Review Date: December 1, 2005
Released by: Blue Underground
Release date: 10/25/2005
Region 0, NTSC
Widescreen 2.35:1 | 16x9: Yes
If Donít Torture A Duckling
is unique for breaking the giallo mold in its countryside setting, then Seven Deaths in the Catís Eye
is in a whole new class of its own. Set in an old castle where victims are killed one by one by a man in black gloves, it acts as a sort of hybrid between the death-driven modernity of the giallo and the period elegance of a Hammer production. Originally planned as part of a Blue Underground giallo collection, Catís Eye
is being released standalone and is the most obscure of Blue Undergroundís giallo lineup. Good, bad, letís take a look through the catís eye.
A beautiful opening shot of a cat-like bed frame is interrupted with the spurting of blood. A man is slain a knife point in the bedroom, with the house cat the only witness. The man is thrown in the cellar, where he rots during the opening credits. Clearly, there are some skeletons in the houseís shady closets. The metaphoric skeletons are shook further when the young Corringa MacGrieff (Jane Birkin
) returns to her family castle after a failed stint at private school. In the castle she is greeted by her mother, Lady Alicia (Dana Ghia
) and her aunt, Mary (Francoise Christophe
). Prior to Corringaís arrival, Alicia and Mary had had a disagreement regarding Corringaís inheritance. Corringaís arrival only breeds more spite from Mary, as she hatches some sort of illicit plan behind Aliciaís back.
As an inheritance scheme boils, other bizarre happenings manifest within the Scottish residence. It seems there is an orangutan with some ulterior motives himself, as he gazes voyeuristically from his cage into the lives of the pampered bourgeois occupants. Joining the orangutan is his owner, James (Hiram Keller
), who has returned to the house after several years of absence. A son to Mary and a cousin to Corringa, he was long thought crazy and still exudes a dubious aura. Things get even weirder when James and Corringa begin an incestuous love affair. All this craziness, and we havenít even gotten to the killing yet!
The longer Corringa stays in the house, the more dark secrets she turns up about it. It seems that the MacGrieff family is also one in a long breed of vampires. So when her mother is slain and entombed, Corringa begins to suspect that sheíll rise from her grave and do that thing that the fanged ones do. Sure enough, Aliciaís grave turns up emptyÖbut at the same time several more graves are required for the many more that die in the old MacGrieff residence. Itís sadistic, itís bizarre, and itís all occurring in front of the eyes of their cat.
First thingís first, Seven Deaths in the Catís Eye
looks great. From the aforementioned first shot to the colorfully stylized finale Ė where the killer brandishes a lamp with all the colors of the spectrum emanating on his face and over the walls, it has the class that has stylistically defined the genre. If there is one thing that can be said about Italian gialli, it is that they almost always feature a classy and refined visual style. You know at the very least with a giallo that you will be fed a visual feast, whereas with a slasher you hope the gore is good, because the rest of it usually is not. Gialli have the artisan class to fall back on should the story falterÖslashers arenít so lucky.
Itís good that Catís Eye
has a visual polish, because the story is clawed and shredded with plot holes. Most gialli work in setting up several possible suspects before the final reveal where everything comes together in a highly unpredictable fashion. Instead of setting up suspects, Catís Eye
sets up plot points, and then abandons all of them but the completely random finale.
One such plot point is that revolving around the orangutan. Itís bad enough we are expected to take the film seriously when it shows the orangutan playing the role of peeping tom as he spies on what will assumedly his next victim, but then he turns up dead and for no real reason or motive. Okay. Then we get this huge plot about vampires and the family legacy. Considering all the Hammer throwback you expect Christopher Lee to burst on screen at any moment, but again, nothing comes of this. Why introduce vampires into a genre driven by its realism, and worse off, why not follow through with it once you actually do introduce them? And then the catÖwhy? The entire film is framed around the cat witnessing the murders, but when it comes time for the finale, again, we get nothing. When you make strides to include the cat as the titular character, you think you are going to get the payoff like something like Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key
or at the very least an important plot point like the bird in The Bird with the Crystal Plumage
. With all the plot points, Director Antonio Margheriti spends ample time setting up an erratic stack of dominos, but then doesnít bother giving us the gratification of seeing them knocked down.
