Death may mean nothing to a beast with nine lives in this stylish thriller, but Judge Bryan Pope wonders how the titular feline will feel about nine life sentences.
The cat came back the very next day.
Some folks simply aren't cat lovers, and this fun, lavishly photographed horror film isn't likely to convert them.
Facts of the Case
Corringa MacGrieff (the luscious Jane Birkin) has just returned to her mother and the family manse after being expelled from convent school for her girlish shenanigans, and she frets over the sound scolding that surely awaits her. But a scolding soon becomes the least of Corringa's worries, as her arrival is greeted with bloody corpses and screams of terror piercing the night.
Lurking somewhere within the castle's stone walls, dimly lit catacombs, and ancestral mausoleum is a razor-wielding intruder. Could it be a manifestation of an ancient family curse involving vampirism, or is something more earthly—yet equally sinister—at play? Nobody knows for certain, save for the titular four-legged guest. But as seven victims gurgle their final breaths, he isn't saying a word.
Yes, something is afoot at MacGrieff Castle. Four feet, to be exact.
A body smacks against the cold stone floor, dead, before sliding down a flight of stairs into a dank, cold dungeon. Clunkety-clunk, clunkety-cluck, leaving crimson splotches in its wake. In this dungeon, lit only by a single torch casting impenetrable shadows from the far wall, the body is left to be feasted upon by rats. They make short order of their work, leaving nothing but a skeleton, its grimacing face streaked with blood. And, nearby, that darn cat twitches his whiskers with bemused indifference.
No doubt about it, writer/director Antonio Margheriti's Seven Deaths in the Cat's Eye kicks off with a corker of an opener. I'm pleased to say that things will get even better as Margheriti and his game cast turn on the juice.
Seven Deaths is often classified as a giallo, but unfairly so. Despite a few giallo elements, the film's regal production design, grisly humor, and supernatural elements make it a second cousin to the horror films Hammer Studios churned out in the late '60s and early '70s. Within the first ten minutes, it has spiraled wildly into more titillating and audacious territory.
Titillating because of the overt sexuality that permeates the film, particularly when Corringa, fresh from a nunnery, strips down to her scanties while the hired help watches with heaving bosom and shortness of breath. Then there's the sexual tension between Corringa and her cousin, James. If the film is discreet in depicting these lustier aspects, I won't fault it for showing some class.
But then there's the matter of a certain 800-pound pet gorilla. A refugee from a traveling circus that visited the castle months back, the ape remains housed on the manor grounds under James's care, snorting, grunting, and peering through the castle's arched windows. Outrageous? Absolutely. But it lets you know early on that Seven Deaths is willing go to extremes to keep you off balance.
Giovanni Simonelli's screenplay is based on a novel by Peter Bryan, and if the writing is sometimes weighted down by exposition, it's also frequently uplifted by deliriously over-the-top dialogue ("You are absolutely on fire tonight, darling! Are you excited by all the blood that has been flowing around here?"). My favorite moment is when the culprit, revealed at last, commits the age-old of cinematic sin of talking too damn much ("The cat will be the only witness to the murders who will stay alive, and only because he can't speak, can't talk to inspectors."). The scene is overwrought and played to perfection. In fact, the entire cast has a delicious time with their roles, bringing a brash theatricality to the proceedings. Margheriti seems to encourage broad gestures and vocal inflections aimed toward the back row. With this type of material, it's a smart choice.
The performances are exceeded only by the film's splendid production design, cinematography, and Riz Ortolani's blissfully robust score. Characters move through tapestry-adorned chambers, zipping in and out of a seemingly endless network of secret passageways and catacombs. And have you ever seen so many gargoyles? Cinematographer Carlo Carlini bathes the action in a garish rainbow of vibrant colors. For a low-budget affair, Seven Deaths is a treat to look at.
With its abundance of blood and mayhem, producers really had no reason to think Seven Deaths wouldn't appeal to American audiences, and yet in the package's sole extra—an eight-minute interview segment—Margheriti reveals that the studio suggested he Americanize his name to market the film in the States (he is billed in the film as Anthony Dawson). That's the sole point of interest in a too brief chat with Margheriti and Simonelli.
While one wishes the package included more and better extras, Blue Underground has provided a lovely transfer. Seven Deaths in the Cat's Eye is presented in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio with an anamorphic transfer, and the image is breathtaking. With the exception of one early exterior scene that is jarringly faded, the film's color-saturated cinematography is beautifully preserved. The bright colors are vivid and crisp, the blacks rich and deep. The image includes the expected grain, but nothing that detracts from one's enjoyment. The audio, on the other hand, is another issue entirely. The Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono is serviceable, sure, but very weak. Ortolani's bizarre, bombastic score stands out, but dialogue is occasionally muffled or lost entirely. Pity no subtitles are included to help the viewer along.
For those who like their thrillers classy with just a smidgen of gore and smut, Seven Deaths is the cat's meow. Although the audio is weak, Blue Underground has done a marvelous job with the transfer.
The film and Blue Underground are free to go, but Fluffy gets the shackles.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Blue Underground
• Murder He Wrote -- Interview with Co-Writer Giovanni Simonelli
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