Monday, January 23, 2012

Cult Movie Trash/Margheriti Madness: SEVEN DEATHS IN THE CAT'S EYE (1973)

(Italy/France/Germany - 1973)

Directed by Anthony M. Dawson (Antonio Margheriti).  Written by Antonio Margheriti and Giovanni Simonelli.  Cast: Jane Birkin, Hiram Keller, Francoise Christophe, Serge Gainsbourg, Venantino Venantini, Doris Kunstmann, Anton Diffring, Dana Ghia, George Korrade, Alan Collins (Luciano Pigozzi).  (Unrated, 95 mins)

Cover art for 2005 DVD release

Often labeled a giallo, probably due to its very Dario Argento-inspired title, Antonio Margheriti's SEVEN DEATHS IN THE CAT'S EYE is more in line with his gothic Euro-horrors of the 1960s, like THE VIRGIN OF NUREMBERG and CASTLE OF BLOOD.  There is a very giallo sense of sleazy perversity running through SEVEN DEATHS, but the film itself is ultimately a misfire that never gets out of first gear and is often too silly for its own good.  It is redeemed by a terrific twist ending that might have you thinking you just saw a better film than you did.  I remember thinking that after the first time I saw it six years ago, and I imagine in another half decade or so, I'll forget and once again think "Hey, I should revisit that one," and I can be disappointed all over again.

Jane Birkin and Hiram Keller

In a small Scottish village, Corringa (BLOW-UP's Jane Birkin) is visiting relatives at the Castle MacGrieff, overseen by her aunt Lady Mary MacGrieff (Francoise Christophe) and her eccentric, possibly insane son, Corringa's cousin Lord James (FELLINI SATYRICON's Hiram Keller).  Also hanging around the castle, for various reasons, are Corringa's mother (Dana Ghia);  bisexual tutor Suzanne (Doris Kunstmann), essentially hired by Lady Mary to seduce her son; groundskeeper Angus (Luciano Pigozzi); family advisor Father Robertson (Venantino Venantini); and lecherous family doctor Franz (Anton Diffring, dubbed by Ted Rusoff, who supervised the English script translation and dubbing), who's sleeping with both Lady Mary and Suzanne.  Soon, someone starts offing the unlikable cast one by one, with all the murders witnessed by the ever-observant family cat who constantly roams the castle grounds.  Before long, an eccentric detective who may as well be named Almost Hercule Poirot (Birkin's then-husband, French singer Serge Gainsbourg), starts investigating.

A ghostly vision in one of Corringa's nightmares.

It's a very Agatha Christie set-up, complete with a mysterious location, secret passageways, creepy crypts, sidelong glances, and scheming assholes, plus rats, bats, cobwebs, vampire superstitions, and Lord James' secret pet gorilla (!), who periodically frees himself from his cage and wanders the castle or peeps out of windows only to disappear a moment later.

Lord James MacGrieff's secret pet gorilla.  Whatever.

Margheriti and "director of photographye" (as the credits label him) Carlo Carlini establish a admirably creepy and very colorful atmosphere, but SEVEN DEATHS IN THE CAT'S EYE is pretty dull stuff.  There's a lot of padding and boring talk of inheritances and what not, with an occasional gory murder or sex scene to liven things up (Kunstmann supplies most of the nudity, but Margheriti gets dangerously close to showing Anton's Diffring at one point), plus an almost comical over-reliance of "DUN, DUN, DUNNNN!"  at even the most insignificant plot development.

Eurocult regular Venantino Venantini and some of the film's garishly colorful lighting.

Old-school Prism VHS box

It's interesting to see Birkin and Gainsbourg acting together, and to see how much a 27-year-old Birkin reminds you of their daughter, actress Charlotte Gainsbourg.  The performances are a little hard to judge since even the English-speaking actors are dubbed.  Blue Underground's DVD, issued in 2005, has some rough spots but looks very nice overall, and at the proper 2.35:1 framing, is obviously a huge improvement over the reportedly hideous Prism Entertainment pan & scan VHS edition that used to be a video store mainstay back in the day.

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