Your Vice Is A Locked Room And Only I Have The Key–Bruno Nicolai
Quite untypical of most gialli scores at the time, Nicolai eschews kitschy jazz for stately melancholy.
Published on August 20, 2012 | Filed under Audiodrome: Music in Film

The exquisitely titled Your Vice was ‘liberally adapted’ from Edgar Allan Poe’s short story of gothic-soaked madness The Black Cat and filmed by Sergio Martino in 1972; a heyday for the Italian giallo. It revolves around an alcoholic writer and his long-suffering wife who are slowly driving each other mad in their isolated and crumbling villa outside Venice. When the writer’s niece (played by giallo stalwart Edwige Fenech) comes to stay, her arrival coincides with the first in a string of bloody murders, and events soon become fraught with tension and paranoia as the bodies mount up behind the cellar wall. Incorporating aspects of Diabolique (1955), Your Vice is a deliciously dark and moody giallo that boasts a strange gothic atmosphere as well as the usual giallo trimmings of black-gloved killers, nudity, sex, extreme violence and a seemingly ubiquitous black cat called Satan. The film’s gothic ambiance is richly enhanced by Italian film composer Bruno Nicolai’s melancholy, primarily harpsichord based score, which sensuously unfurls with sombre sweeping strings providing variations of the central theme; itself a resplendent and haunting melody. While the music often highlights the morbidly romantic aspects of the story, Nicolai doesn’t shy away from providing chillier moments to underpin the horror and suspense and get the pulse racing.

Born in Rome, 1926, Nicolai attended the Santa Cecilia Conservatory to study piano and composition. Here, he became acquainted with one Ennio Morricone. The two men became fast friends, forming a long-standing collaborative relationship, with Nicolai often conducting Morricone’s scores; notably the music for Dario Argento’s Animal Trilogy and Lucio Fulci’s Lizard in a Woman’s Skin. Nicolai also composed for theatre and television, but he really gained recognition with his scores for film, particularly spaghetti westerns and darkly stylish gialli. He is renowned for his work with Sergio Martino and Jess Franco, and like Morricone, who had a major influence on him; Nicolai’s music is imbued with a rich, lyrical sensuality that adds a touch of classy elegance to proceedings. Sadly, Nicolai’s friendship with Morricone became increasingly strained and the two eventually fell out, never reconciling their differences. Some say this was because Morricone accused his protégé of confusing the boundaries between homage and out-right plagiarism. Bruno Nicolai sadly passed away in 1991 leaving behind his wife, three daughters and a legacy of some of the most beautiful music to ever grace genre cinema.

As mentioned, a distinctly gothic flavour swirls throughout the score for Your Vice and the result is a soundtrack quite untypical of giallo movie music at the time. Nicolai eschews the usual kitschy jazz numbers associated with the sub-genre for something altogether more stately and melancholic, as exhibited in the film’s beautiful Main Titles and tracks such as The Mother’s Dress and Floriana/Satana & Irene, with their combination of airy string arrangements and evocative harpsichord pieces. Your Vice is much more character driven than many of its peers; the ever uncertain dynamics, interactions and scheming of the three main characters is what drives the plot. Without giving too much away, many of the film’s more violent and unsettling moments stem from the doomed marriage of Oliviero and Irina. As such, Nicolai’s music serves to remind us that betrayal, desire, lust and greed are what motivate the story.

The main theme is echoed throughout the album with different arrangements and instrumentation as on the likes of Picnic On The Mountain and Spied Lovers/Satana. These moments evoke a desperate longing and enhance the almost tragic nature of the unfolding melodrama. Sustained strings and prowling piano, harpsichord and creeping bass provide the likes of Flo’s Escape/Confessions with an impish mischievousness, whereas harpsichord driven tracks such as Floriana & Olivero/Satana Is Back lend the soundtrack a clandestine air and showcase the decadence and dangerous sexiness at the heart of events. As characters knock back the J&B, drape themselves forlornly over sparsely arranged furniture or just wander about spooky cobwebbed hallways in a maddened daze, Nicolai’s music ensures that we know dark deeds are most definitely afoot.

Much more taut exercises in tension pierce the downbeat and moody veil, including Murder, The Killer’s Death and Deadly Race, which all build slowly to a galloping crescendo with rippling guitar cords, clipity-clop kettle drums, stabbing strings and a killer harpsichord based hook. Their driving, relentless rhythms perfectly accompany several suspenseful chase sequences and would later be echoed in Nicolai’s score for similarly gothic-imbued giallo, The Red Queen Kills Seven Times. Things get decidedly unnerving on The Handmaidens Dead/We Must Hide The Body, with its frenzied strings, and To Kill And Wall Up In The Cellar, which begins with low rumbling and deranged string arrangements before picking up the pace for a reprisal of the killer riff from Murder and Deadly Race.

Nicolai is careful not to clutter his arrangements, and many retain quite a sparse feel which suits the lonely mood of the film very well. Overall it is a broody, haunting, mournful and sensual soundtrack well worth seeking out. Many of the composer’s scores were released on his own label, Edi-Pan.

One of my favourite tracks from Your Vice is the full-blooded Sapphic Love. Its rich, sumptuous combination of woodwind, harp and string arrangements accompanies the scene where Irina and Floriana make love after scheming to bump-off Oliviero. The scene, while admittedly rather dated – it’s all slow fades, clasping hands, silkily strewn bed sheets and coy glances – is elevated to something much more romantic than exploitative by Nicolai’s achingly tender music. Enjoy.

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Keep an eye out for issue 17 of Paracinema in which I’ll be taking a much more detailed look at Martino’s Your Vice and its moody gothic influences. *Dons black leather gloves*

James is the author of Dario Argento (Kamera Books) and a monograph on The Company of Wolves (part of Auteur’s Devil’s Advocates series). He currently contributes to Exquisite Terror and Diabolique, and has also written for Film Ireland, Eye for Film, Little White Lies and The Quietus.
James Gracey