Natural it may be to question who is behind blackmail, it always leads to trouble far beyond anything one could expect. The Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh is a testament to that statement, as the titular Mrs Julie Wardh (Edwige Fenech) begins to uncover the conspiracies and harm targeted at her for some nondescript reason. It is a game of suspicion, with every loser in the life of Wardh a potential threat. It is a matter of discovering which one poses the most life-threatening commination. Sergio Martino directs us through this Giallo mystery movie, one whose mystery and theme go hand in hand, but are left in an unconvincing state in part due to performances and dialogue.
We can never underestimate the importance of writing. While Martino is a solid draw behind the camera for this early-70s Giallo piece, he cannot get the best out of his script or his cast. It is forgettable and staggering and had the technical merits of the Giallo variety been stripped away, there would be very little worth reconciling with. Its premise is marvellous, but The Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh is the sad case of a plot looking better on paper than it does in practice. Fenech and George Hilton are fine. They never elevate one another to a level that proves them as worthy, memorable performers.
But the point of Giallo is not to provide essential, classic performances, not here anyway. Gore and guts, boobs and blood. That is the core of Italian horror, and The Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh has an abundance of it. What its purpose is, other than to elicit horror and fear from an audience, is of no real importance. The gory glory of Martino’s piece never shines through. It is stifled and stuffy, not quite exceeding where those that came before it did. It is no Mario Bava, that is for sure. Blood and Black Lace, whilst volatile and inconsistent, had enjoyable characters and meaningful displays of violence. While The Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh can offer the same, it can only offer the fractured remains of what could, potentially, have been a marvellous character analysis, of a woman going through the process of blackmail, and taking the fight back to them.
Marginally better than his efforts behind the camera on Island of the Fishmen, Martino presents his competent style to the genre of Giallo. It rumbles on with competency, but no real flair or love for the style it takes on. We cannot deny the impact Martino had on the genre. This was not his first affair with the haunted killings of Giallo, but he never expresses it as more than a niche horror. When applied correctly, this vein of horror can elicit styles and showcases that far exceed the mainstream success, but Martino shies away from such an opportunity. He instead fumbles around, never quite understanding his leading character, but at least he attempts to do so, by throwing deadly killers and self-interested men her way.