Color, 1974, 100 mins. 6 secs.
Directed by Sergio Martino
Starring Edwige Fenech, George Hilton, Alberto de Mendoza, Ivan Rassimov, Christina Airoldi
Shameless Screen Entertainment (Blu-ray & DVD) (UK R0 HD/PAL), NoShame, Mya Communication (DVD) (US R0 NTSC), Media Target (Germany R2 PAL), Dania Film (Italy R2 PAL) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9)

The Strange Vice of Mrs. WardhReleased The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardharound the same time as the inauguration of Dario Argento's pivotal "animal trilogy" of thrillers, The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh marked the thriller debut of director Sergio Martino, a genre-hopping talent eager to explore the internationally popular giallo. He found his perfect leading lady in the form of Algeria-born Edwige Fenech, a shapely beauty just seen in Mario Bava's eccentric Five Dolls for an August Moon. Since she was dating Sergio's producer brother Luciano, the director and star reunited for two more gialli as well as a series of sexy comedies. Markedly different from the works of Argento and Bava, Martino's thrillers feature bizarre, fractured storylines in which a variety of characters collide with multiple villains providing a host of disorienting red herrings, all shot in sumptuous scope. Though not as baroque as some of its successors, Strange Vice still holds up nicely as a daring and surprisingly bleak shocker that set the pace for several years to come.

Returning from Austria, Julie Wardh (Fenech) is dissatisfied with her inattentive diplomat husband, Neil (de Mendoza) and haunted by memories of her brutal past relationship with creepy blond Jean (Rassimov), who enjoyed stripping and raping her in the rain and slicing off her lingerie with broken wine bottles. At a decadent party where girls in The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardhpaper dresses rip off each other's clothes, Julie spies Jean (who has now taken up sending her sinister bouquets of roses with vague notes about the "worst part of her") and The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardhwinds up flirting with George (Hilton), the cousin of her best friend Carol (Airoldi). Soon Julie and George become lovers, prompting a blackmail scheme and a shocking murder that send Julie fleeing for her life. However, no matter how far she runs, she soon learns that death will be following her everywhere.

A strange and gripping film, The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh in many ways foreshadows Martino's later gem, All the Colors of the Dark, while delivering a tight and compelling storyline that features a nifty triple-twist corkscrew finale that somehow still manages to hold water, more or less. The whole show is really held together by Fenech, a dazzling presence who has come to be regarded by many fans as the ultimate giallo scream queen. The eerie, melancholy score by Nora Orlandi establishes an uneasy mood from the opening scenes; in fact, the flashback "Dies Irae" theme is so effective it was later recycled as Michael Madsen's theme for Kill Bill, Vol. 2. The The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardhviolence level is comparatively mild compared to most of its ilk, though you do get a nasty throat-slashing in the shower and a few other stabs here and there to keep the gorehounds satisfied. Unfortunately most of the sex and violence was toned down (along with several chunks of storyline) when the film hit drive-ins under a variety of titles like Blade of the Ripper and Next!, only to fare even worse when VHS turned the widescreen film into a colorless, gauzy mess impossible to appreciate on any level.

The Strange Vice of Mrs. WardhFortunately the NoShame DVD came along in 2005 to correct the numerous disservices heaped upon this film over the years; the anamorphic transfer from the original negative looked miraculous at the time compared to its predecessors, with the numerous night scenes now perfectly legible. However, it's from an unconverted PAL source (and interlaced) with significant motion blurring and an accelerated running time of 96m24s. The soundtrack can be played in either the English dub (with a few weird audio gaffes where footage was substituted) or the superior Italian dub; this is a rare giallo that was actually shot in Italian with all of the dialogue in synch, so The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardhthat soundtrack with English subtitles is really the way to go. The biggest extra here is the solid 31m2s featurette, "Dark Fears Behind the Door," in which both Martinos, Hilton, writer Ernesto Gastaldi, and the still-gorgeous Fenech talk about making the film, in Italian with English subtitles. It's a good piece with various stories about the financing for the film, the shooting locations, and the filmmaking techniques Martino used to elicit terrified performances from the cast. Also included are the original European trailer (in Italian, no subs), a poster and still gallery, footage of Martino introducing a screening of the film's restored print in Venice, and an illustrated booklet with bios for the major players. A 2010 reissue after NoShame's demise from Mya (as Blade of the Ripper) was more dubious, taken from the same master with identical language options and only the Italian trailer and a gallery as extras.

In 2011, the film made its DVD bow in the UK from Shameless Entertainment using what appears to be a similar master and with the same language options; extras include a new Martino interview, "Thrills, Chills & Cleavage" (22m32s), about his progression into thrillers after some sexy potboilers with a fairly thorough The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardhexploration of his commercially successful forays into the genre. Also included are a quick Martino intro, a Fenech bio, bonus promo trailers, and best of all, a pop-up fun fact subtitle option by Justin Harris that basically works as a sort of text commentary through the film; it's quite an entertaining and informative way to watch the film guaranteed to deliver at least a few dozen things you didn't The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardhknow.

In 2017, Shameless revisited the title for a Blu-ray upgrade from a markedly different HD transfer that's far more watchable thanks to the original film speed and a vast uptick in detail. It's also from the English-language negative which means some text insert shots (see below shot of the blackmail note) are in English instead of Italian. Colors are visibly cooler by comparison with the DVDs (which are much warmer, often verging on orange at times with hot white levels), though not teal tinted and pleasant to watch in motion. It'll be interesting to see which color timing fans prefer, but it's clear that this release is much easier on the eyes in playback. Audio is offered in English or Italian LPCM mono with optional English subtitles translated from the Italian track; as usual the English track has some wonky spots, which may be an issue with compositing a complete version together as there hasn't been a perfect-sounding version out there. The pop-up fact track, Martino intro, NoShame featurette, and UK "Thrills, Chills & Cleavage" featurette are all collected here for the first time, and "The Genesis of Mrs. Wardh" (7m11s) is basically a visual essay with text outlining her progression into and through the giallo craze.

NOSHAME DVD FRAME GRABS

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Updated review on August 1, 2017