Seven Deaths in the Cat’s Eye (1973) Blu Ray (88 Films)
This Italian/French/German horror co-production set in historical Scotland features singer/actress Jane Birkin as Corringa, a young woman who returns during the school break to stay with her mother Lady Alicia (Dana Ghia) and aunt Lady Mary (Francoise Christophe) in a castle. The latter has married into the Clan McGrieff, who have a history of suspected vampirism. Mary’s own son James (Hiram Keller) keeps a large gorilla in a cage and usually stays in his room under the advice of his doctor (Anton Diffring) due to his affliction with an unspecified form of mental illness. In addition to this bunch are the castle servants, a bisexual French teacher named Suzanne (Doris Kunstmann), a church father named Robertson (Venantino Venantini) and a long-haired ginger cat who eternally wanders the dark corridors.
Things seem difficult right from Corringa’s arrival as Mary reveals her financial difficulties, James’s gorilla (obviously a man in a costume) escapes and both he and Suzanne have their eyes on our heroine. Moreover, she stumbles upon a corpse being gnawed away at by rats in the cellar - the first in a series of murders whose only witness is the eponymous cat.
Watch a trailer:
This horror hodgepodge is notable partially for the fact that it fuses two Italian subgenres: the Gothic Horror and the Giallo. The former was in a bit of a fallow period between its 1960s heyday and its gore-splattered revival instigated by Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci in the late 70s/early 80s, while the latter was more in vogue at this time. The director Antonio Margheriti (here credited under his usual anglicised pseudonym “Anthony M. Dawson”) made his name during the 1960s in the former genre so it's arguable that the gothic stylistic tropes were fused with the Giallo elements so as to, as it were, play to his strengths.
It’s also notable for its cast. While the multinational mix of cast members was no doubt contractually obliged by the co-production funding model, we do get the curiosity of seeing Jane Birkin and (in a smaller role as a police inspector) her partner Serge Gainsbourg, who were best known for their French pop songs, together in a horror. Anton Diffring, a German actor fondly remembered for his prolific appearances in various war, spy and horror films, also pops up.
Unfortunately it’s not very good. As you might surmise from reading the first two paragraphs there are quite a few different elements thrown in here - too many elements. It’s as if it can’t decide whether it wants to be a vampire flick, a killer cat flick, a killer gorilla flick, a psychological thriller, an exploitation potboiler or a conventional murder mystery. Of course, it inevitably has to commit to one of those possibilities at its conclusion. However, in its quest to please everyone it just ends up pleasing no one by merely becoming confusing and bogged down in talk. There’s no obvious reason why it needed to be set in Scotland either; the vampire mythology referred to here originates from Southeastern Europe (in particular Romania), and after living in Scotland for many years and spending some significant time in Italy I can say that it is quite clear that the real-life castle location and its surrounding landscape are from the latter country (it was shot in and around Castello Massimo in Arsoli, Lazio region).
The music by Riz Ortolani is suitably creepy and the direction by Antonio Margheriti does show some intermittent style, in particular during a swirling, superimposed dream sequence and a couple of scenes psychedelically illuminated by lamps of multicoloured glass. Unfortunately, he lacks the constant grace and beauty that compatriot Mario Bava brought to his films. He tends towards self-conscious mannerisms such as framing scenes behind iron bedsteads, gauze curtains, tree branches and so on, or reflected in mirrors. A more serious issue is that too many scenes are shot in near-pitch darkness, making them overly difficult to follow. Mind you, 88 Films’ rather poor print may be partially at fault here. There’s some gore and sexuality here, but nothing approaching the level seen in Italian genre films towards the end of the decade (such as the director’s own Cannibal Apocalypse).
It’s ultimately a rather curious and minor Euro-horror that’s only worth seeking out for completists. Loved the cat, mind.
Runtime: 95 mins
Dir: Antonio Margheriti
Script: Antonio Margheriti, Giovanni Simonelli, from a novel by Peter Bryan
Starring: Jane Birkin, Hiram Keller, Francoise Christophe, Venantino Venantini, Doris Kunstmann, Anton Diffring, Dana Ghia, Serge Gainsbourg, Luciano Pigozzi
It’s rather murky a lot of the time, and there appear to be glaring mismatches in the quality of the footage. At the start of Corringa’s coach journey to the castle, the opening long shot looks pretty good with its autumnal-hued wood backdrop, but a close up shot of the actors reveals a serious case of grain and “yellow face”. Shame on you 88 Films!
Riz Ortolani’s score sounds good. However, the English dialogue (dubbed in rather half-hearted attempts at Scottish accents) isn’t too clear at times. There is also an Italian language option with newly-translated subtitles.
Audio Commentary with Troy Howarth
Howarth’s extensive knowledge of Italian genre cinema is fully in evidence here. He tends to get a bit too preoccupied with reeling off endless lists of credits of the cast and crew involved in the making of Seven Deaths in the Cat’s Eye, but nonetheless, his remarks are generally fascinating, affectionate and funny. While his impression of the film is generally positive he freely admits to many of it faults. He also reveals that the credit “based on a novel by Peter Bryan” was most likely false, and added to give the film an added shot of credibility (there was a screenwriter for Hammer and other British horror films who went by that name, but he died in 1972 and there’s no record of him ever having written a novel).
Interview with Edoardo Margheriti
An 11-minute interview with the director’s son. He reveals that his father and Mario Bava were good friends despite being portrayed as rivals in the Italian press, and that he learned the craft from his father bringing him to the editing room when he was 14. A nice little featurette, though nothing particularly deep.
To paraphrase the famous Jane Birkin/Serge Gainsbourg duet, “Je ne t’aime pas”.