• The Strange Vice Of Mrs. Wardh (Severin Films) Blu-ray Review

    Released by: Severin Films
    Released on: June 2nd, 2020.
    Director: Sergio Martino
    Cast: Edwige Fenech, George Hilton, Ivan Rassimov, Conchita Airoldi
    Year: 1971
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    The Strange Vice Of Mrs. Wardh – Movie Review:

    Sergio Martino's 1970 giallo, The Strange Vice Of Mrs. Wardh (released in North America as Next!), is a fantastic blend of Hitchcockian suspense and exploitative sex and violence all wrapped up in one of the slickest looking filmed packages of its time.

    The film follows Mrs. Julie Wardh (the absolutely gorgeous Edwige Fenech of Martino's later giallo, All The Colors Of The Dark), the wife of a prominent diplomat named Neil Wardh (Alberto De Mendoza of Lucio Fulci's A Lizard In A Woman's Skin) living with her husband in Austria. He spends much of his time at the office and as such, she gets quite lonely despite the fact that she does love him. Part of the reason that she married him, however, was because she needed a buffer from her possibly insane ex-boyfriend, Jean (Ivan Rassimov of Eaten Alive). Julie and Jean shared a very unusual and rather sadomasochistic relationship in the past, and she’d just as soon distance herself from that these days.

    One night at a party, Julie is introduced to a swinging socialite of a hipster named George (played by George Hilton, also of All The Colors Of The Dark as well as a zillion other giallos and Spaghetti Westerns of the time). George falls for Julie right away and, despite her best intentions at the start of their friendship, soon she begins to reciprocate his affection and the two begin an affair. Unfortunately for Julie, there's a sexually predatory maniac on the loose who really digs slicing and dicing up pretty young women just like herself and it looks like he's got his eyes on her. When her best friend Carol (Conchita Airoldi who would also work with Martino again a few years later with her turn in Torso) ends up dead from a chance encounter with his straight razor, Julie really begins to panic. She knows that she'll have to play her cards right if she wants to stay alive. To make matters worse for our pour heroine, someone has seen her in bed with George and is now in the process of blackmailing her. Obviously Julie wants to ensure that her husband doesn't find out about her extracurricular activities.

    The Strange Vice Of Mrs. Wardh has all the prime elements that are associated with the giallo genre – good looking (and often naked) women, a jazzy psychedelic score (provided by Nora Orlandi and resurrected in Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill), bloody murder set pieces, and plenty of fancy Euro-trash looking sets and locations. Martino directs the film with enough psychedelic flair to capture all the character and charm of his performers, but pays enough attention to where they're actually performing to give the movie a very nice, slick, polished look. The camera movements are (with the exception of a few trippy sequences) very fluid and overall, this movie just looks great and makes excellent use of some perfect locations. Great care was obviously taken in the lighting of the film, especially the first murder in the dark where we only see bits and pieces of the action, and the color scheme is, at times, almost surreal.

    Aside from the exceptional look the film has, The Strange Vice Of Mrs. Wardh also benefits greatly from an excellent cast of genre regulars. Ivan Rassimov is perfectly cast here as the perverted ex-boyfriend, chewing through the scenery with plenty of sleaze appeal. George Hilton is as charming and suave in this film as he ever was, working his moves on Julie like a seasoned professional. But the real star here is Edwige Fenech – she's a gorgeous looking woman with decent acting chops to boot and this makes her the perfect period Euro-Scream-Queen. Her eyes portray enough emotion that, even in the scenes where she doesn't have a lot of dialogue, you're still able to tell what her character is feeling. It’s one of her best performances and one of her best roles, Martino and company truly capturing her at the height of her powers.

    The Strange Vice Of Mrs. Wardh – Blu-ray Review:

    Severin Films brings The Strange Vice Of Mrs. Wardh to Blu-ray in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer framed at 2.35.1 widescreen “newly scanned in 4k from the inter-negative.” Taking up just under 31GBs of space on the disc, if this is indeed a new 4k scan it should look much better than it does. Not only is the film framed slightly differently than past editions, but the picture is soft throughout and often times noticeably lacking in detail. It does improve over the older No Shame DVD in many ways, but detail really should be stronger than it is here, it’s almost as if something went wrong during the transfer phase and didn’t get caught somehow. Adding insult to injury is the fact that there are noticeable macroblocking and compression artifact issues throughout, which is odd considering that the film is given plenty of room on the disc and a decent bit rate. On the plus side, colors look pretty decent but it’s hard to get excited about the picture quality here – this should have looked better.

