Seven Deaths in the Cat's Eyes
La morte negli occhi del gatto
***/**** Image A Sound A Extras C+
starring Jane Birkin, Hiram Keller, Anton Diffring, Serge Gainsbourg
screenplay by Antonio Margheriti and Giovanni Simonelli
directed by Anthony M. Dawson
by Travis Mackenzie Hoover You could complain--and someone surely has--that Seven Deaths in the Cat's Eye is a rote, decadent-rich-people intrigue with a bit of roving-camera patina for flavour. But that kind of sexy fluff has its qualities late at night when you're not interested in explanations--and really, the sight of elfin Jane Birkin looking befuddled at a string of murders in the family castle doesn't require much in the way of an excuse. What's refreshing about this bit of giallo naughtiness is that it commits totally to the sensuality of its milieu: rather than mete out absurd Catholic punishment for loose living, it feels for its damaged freaks like Douglas Sirk trapped somewhere on the Scottish moors. None of this adds up to more than good, racy fun, but it's genuinely enjoyable as opposed to insanely earnest. It gives you illicit pleasure instead of tearing a strip off you with nastiness.
Birkin plays Corringa, the returning convent-schoolgirl of sordid legend who finds herself in a family crisis like no other. Upon showing up at the Dragonstone fortress in Scotland, a string of murders rears its ugly head, claiming the life of her poor mother Alicia (Dana Ghia) and causing a wave of suspicion around the household. Is the culprit Lord James MacGreiff (Hiram Keller), who blows off his mother to diddle the French tutor? Perhaps it's Suzanne (Doris Kunstmann), the aforementioned tutor, who, as a promiscuous bisexual in a giallo, is automatically suspect. Could it be Corringa's aunt, Lady Mary (Françoise Christophe), whose relations with Alicia had been strained of late? One thing's for sure: the convolutions make for a lot of heavy breathing, heavy petting, and gratuitous stocking-removal in the name of cheap thrills.
Given the film's propensity for straight-razor murders and sexual shenanigans, you expect the whole thing to collapse in an EC Comics orgy of heavy-handed and hypocritical moralism. Yet somehow, Seven Deaths in the Cat's Eye seems positively innocent in its flitting from tease to tease, and its giggly approach to bad behaviour and sexual initiation is an awful lot of fun. In one corner is a refusal to identify the "freak" characters as dangers to society: introverted James proves to be Corringa's worthy love interest; Suzanne is the sad pawn of royalty; and the people who represent the pillars of community and religion are the most reprehensible of anybody. All of this is pitched as glibly as possible, of course, as the chief goal is to deflower Corringa and show whatever skin it can. The nod is there, though, and greatly appreciated.
These voluptuous formal concessions also help motion things along. While he's no Dario Argento, between the Louma crane-assisted camerawork, some pretty nice (albeit slapped-together) set design, and oversaturated deep reds and browns that bring far more warmth to Scotland than ever thought possible, director Antonio Margheriti (excuse me, "Anthony M. Dawson") does have his half-flubbed stabs at sensualism. The filmmaking isn't exactly brilliant, but it's got gusto and a willingness to feel that renders the movie's failings not so much infuriating as touching. And if you can't exactly praise its leering approach to Birkin and Kunstmann, Seven Deaths in the Cat's Eye never stoops to making their sexuality the thing to be punished or cured. (This despite that it identifies the villain with the kind of repression that would normally deal women a bad number.) Although it's not profound or without self-interest, the film is strangely comforting in a Scooby-Doo After Dark sort of way.
Blue Underground comes through for a Euro title once again. The DVD's 2:35:1, 16x9-enhanced image is predictably great, with superb fine detail and thrillingly deep colours going well beyond what any other company would lavish on so obscure a title. A slight heaviness in the blacks is all that's keeping the transfer from achieving perfect marks. The Dolby 2.0 mono sound is just as fine, possessing a great round timbre that honours Riz Ortolani's score. Co-screenwriter Giovanni Simonelli is interviewed in "Murder, He Wrote" (8 mins.), one of only two extras on board the disc. Following a very brief history on the rise of giallo literature, the piece segues into the corruption of the form as well as what it was like to work with the late Margheriti. According to Simonelli, the director was loyal but a tad flighty, often wasting his time on ultimately unusable scenes. Wrapping things up: a clip of Margheriti himself explaining the origins of his "Anthony M. Dawson" pseudonym.
95 minutes; NR; 2.35:1 (16x9-enhanced); English DD 2.0 (Mono); DVD-9; Region-free; Blue Underground