Friday, 24 June 2011

Seven Deaths in the Cat’s Eye (1973)

Seven Deaths in the Cat’s Eye (La morte negli occhi del gatto) isn’t quite certain if it wants to be a gothic horror film or a giallo or a psychological thriller, but whatever it is it’s kind of fun.

I’ve always had a soft spot for Antonio Margheriti as a director. He doesn’t command the kind of adulation that people like Fulci command but he’s actually better than a lot of the more fancied Italian genre directors of his era.

I’m not quite clear as to exactly when the events in this movie are meant to take place, but it’s definitely meant to be in Scotland. The MacGrieff family have attracted a few slightly unsavoury local legends and they have more than their fair share of skeletons in the family closet. The current nominal head of the family is the young Lord James MacGrieff. He mostly stays in his bedroom and is reputed to be mad. He does not get on with his mother, Lady Mary.

Lady Mary is short of money and the upkeep on their castle is expensive. She’s hoping to get some money out of her sister who is currently paying a visit along with her oddly named daughter Corringa (Jane Birkin). Corringa has just returned from her convent school from which she was in fact expelled although the family don’t know that. Despite this she’s a rather innocent soul.

The family includes the dubious hangers-on that you expect in a horror movie. There’s a creepy doctor named Franz (played by the always wonderful Anton Diffring). And there’s Suzanne, a rather sexy French teacher although we soon have reason to suspect that she’s perhaps not entirely respectable. In fact not even the tiniest bit respectable. There’s also the newly arrived parish priest and he’s a bit odd as well.

At first Corringa thinks Lord James is a rude arrogant pig but gradually her views start to change and pretty soon she’s comprehensively in lust with him.

Naturally a series of murders begins. Old family legends about vampires surface again. Coffins are empty when they shouldn’t be. There’s a cat that seems to be on the scene whenever a murder takes place. And then of course there’s Lord James’s pet ape.

By this time you may be thinking that this movie makes absolutely no sense at all. And I’d have to agree with you. But this is the world of eurohorror where plot coherence is strictly optional. Much more important ingredients are style, weirdness, energy and sleaze and this movie has all of those elements. Does it have enough of them to compensate for the extreme silliness of the story? In my view, yes it does.

The acting is in general pretty broad but Anton Diffring and Jane Birkin add both class and competence. Birkin’s then husband Serge Gainsbourg plays a minor role as police inspector.

And did I mention that this movie features a guy in a gorilla suit? And it gets extra bonus points because the ape plays no role whatsoever in the movie. They just thought it would be cool to have a guy in a gorilla suit. I thoroughly approve. Actually just about everything in this movie is gratuitous, it’s like the writers just thought they should throw in as much cool stuff as possible.

The Blue Underground DVD looks terrific but is a bit light on extras - just a brief interview with the film’s co-writer Giovanni Simonelli (who has some interesting reminiscences about working with Antonio Margheriti).

Not exactly a classic, but entertaining in its own enjoyably muddled way.


venoms5 said...

I thought this one was pretty decent. I liked it better than Margheriti's VIRGIN OF NUREMBERG, which had its moments, too.

Shaun [The Celluloid Highway] said...

As an interesting trivia note the story and screenplay was based on a novel by Peter Bryan. The same guy who provided screenplays for Hammer's THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES and PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES. I quite liked this too, I always have a fondness for those gialli which include a supernatural undertone - see THE NIGHT EVELYN CAME OUT OF THE GRAVE.

dfordoom said...

Shaun, The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave is a favourite of mine. I agree on gialli with supernatural elements - they always seem to be fun.