Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Nine Guests For A Crime (1977)

Original title: Nove ospiti per un delitto

Twenty years ago, a quartet of men with guns first shot a young man for the sin of sleeping with a woman of their family on the beach of their private island, then buried him alive. Might this become the reason for a few killings later on in the movie?

Now, rich patriarch Ubaldo (Arthur Kennedy), his three sons, their respective spouses and their mad aunt Elizabeth (Dana Ghia) go to the very same island for a nice summer holiday.

As this is a group of rich people in a giallo, everybody spends his or her time either bitching at one another, uttering melodramatic monologues, sleeping around with other people's spouses in the same room where one's own spouse sleeps, or just masturbating in an open air shower.

While these fun and games are going on, a mysterious person wearing black leather gloves - as mandated by giallo law - murders the sailors manning the family's yacht and drives it off somewhere. All that arguing and sleeping around is pretty distracting, so the family only realizes the absence of their transportation when family member Carla (Flavia Fabiani) drowns, her body never to be found, and they need to call the police.

And oh, somebody seems to have stolen the spark plugs of the cute red motorboat too.

Of course, Carla isn't the last family member to die. Soon enough, Ubaldo himself is dead of poisoning, and it's time for everybody to give up on the sleeping around and concentrate on calling each other a murderer. And, going by the continuing body count, one of the family members might very well be one.

Nine Guests is another entry in one of my very favourite giallo sub-genres, the Rich-Bastards-Get-Theirs film that's an unholy, sexed-up update of the Dark Old House genre (though the house in this particular case is - ironically - pretty modern and bright) and/or Agatha Christie, just with class politics that would have driven the conservative old writer into conniptions.

This particular sub-genre of the giallo seems to be made to strengthen my own classist prejudices as someone coming from sub-working class circumstances, demonstrating that yes, indeed, all rich people are murderous bastards and deserve to die, and then proceeds to show their deaths in great and lavish detail. This sort of film is to rich people what the slasher is to very old teenagers.

Although playing only to its audience's basest instincts is not something I really approve of in a movie, it's difficult to disagree with the lurid charms of Nine Guests. Directed by Ferdinando Baldi - who is a very hit-or-miss director for me - the film is so obviously having fun with its own trashiness that it's impossible for me to not have fun watching it, too.

There's dubious 70s interior architecture to gawk at, softcore sex of the rubbing kind to laugh at, and decadent evil rich people being hatefully decadent, evil and rich until they are killed off in various bloody and photogenic ways - what more could I ask of a movie?

On the negative side, the first half hour or so is actually a bit too loaded with the softcore sex, going from breast rubbing on a terrace to breast rubbing under the shower to breast rubbing in bed until the sceptical viewer might begin to think this movie experience is a bit lacking in diversity. However, that's only because Baldi needs to load all the mandatory nudity into his movie's first thirty minutes so that he doesn't need to take a break in the melodramatic arguments and the killings for more breast rubbing later on. Thanks to this genius idea as well as some suddenly pretty stylish direction, Nine Guests' final act even develops a solid feeling of suspense.

Sure, the identity of the killer is quite obvious, and the explanation for everything that's going on is more than just a bit silly, but Nine Guests For A Crime is consequent, a bit cynical and so well-clad in its chosen pop trash guise that I'd need to be a much grouchier person than I am to not overlook these minor problems and enjoy it.


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