Wednesday, August 12, 2009

La Morte negli occhi del gatto / Seven Deaths in the Cat's Eye (Italy, 1973)

(Trailer.) The productivity of the director of this movie is easily explained once one realizes that hidden behind the anglicized name Anthony M. Dawson is the Italian Antonio Margheriti. If there is a land in which the directors know how to crank out product nonstop, Italy takes the cake. (Okay, maybe Bollywood keeps their directors even busier, but it is only as of recent that any of that product has begun to make it to the Western spheres, badly dubbed or not.)
In the case of Margheriti, despite of – or maybe due to – his massive output, he has quite a few classics and near classics in his oeuvre. Amongst his best are his Mario Bava influenced gothic horrors, including La Danza macabre / Castle of Blood (1964/trailer) featuring Barbara Steele at her most beautiful, his 1970 remake of that very same film, Nella stretta morsa del ragno / Web of the Spider, and the 1964 mutilated-nazi-killing-babes-in-a-castle flick La Vergine die Norimberga / The Virgin of Nuremberg (trailer). By Apocalypse domani / Cannibal Apocalypse (1980/trailer), which features John Saxon as a Vietnam Vet carrying an infectious virus that turns people into cannibals, Margheriti may have finally begun to run out of style definitely but not steam, but in 1973, when he made this entertaining piece of eurotrash, he still had his aesthetic wits together – no wonder Warhol and Paul Morrissey supposedly pulled him in the following year to help (uncredited outside of Italy) with both Andy Warhol's Dracula and Andy Warhol's Frankenstein (trailer to both).
Less a Giallo that Gothic, Seven Deaths in the Cat's Eye utilizes stylistic calling cards of both genres. The ever-present killing gloved hands of the classical Giallo is present throughout the film beginning with the first of the seven deaths in the film, in which a man gets his throat slit and then is dumped in the castle's cellar as rat food during the movie's credits. Possibly set in the late 19th century, the film stars the French cult actress/singer Jane Birkin (best known in the US for her smaller parts in the Agatha Christie films Death on the Nile (1978) and Evil Under the Sun (1982)) as the decidedly over-aged schoolgirl Corringa, who arrives at Auntie's large, shadowy castle of Dragonston by coach from her convent school to visit with her mama, Lady Alicia. (The exact generation the film is set in is hard to place: while the setting seems to be of the 19th century, many of the characters – especially the luscious Suzanne (Doris Kunstmann) – look much more like contemporary 1970's Europe, and the costumes often seem to be of the 1920s.) People are being killed in and around the castle at great regularity, all dying under the watchful eyes of a rather fat and complacent cat (hence the movie's title). Could the murderer be Lord James (Hiram Keller, previously seen chasing and being chased by both men and women as Ascilto in Fellini's Satyricon (1969/trailer)), the supercilious and extremely eccentric aristocrat who keeps an ape – looking much more like a man in an ape suit – as a pet? Lord James does seem to spend a lot of time crawling around the secret passages of the castle, and his interaction with everyone is a bit less than pleasant. More bloody murders occur, including that of the ape, all obviously the handiwork of a very human individual, despite all the talk of supernatural elements and local folklore. Could it be that the who and why of the murders have something to do with an inheritance? Birkin's actual husband at the time, Serge Gainsbourg, the great now-deceased French singer of paeans to love and incest (often in duet with his daughter or Birkin), co-stars as a detective who keeps showing up at the wrong time….
Based on a novel by Peter Bryan, who once supplied the scripts for such Hammer productions as The Hound of Baskervilles (1959/trailer) and The Plague of the Zombies (1966/trailer), as well as the story for Trog (1970/trailer), Seven Deaths in the Cat's Eye may fall short of being a forgotten, unrecognized classic, but the relatively unknown Gothic thriller is without a doubt a well made, highly atmospheric film with the typically baroque feel of the best eurotrash horror. Punctuated by some fine tension, decent gore and intentional laughs that are easy to misinterpret as being unintentional, the movie might move a bit slow, but it never fails to entertain. For all the seriousness of the movie's Gothic trappings and violence, and despite the effectively straight manner Ms. Birkin plays her part, Seven Deaths in the Cat's Eye was obviously made with its tongue deep in its cheek, which only serves to make the movie all the more entertaining. (Really, how could a film featuring a guy in an ape suit running around a Gothic castle not fail to entertain?)
Unlike The Virgin of Nuremberg, Seven Deaths in the Cat's Eye has seldom (if ever) found itself on late night US television, but a DVD is now available. Fans of Gothic horror or eurotrash will find it a more than satisfying film, well worth the rental or purchase.
The impressive music is supplied by none other than Riz Ortalani, one of Italy's great but (outside of Italy) relatively unknown masters of film music. Amongst his more memorable scores, he co-wrote (with Nino Oliviero and Norman Newell) the haunting, classic song More for the first of all shockumentaries, Mondo cane (1962/trailer).

For a review of Margheriti's 1989 movie Alien degli abissi / Alien from the Deep, go here.

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