Wednesday 6 November 2013

Seven Deaths In The Cat's Eye (Antonio Margheriti, 1973) DVD Review

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With gialli, you'd usually find a straight-razor-wielding maniac running amok in and around the beautiful architecture of an Italian city (often-times Rome), but Antonio (Cannibal Apocalypse) Margheriti's Seven Deaths In The Cat's Eye (aka Cat's Murdering Eye) stands out from the crowd with a Scottish setting in a coldly gothic castle. It's as if the frenzied slew of 1970s giallo crashed head-first with a mist-wreathed Hammer Horror Film.

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“They treated me as if I was the Devil in person.” Returning to her ancestral home in Scotland, Corringa (Jane Birkin, Blow-Up) is an educated English rose to her family, but secretly she's been expelled from her private school for, so it seems, carousing with her peers, possibly of both sexes. Her side of the family are well-to-do, but her Aunt – the Countess Lady Mary (Francoise Christophe) – is struggling to keep the castle MacGrieff in the family name; the home to many twisted secrets that she would rather keep behind cold, hard, lock and key.

“Welcome to my house, I don't remember inviting any of you.” One such secret is Lord James MacGrieff (Hiram Keller), Lady Mary's son, who is seemingly to blame for the murder of his baby sister when he was a boy. Here, within these foreboding stone walls and exiled to the tower, James has apparently gone mad. Bed-hopping Doctor Franz's techniques have been of no use, not even hiring nymphomaniac Suzanne to be Lord James' French teacher-cum-mistress.

“I am mad, and you can't blame me if I seek my own destruction.” All is not well for the clan MacGrieff, all-the-more-so when a killer begins to strike, picking their way through the family and their servants with razor-sharp precision. Not even Corringa's mother Alicia is safe, whose terror-filled asphyxiation turns this mid-term holiday into a nightmare for the beautiful young woman. Perhaps accidentally burning her Bible was more bad luck than she could ever have imagined?

“When a cat follows a dead person, that person's a vampire.” Gloomy family legends define this land – a “Catholic island lost in a Protestant sea” – including tales of how, whenever a family member kills one of their own, they are doomed to rise from the tomb as a vampire. Surely such stories are nothing more than myths and legends – or are they? Haunted by nightmares, and finding her mother's coffin torn open in the family mausoleum, Corringa becomes convinced that strange forces are at work. Who could blame her, particularly with that dead-eyed moggy prowling around every murderous corner?

“Someone wants the end of the clan MacGrieff.” There is a pleasing freshness to Margheriti's film, avoiding the normal visual stylings of the time period, when gialli were all about sleek modernism overtaking old world values. Dripping with gothic style – rats, bats, secret passageways, cobwebs, heavy iron, immovable stone – the film relishes diving into a bygone era typically associated with classic tales of horror and monsters, rather than revenge/greed-driven psychopaths.

“Are you excited by the blood that's been flowing around here?” Where the film is less successful, however, is in managing to dig deep enough into the mysteries of the Clan MacGrieff. The dark history of Countess Lady Mary, for instance, is teased with a couple of scant hints and then generally abandoned. Furthermore, an ill-judged sub-plot involving a homicidal circus ape (an 'Orangutan', apparently, but it's painfully obvious that it's a man in a dodgy ape suit) threatens to derail proceedings. It's a wacky and distracting tonal oddity that side-swipes the darker themes, including incest and blasphemy, throughout the film. As a mystery it's most certainly functional, with enough to keep you interested, but the red herrings are fairly clear to relatively seasoned viewers. It's also a shame that the third act reveal comes on sharply – the revelation is thrown out quickly and resolved just as fast – cue the credits without any further fuss; it's like falling off a cliff edge. However, to be fair, such late-in-the-game, speedy resolutions tend to be a staple of many examples of the genre.

“She left the tomb to take vengeance.” Exceedingly stylish – the Hammer-like aesthetic of fog-choked, moon-lit cemeteries backed by Riz Ortolani's crashing, shimmering, gothic score – delivers for the most part, but can't quite pack the final punch. Birkin makes for an alluring lead, while the unique location and folkloric dalliances provide a sense of fresh air, but conversely that dodgy sub-plot with the circus ape, and a central mystery that yearns for more depth, do let the side down a bit. Gore hounds and flesh fans won't find an awful lot to drool over here, the film taking a generally quite subtle tone throughout (well, except for some flesh-eating rats, and that rubbish ape suit), but there's still an awful lot to enjoy – albeit with tempered expectations.

“Thou shalt not destroy that which the Lord has created.” Blue Underground's DVD from 2005 features, as is their norm, a clear visual and aural presentation. An eight-minute interview with co-screenwriter Giovanni Simonelli and, briefly, Margheriti himself, is the only extra feature.

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