat. Soon after this event, the narrator experiences strange occurrences such as a house fire, which leaves nothing but standing but a wall with the image of The Black Cat with a rope around its neck. Shortly after these events, another black cat appears resembling Pluto. After initial fondness for the new cat, paranoia eventually takes over, leading to more violent behavior from the narrator that ends a tragedy that eventually has the police knocking at the narrator’s door. Ending Spoiler—The Black Cat, like The Psychic from last month, ends with a body in the wall being discovered through a supernatural twist.
Circling back to Giallo: my first time noticing this Black Cat connection came during my rewatch of Sergio Martino’s Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key (1972). Here we find Irina (Anita Strinberg) who has grown to hate her abusive alcoholic husband Oliviero (Luigi Pistilli). As Olivero’s writer’s block and his alcoholism grow worse, so does Oliviero need to abuse and humiliate his wife Irina. This is seen in the film’s opening as the unhappily married couple are hosting a party for what appears to be college hippies (yes, it’s as bizarre as it sounds).
Like the narrator of Poe’s story, things begin to spiral out of control for Olivero. First is when a young woman he is having an affair with is murdered, second, Brenda (the maid) is murdered while wearing Olivero‘s prized Mary Queen of Scots dress. After discovering the body of Brenda, Irina and Oliviero hide the body in the cellar wall. Along with the brick wall connection, Oliviero also has a beloved Black Cat named Satan, who observes the duo blocking the body of Brenda in the wall.
Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key, goes full-blown bonkers, when Edwidge Fenech (All of the Colors of the Dark, 1972) shows up as the voluptuous Florina, Oliveros’s niece (their relationship is creepy) and complicates things even further. Florina is there to retrieve jewelry that belonged to her mother (do not quote me on that). Mixed in with all the sex, murder, and eye-crossing backstabbing is Irina’s relationship with Satan, the Black Cat of the story. In Your Vice, Irina has an antagonistic relationship with the cat of the story, which like the narrator of Poe’s story leads to her eventually gouging the cat’s eye out after previously being bitten by Satan.
“[Sergio] Martino has crafted a bonkers classic that gives us genre tropes that include an unseen black-clad killer carrying a sickle […]”
While Martino does throw the viewer a few curveballs along the way, the ending ultimately ends up with another body in the wall being discovered after the police hearing the shriek of a Black Cat. With that said, Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key may be Poe at its heart, but it is pure Giallo on screen. Martino has crafted a bonkers classic that gives us genre tropes that include an unseen black-clad killer carrying a sickle (yes, it is as bad-ass as it sounds), double and triple crosses, a complicated mystery, and plenty exposed flesh. All these elements should please genre fans, or anyone curious about the allure of Edwidge Fenech.