The Screaming Minis: I Start Counting

The Screaming Minis is a new experiment in short (well, shorter) individual reviews, as way for us to talk a little more about the other movies of note we’re watching but without the involved, in-depth discussion delivered as a duo. The name comes from The Screaming Mimi, the 1949 pulp novel by Frederic Brown that inspired Dario Argento’s The Bird with the Crystal Plumage.

i start counting the ways in which this poster deceives

I Start Counting
Director: David Greene
Released: 1969
Starring: Jenny Agutter, Bryan Marshall, Simon Ward, Clare Sutcliffe, Gregory Phillips
Running time: 105 minutes
Genre: thriller

Another random recommendation from NFLX Watch Instantly, my watching I Start Counting was a happy accident. David Greene’s decidedly obscure 1969 kitchen sink drama cum thriller recalls the political and social realism of the Sixties while embracing the increasing permissiveness of European exploitation in the Seventies. I Start Counting follows Wynne (Jenny Agutter: Logan’s Run, An American Werewolf in London), a naïf Catholic girl adopted by a working class English family. In the absence of a paterfamilias, Wynne’s eldest brother George (Bryan Marshall: The Witches) is both father figure to her–and imagined lover. Surrendering herself to her incestuous infatuation, Wynne finds less confusion in the simple matter of her first love. Except that it’s not so simple. Wynne is fourteen and George is thirty-two. And her adoptive brother. And he’s got some skeletons in his closet. Oh, and there’s a serial killer stalking the area, and Wynne believes that George could be the culprit.

Greene makes every lovely image count. Wynne’s world is rife–RIFE!–with symbolism, such as the abandoned and soon to be demolished family cottage representing both Wynne’s and Britain’s pasts, and which she cannot stop visiting. There’s also the gritty suburban hell of the family now lives in, and the teeming streets Wynne and her best friend Corinne walk. Corinne is Wynne’s polar opposite, hiding her innocence beneath a brash facade, prancing about in miniskirts and loudly (and falsely) proclaiming her status as a non-virgin. Much as she clings to her beloved stuffed rabbit, Wynne clings to their sheltered schoolgirl world, but Corinne is eager to leave it behind. Their developing social and sexual agency is both threatening and a promise of a rich, albeit permissive future, and the adults seem ready to frustrate the girls at every turn. Wynne longs to protect George, and insists she loves and understands him, her affection only heightened by her suspicions as she conceals any evidence that might link George to the crimes. But Greene mocks the notion of feminine love as a civilizing force with both Wynne’s urgent yet impotent love and George’s own tragic personal life (no spoilers!).

Though dismissed upon initial release as being chiefly notable for featuring a seventeen-year-old Jenny Agutter in her underwear and masturbating (not that that isn’t notable), I Start Counting is deserving of reassessment, being less sexploitation slasher than enchanting, dreamy thriller. I thought it was a really lovely little movie, both charming and moving at times, but also suspenseful. Greene handles the element of suspense well, going places Shadow of a Doubt never dared, while perfectly capturing some of adolescence’s mortifications. It’s also a remarkable snapshot of the period; watch particularly for groovy brother Len’s record shop, a retro futuristic dream come true. Plus, a nearly naked Jenny Agutter, masturbating with a stuffed rabbit.

Some galleries of screencaps are up over at the PB&G Tumblr.

(In the absence of an available trailer, here is the opening sequence.)

Advertisements

the posters show traces of carnal violence: may 15 – June 14

A poster gallery of the psychotronic flicks we’ve been watching over the past month.

Bill:

Fisty:

All the Colors of the Dark

how i learned to stop worrying and love satan

Tutti i colori del buio
aka All the Colors of the Dark
aka L’alliance invisible
aka They’re Coming to Get You
aka Toutes les couleurs du vice
aka Day of the Maniac
Director: Sergio Martino
Released: 1972
Starring: George Hilton, Edwige Fenech, Ivan Rassimov, Marina Malfatti, Susan Scott/Nieves Navarro
Running time: 88/94 min
Genre: giallo, occult/supernatural/Satanic thriller, paranoia thriller

Strange men have been following women since the Stone Age. The film opens on what should be a peaceful, bucolic scene, a placid river viewed through a light screen of trees in late afternoon light. But the silence, punctuated by only the faint cries of birds, and the curious darkness combine to unnerve. As the credits flash past, we realize that the scene has been slowly, subtly darkening, until it fades into blackness. Well, at least that’s over; now that the mood has been set, surely we’ll get some exposi–OH DEAR GOD IN HEAVEN, WHAT IS THAT THING?

