Your Vice is a Locked Room... and The Big Alligator River(No Shame Films, 9.27.2005)
If you're a fan of Italian genre director Sergio Martino, the last couple years have been kind to you. First Anchor Bay unleashed two of his best known films (Torso, Mountain of the Cannibal God) then Media Blasters released two of his most peculiar works (2019: After the Fall of New York, All the Colors of the Dark). Now, the greatest champion of Italian cinema on DVD, No Shame Films, has opened the flood gates, releasing five of Martino's major films -- The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh, The Case of the Scorpion's Tail, Gambling City, The Big Alligator River, and the bizarrely-titled Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key -- in surprisingly thorough, content-packed special editions.
The two films highlighted here are a mixed bag, but they also provide a fairly comprehensive overview of Martino's filmmaking strengths/weaknesses and, more generally, an introduction to the conventions of Italian genre cinema of the 70s. First off, Your Vice is a slightly above average giallo effort (between No Shame Films and Blue Underground, there's no shortage of gialli on DVD these days). The liner notes situate Your Vice in relation to Martino's previous gialli, emphasizing that this film is more personal and carefully-executed than Martino's previous efforts. Formally, the film features no shortage of visual panache and fans of Martino should find their interest sustained by this quality alone but, like even some of the very best gialli, the film's narrative conceits are occasionally clumsy and its static pacing leaves something to be desired.
The Big Alligator River is simultaneously inferior to Your Vice and, deriving much of its merit from schlocky filmmaking and wacky dubbing (that quite often differs from the Italian language track/English subtitles), more engaging and enjoyable. As Martino is quick to admit, The Big Alligator River is basically an Italian ripoff of Jaws, in which an alligator behaves oddly like a crazed shark.
However, by any standard -- even the standard set by Joe Dante's low budget (but skillful) Jaws homage, Piranha -- The Big Alligator River is a silly, cliche-ridden exercise in mindless exploitation. And that's not necessarily a bad thing. There's something oddly exhilarating about seeing fake alligators so fake they'd make Ed Wood proud, shot in widescreen by a talented filmmaker with a polished (if slightly inconsistent) visual style.
With its combination of high profile genre releases and classics from legendary auteurs (Michelangelo Antonioni, Bernardo Bertolucci), No Shame Films is like an exclusively Italian hybrid of Blue Underground and The Criterion Collection. Even the most ardent Sergio Martino fan would be quick to accept bare bones releases of his films, as long as some effort was made to get the transfers right. Well, No Shame exceeds expectations. Not only do they provide clean, anamorphic transfers and the option of either Italian or English audio (an option that even the exceptional Blue Underground occasionally overlooks), but they also provide some illuminating features that quite often surpass the films themselves.
Both discs contain lengthy featurettes, comprised of interviews with key cast and crew: Martino, star Edwige Fenech, and writer Ernesto Gastaldi on Your Vice; Martino and production designer Antonello Geleng on The Big Alligator River. The Alligator featurette is particularly strong, as Martino offers an overview of his entire career -- citing, for example, the many American stars he's worked with, including Joseph Cotten, Glenn Ford, Donald Pleasance, Stacy Keach, and Nicole Kidman (when she was 19) -- and several interesting Alligator anecdotes (the film's primary locations were struck by the disastrous tsunami of 2004).
More controversially, Geleng argues that the Italian horror boom of the 70s was simply a result of economic convenience and claims that most of these directors were simply recycling the ideas of filmmakers from other countries. He also discusses his lengthy period of collaboration with Federico Fellini and admits that, even after all these years, he still has a hard time watching horror films.
Rounding out these impressive discs, we get trailers for these and other Martino films, poster galleries, and booklets that include images, bios, filmographies, and liner notes by Richard Harland Smith. If you're already a disciple of Italian genre cinema, you know the importance of Sergio Martino. If you're an Italian genre neophyte, however, and you're curious to see what all the fuss is about, these discs are a great place to start. -- Jonathan Doyle