Monday, July 12, 2010

Seven Deaths in the Cat's Eye (1973)

When it comes to late-night escapism, I have a particular love of Italian movies involving beautiful women solving mysteries in crumbling castles while the bodies pile up around them. Antonio Margheriti's 1973 giallo Seven Deaths in the Cat's Eye has all of the ingredients I'm looking for and more. The presence of Jane Birkin in the lead role certainly helps, but I think it was the gratuitous gorilla that really sold me on this one.

Peek-a-boo

Corringa (Jane Birkin) has just arrived at Dragonstone, her family's castle in Scotland, to find that all is not well. Her aunt Lady Mary MacGrieff (Fran├žoise Christophe) has been unsuccessfuly trying to get a loan from Corringa's mother Lady Alicia (Dana Ghia) so she can afford to hold on to the castle, for the good of the family name of course. Lady Mary's son James (Hiram Keller) spends all of his time insulting the guests, wandering through secret passages, and looking after his pet gorilla. Dr. Franz (Anton Diffring) explains that James has not been right in the head since he murdered his baby sister when they were children.

Meanwhile, nobody seems to know about the rat-eaten corpse in the cellar except for a very fat ginger cat that also conveniently manages to be present every time one of the guests is murdered...

Peek-a-boo

Seven Deaths in the Cat's Eye is a hybrid of several subgenres, mostly giallo and gothic horror, with elements of the German krimi movies thrown in. Early on there are whispers of a vampiric curse, where if one family member murders another they will rise from the grave as a vampire to seek revenge, but this mostly just prompts a vivid dream sequence where Corringa dreams that her mother is urging her to avenge her death. All other hints of the supernatural turn out to be red herrings, as does the gorilla.

Vampire dreams

Jane Birkin's then-husband and frequent collaborator Serge Gainsbourg turns up as a police inspector with a talent for turning up at the most inconvenient times. Thanks to the miracles of dubbing, we get the bizarre spectacle of France's greatest popular musician speaking in a broad Scottish brogue. Gainsbourg's unnamed inspector is unusually sharp for a cop in an Italian horror movie; not only does he put together the solution to the case before anyone else, he deservedly gets the last word in the movie, and manages to save a couple of lives to boot.

Jane Birkin and Serge Gainsbourg

Not too many lives though. This is a giallo first and foremost, and it wouldn't work out too well if there weren't a string of colourful murders. Even the poor gorilla gets it in the neck.

I thoroughly enjoyed Seven Deaths in the Cat's Eye, though I have to admit it was a pretty terrible movie in most respects. It is reasonably nicely shot, filled with fairly reliable European character actors (Luciano Pigozzi, the Italian equivalent to Peter Lorre, shows up just long enough to get his throat cut), and it has no shortage of silly goings on.

Typical Italian horror movie coloured lighting

If you're a fan of this sort of thing already, there are far worse movies you can watch. If you're a newcomer to Italian horror movies, this is not the place to start.



The lovely Jane Birkin and friend

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