    Audio options are provided in 16-bit DTS-HD 2.0 Mono tracks in both English and Italian language variants. Subtitles are provided in English for the Italian track and English closed captioning if offered for the English audio option. Both tracks sound quite good, nicely balanced and free of any hiss or distortion or sibilance. There’s good depth to the score here and no issues to note.

    Extra features are plentiful, starting off with an audio commentary from Kat Ellinger, who penned the book All The Colors of Sergio Martino. She notes that this was the first of Martino’s gialli and how it is the ‘one that set down the DNA’ for what would follow. She talks about how Martino’s brother produced the film, the film’s use of the typical black gloved killer trope in the picture, who did what on the script, the importance of Fenech’s entrance scene, and the way that the flashbacks to her relationship with Rassimov’s character are used. She gives plenty of background detail on the main cast members, noting Fenech’s rise to popularity in the Italian sex comedies of the day and the use of random female nudity in the picture. There’s talk here about the film’s international play (or, in the case of the UK, the lack thereof), the Martino family’s history in the Italian entertainment industry, Hilton’s work in the spaghetti western industry and his penchant for telling tall tales, the locations that are used in key scenes, how the film ties into gothic melodrama, the use of the strange dream sequences in the picture and in All The Colors Of The Dark and quite a bit more.

    Moving on to the new featurettes, we get Of Vice And Virtue, a new interview with director Sergio Martino that clocks in at forty-three-minutes. He talks about his relationship to giallo pictures and the work that he and his brother did in the genre early on, crediting his brother for coming up with the idea of creating some interesting suspense stories that proved to be quite popular. He then talks about the motivation to create an international product, making westerns and documentaries, taking inspiration from the news of the day, taking inspiration from Diabolique, how genre cinema grew to be more explicit, how women are portrayed in his films, trying to bring real depth to his characters, working with different cast and crew members over the years including Hilton, Rassimov and Fenech to name only three, how the film industry has changed over the years, his thoughts on his own legacy and quite a bit more. This is very well done and quite interesting, a thorough overview of Martino’s contribution to giallo history loaded with anecdotes, history and interesting opinions.

    Cold As Ice interviews screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi for twenty-two-minutes. Here he covers being asked to write gialli because they were popular when he'd rather have been writing sci-fi, but going along with it because it's what was needed at the time. He then talks about some of the early suspense pictures that he wrote, the role that fate plays in our lives and translating that to the screen, the need to have 'mental flexibility' when writing giallo pictures, why Wardh is spelled with an 'h' in the title, the job of the writer versus the director in regards to creating suspense in a film and the obvious importance of visuals in cinema. He also covers how a bad script can never result in a good film, the importance of creating the right mood and of writing good twists in thriller films and how to this day he still gets messages from people on social media about some of the scripts that he's written over the years. Gastaldi is quite animated here and very amusing to watch and listen to.

    The last of the new featurettes is Vienna Vice, which interviews with actor George Hilton and Italian genre historian Antonio Bruschini over the span of nineteen-minutes. In this piece Bruschini covers how Wardh came in the wake of Argento's success and serves as a bridge between the giallos of the sixties and where the genre would go in the seventies and the importance of the work that Lenzi did. He also talks about the basics of the plot of the film, the characters that populate it and how the success of The Bird With The Crystal Plumage changed the direction of the film. He covers the film's commercial success, the importance of the cast, the influence of Hitchcock and more. Hilton talks about how he came to know the Martino brothers and start working with them, Sergio Martino's directing style even this early in his career, shooting in Vienna, getting along with Fenech very well on the shoot, visiting Sitges, how he feels the film still feels quite modern and other topics.

    The No Shame Files is an archival Interview with Actress Edwige Fenech taken from the older North American DVD release (which also included Martino interview footage not included here) which runs twenty-four-minutes. Fenech talks about how she ended up in the role as well as her experiences on set with the director. She also details her working relationship with George Hilton and talks a little bit about her career in general, including her thoughts on the sex comedies that she made in Italy, doing nudity in her pictures and more.

    Rounding out the extras is a half-minute video introduction by George Hilton, the film’s original trailer, menus and chapter selection. Also worth noting is that the first 3,000 units will include the film’s soundtrack on CD and come with a nice color insert card that contains the track listing on one side and some nice poster art on the reverse. This is quite a nice extra for soundtrack fans and a very welcome addition to this release.

    The Strange Vice Of Mrs. Wardh – The Final Word:

    The Strange Vice Of Mrs. Wardh is a top tier giallo, one of Martino’s best and a film that features Fenech and Hilton in their respective primes with a great supporting turn from Rassimov. It’s a shame that the transfer isn’t what it should be, as this is otherwise a very nice release of a great film with some very worthwhile extra features.

    Click on the images below for full sized The Strange Vice Of Mrs. Wardh Blu-ray screen caps!