Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Seven Dead in the Cat’s Eye (1973)

Original title: La morte negli occhi del gatto

Freshly thrown out of school, young Corringa (Jane Birkin) arrives at the MacGrieff family castle in Scotland after years of absence to meet up with her mother Lady Alicia (Dana Ghia) who is in her turn there to visit her sister, Lady Mary (Françoise Christophe). It’s going to be a rather interesting holiday there, for soon Lady Alicia is murdered in what turns out to be only the first in a series of killings, and it more or less falls on Corringa’s shoulders to find the murderer

Alas, Corringa’s not exactly the most capable of heroines, a problem that is further exacerbated by the fact that the castle is populated by more suspicious weirdoes than an Edgar Wallace krimi. There’s Mary, who could really use the money of Alicia’s – or now Corringa’s – side of the family, her son James (Hiram Keller), who is mad, mad, I tell you, James’s pet gorilla James (some dude in the rattiest gorilla suit this side of the 30s), Mary’s lover Dr. Franz (Anton Diffring), a falsifier of death certificates, a liar, and a cheat, Suzanne (Doris Kunstmann), the “French teacher” Franz and Mary hired to seduce/cure James (Freud is blamed) and who is of course actually a lesbian, a priest (Venantino Venantini) so friendly he’s just as suspicious as the rest, and last but not least a bunch of servants of exactly the skulking and secretive type the skulking and secretive rest of the cast deserve. Oh, and the local police inspector is played by Serge Gainsbourg dubbed with a truly frightening “Scottish” accent.

And that’s before we come to the family curse that says inter-familial murder will turn the victim into a vampire, and the adorable fluffy cat present at all of the murders.

Antonio Margheriti’s Seven Dead in the Cat’s Eye is a giallo dressed in the set design and costumes of Italian gothic horror (though the film seems to take place in the 1920s, I guess?), and as a film directed by one of my favourite directors working in two of my favourite genres, you’d expect me to be rather happy with it.

And I sort of am, or rather, I am deeply pleased by the enthusiasm with which the film hits all the beats of its two chosen genres, and even adds a fake gorilla, but I gotta state the obvious for people not-me in emphasising the resulting film isn’t exactly a great one, certainly not as phantasmagorical as Margheriti’s best gothics, and just lacking in the depth these Italian genres generally achieve through a judicious mix of exploitation and style as substance.

Sure, Seven Dead does play around a little with changed mental states, some tiny suggestions of incestual feeling and starts from the deeply giallo-esque foundation that all rich people – perhaps except for certain slightly outsider-ish ones - are decadent shits, but all this doesn’t amount to as much as one might hope for. Instead, the film really is just a series of set pieces dressed in pretty colours and fashionably dubious yet excellent gowns worn by pretty people of dubious acting acumen but excellent build, with some wonderfully garish blood and a cute kitty, and nary a thought spent on anything not having to do with everything looking pretty in a decadent and somewhat morbid way.

If you’re into this sort of thing as I am, Seven Dead is a lot like falling into a very pretty and very comfy bed for a pleasant dream of nudity, random violence and gorilla costumes (of course accompanied by a dramatic Riz Ortolani soundtrack), and that’s a fine state of mind for a movie to produce, I think. However, there’s something not quite quantifiable missing here – perhaps danger, perhaps subversion, or perhaps the nastiness that never was Margheriti’s specialty (even some of his jungle action films are a bit friendly, for their genre); the thing that would turn this from a very pleasant diversion into the giallo/gothic mash up of my dreams.

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