1973, Italy, Directed by Antonio Margheriti
Colour, Running Time: 95 minutes
DVD, Region 1, Blue Underground, Video: Anamorphic 2.35:1, Audio: DD Mono
Following a mysterious opening sequence where a body is seen dumped in a cellar and horrifically disfigured by hungry rats we jump forward to meet convent girl Corringa, who is paying a visit to her old family home, a gothic castle in rural Scotland. She’s confronted with all manner of unhinged activity: people are - regardless of traditional gender matching in some cases - having illicit affairs with one another (which she inevitably becomes drawn into herself), there are arguments about the family wealth, and quickly the lady of the house is brutally murdered. This is followed by more killings as the police are brought in to find out who’s behind the bloody mess, Corringa probably wondering what sort of domestic madness she has stumbled upon.
The title, production period, country of origin, and the initial impression of La Morte Negli Occhi Del Gatto may indicate we’re in store for a classic giallo but that’s only partly accurate: the film has a lot in common with the gothic Italian horror stories that proliferated throughout the sixties, a couple of which director Margheriti himself was responsible for (notably Castle of Blood/Danza Macabra and Virgin of Nuremberg). To throw a spanner into the works as far as our preconceptions about genre are concerned, once the killings are under way one of the characters hints at the possibility of vampiric activity (an undead vision at one point supporting this theory), while another blames everything on the poor cat that consistently hangs around doing no harm to anyone - the title seems to be tenuously designed to allude to the possibility that the cat itself witnesses the killings. There’s even a gorilla repeatedly spotted spying on several of the castle’s inhabitants and may be responsible for the deaths in some sort of anti-human vendetta. Hence there is a schizophrenic, slightly chaotic edge to the story outline that is not altogether outside the realms of commonality when it comes to seventies Italian genre output, and it certainly takes the ideas of any viewers who think they may be able to fathom out what’s going on and buries those ideas in the castle crypt, right alongside the coffin that’s discovered smashed open from the inside. Having said that, this imaginative approach to crafting an insane plot goes frustratingly astray by the film’s conclusion, which is rather conventional in comparison to what’s preceded it. The journey up until this conclusion is fun nonetheless. Margheriti (here credited with his usual anglicised pseudonym Anthony Dawson) generally seemed like a capable director who pumped out fairly large volumes of work without apparent detriment to quality, though his films aren’t A-class to be honest. Without going overboard on the sex and bloodshed he managed to construct fittingly atmospheric movies that were both raunchy and periodically violent, particularly for their respective eras - see for example the horrific rat face-eating sequence in Virgin of Nuremberg, a film made in 1963! Incidentally the prologue to Seven Deaths… reminds me of that earlier film, featuring as it does a horde of rats devouring some poor sod’s face. Riz Ortolani, one of my favourite Italian composers (e.g. Zeder), provides the score though it’s not especially emphasised and not as notable as some of his other works. The cast function reasonably well, English girl Jane Birkin taking centre stage as the sensual Corringa as she’s surrounded by an assortment of oddballs whose relational issues keep the pace trekking along nicely. The stereotype police inspector who materialises on the scene the moment a corpse appears, complete with Scottish (dubbed) accent, is an amusing touch. Regarding the soap-opera shenanigans, it’s sometimes hard to follow just what’s going on with who on occasions, but I found this can easily take a back seat to the homicidal nature of the proceedings if one so wishes to mentally disengage. The production design stands out along the way, lending an apparent finesse to the project. Successfully consolidating elements of the giallo and gothic sub-genres Margheriti again proves himself to be a director who delivers pretty much exactly what’s needed with this one.
The best version to seek out is undoubtedly Blue Underground’s DVD, placed on shelves several years ago. The image is soft, most likely a symptom of its source, while colours are strong, possibly a touch too saturated - overall a satisfying widescreen transfer. Audio is provided in English dub only which is marginally disappointing as I would have liked an Italian track at least for comparison. A couple of scenes seem to have missed English dubbing as they’re present in this cut but with Italian dialogue only (subtitled), however it’s not too jarring and commendation is due thanks to the cut being complete. Given the British setting the English dialogue is not out of place, so I can happily live with what’s here despite griping a little. An interview with Giovanni Simonelli rounds out an acceptable DVD release that could admittedly have been improved but is nevertheless welcome due to the film’s preceding obscurity.