Aside from the script, another major letdown is the score by Riz Ortolani. Usually old reliable when it comes to scoring Italian horror, Ortolani gives us a messy cacophony of orchestral disarray. Many of the other great Italian composers have been guilty of jaded disharmony in their scores, like Morricone or Nicolai. It certainly isnít for lack of talent, but more just a means of overstepping oneís bounds. They are all known for haunting female lyricism and simple, catchy hooks. When they abandon that formula for something more experimental the end result is still admirable, just not audibly satisfying.
So ultimately what we get is prettiness, be it the visuals or the lead actress, but not much of anything else. Jane Birkin left quite a mark for her theatrics in the famous orgy scene in Blow-up
, but that allure wears off fast the more lines she reads through. Consider her Mischa Bartonís artistic inspiration. With its constricting castle walls and exquisite cinematography, it certainly is a visually fresh, but fundamentally there is nothing of much worth below the surface. Itís the gorgeous foreign exchange student you fawn over initially, but ultimately leave for the bookie with more substance.
Although there was high praise for their work on their other gialli this year, Blue Undergroundís work on Seven Deaths in the Catís Eye
leaves some to be desired. There is a grain present throughout on this 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, more so than Plumage
or Strip Nude For Your Killer
. Thankfully though, color representation is good, and as you can see from the screenshots, the vivid color scheme is a vital component to the film. The big problem with the transfer though, is that it lapses into some lesser quality prints for a few scenes in the film. Observe first the carriage scene, which looks good at first, but then goes into a tighter shot with very poor detail and muted colors. Then in a later scene in the film, Corringa looks good in sleep, but when she is awakened she suddenly gets grainy and ridden with dirt. Whether or not the original footage was lost (tough to imagine, since the scenes donít have any reason to be cut) is unknown, but at the very least Blue Underground should have offered some sort of disclaimer for this. Not their best work.
The sound is as frill free mono as you can get. There is a light hiss throughout, but generally itís a cleanly mixed track. Like the video though, it suffers from being culled from difference sources. The track is in English, but for one major bedroom scene it suddenly goes into soft subbed Italian. Like in other films like Deep Red
, this sort of switch is a distraction and one that takes you out of the movie. Again, puzzling why it suddenly switches like that. Like the video, it could be better.
There isnít even a supplement menu on this release, just an eight minute interview selectable on the main menu. It is an interview with screenwriter Giovanni Simonelli in Italian with soft subtitles. Simonelli talks about the writing business, and how he started off as a writer of giallo books, but quickly found himself going to movies as the market got flooded. He talks of how everyone had a crush on Jane Birkin, and how he an Margheriti often butted heads. His interview is short, only about five minutes of the runtime, but a nice surprise waits after the credits. Director Antonio Margheriti, who died not too long ago, discusses his pseudonym briefly before the fade out. Not a terribly substantial featurette, but itís a satisfying epitaph to the mediocre feature.
Despite boasting an exotic location and some exquisite photography, Seven Deaths in the Catís Eye
is mostly a bore. An unfocused script, a cacophonous score and the tame presentation really make enjoying the film a challenge. Both the audio and video transfers are both problematic Ė they both pull from multiple sources and come off as a piecemeal rather than a full satisfying product. The lone featurette supplement is too brief, but itís better than nothing. Giallo fans satisfied with good visuals will find the film pleasing, all others will find themselves taking cat naps through the majority of the film. Pass on it.
Movie - C
Image Quality - B-
Sound - B-
Supplements - C
- Running Time - 1 hour 33 minutes
- Not Rated
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- English mono
- "Murder He Wrote" featurette