A hideous cackling hag, dressed as a little girl down to the curly golden Tenniel locks, appears. A naked be-fro’d woman is strapped to a gurney in the lithotomy position. A shrieking nude woman in bed tries to defend herself. The hag-child slowly levitates across the vast black space. A man’s intensely blue eyes. Blood, a clock face, stabbing, screaming, staring. Images whirl past kaleidoscopically. Murder, death. All three women lie dead. A tree-lined road rushes past in negative, and the nightmare comes to a screeching halt, crashing into a tree. The nightmare is over.

And who was experiencing that hideous phantasm? Why, our beloved Edwige Fenech. Thank goodness that’s over, and now we can enjoy the delectable Edwige lolling about in bed. See Jane, see Jane loll. See Jane shower in a thin white shirt. Shower, Jane, shower! I’m sorry; where was I? Oh yes, Edwige is Jane, a young woman tormented by night terrors and frigidity (bummer for her fiancé  Richard [George Hilton]!) ever since a car accident last year that resulted in a miscarriage. In vain, Richard feeds her ominous blue vitamins, but nothing seems to help. Her sister counsels her to seek psychiatric care–which Richard rails against as quackery–and new chum neighbor Mary (Marina Malfatti) advises meeting her own helpful friends, who turn out to be a supercreepy and unattractive Satanic cult. See Jane drink Spot’s blood and participate in a Satanic orgy! See Jane make love to Richard once more! Fuck Jane, fuck! See, Jane, see! See the man with blue eyes stalking! Stalk, man, stalk! See Jane freak out. Funny, funny Jane.

Is the man with blue eyes real? Is he really killing people, and can Jane see the murders happen before they do? Is the Satanic cult real? Did Mary ever exist? Why is Richard adamant that Jane not seek help? Why is her sister adamant that she do? What exactly happened to Jane’s mother to start this whole mess?

i'd freak out i don't even

the bluest eye

the screaming mamas

When you’re hallucinating, having nightmares, and have Satanists chasing you, the only possible way to save yourself is to take your vitamins. In All the Colors of the Dark, Sergio Martino has crafted an fun and stylish hybrid occult giallo. Though clearly inspired by Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby, it confidently stands on its own as a surrealist and expressionist thriller, one where the style is never at the expense of the substance, an excellent though not overtly comprehensible entry in the genre.

Bill: What’s with these homies dissin’ Martino? Why do they gotta front? Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key is a fantastically perverse bit of misogyny and sadism with awesome twists  that leave you questioning who and why you side with the people you do. Torso is just loads nasty, violent fun that also manages to also be tense and suspenseful. And All the Colors of the Dark is … Well, we’re about to tell you all about that. And all of these are sexy, boobie-filled, gems of cinema smut with plenty of bloody bleeding, tasty, tasty red herrings and even art! Yes, they are artful! Maybe not on the same level of an Argento movie, but, man, they do have style. Yet, some folks, so Fisty tells me, have been talking shit about my man, Martino. And the people that haven’t been talking shit about him, aren’t talking about him at all. What’s with the disrespect?

In All the Colors of the Dark, the man uses a sort of pre-Raimi Raimianistic style of shooting certain scenes, full of unconventional angles and twisty camera moves. He really goes to town with a spiral staircase with slowly spinning, descending shots and people stepping right over the camera as they run down the stairs. He makes the most of twisty shots meant to disorient and MY GOD, he knows how to shoot heights! There’s a neat scene of Jane looking out the window possibly getting her first real sense of the Satanic conspiracy around her as she watches Richard leave, sees Mary in another window watching as well, and Richard appearing to look knowingly at Mary. The camera turns and sweeps with her gaze and with the shifting perceptions in the scene and you kind of feel like you’re floating just outside of the building, watching this. But a rooftop struggle that takes place later is way less floaty. A Satanist pushes someone to the edge of the roof and they nearly go over while dude tries to get his strangle on. You feel the danger in that scene. It totally made my stomach lurch.

cultists over london

swirly whirly staircase

borrowing a hammer set

Fisty: Did you mean to get Weezer stuck in my head? Dick.

Though he might not be a genre maker a la Bava or Argento, Martino is certainly a genre master, and deserves acknowledgement of such. And lest we forget, Martino didn’t excel simply with gialli like The Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh and The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail. His 2019: After the Fall of New York and Mannaja, A Man Called Blade are also movies to make the schlocklover’s heart sing with joy. Like Maestro Bava, Martinoplied his mad skillz across genres to great effect. His movies may not be High Art, but they’re fantastically entertaining and stylish genre films–and here at PB&G, we love those.

As you mentioned, Martino’s use of suspenseful architecture is significant to AtCotD, in the claustrophobic close-ups of interiors and wide frames of London exteriors, juxtaposing the two and underscoring Jane’s isolation in the midst of her urban surroundings by constantly filming from behind objects. (The Tube scene is especially nerve-wracking.) Then there are the jarring camera angles and smooth tracking shots, and occasional frenetic cuts. Those are some of the techniques he uses to make AtCotD such a surrealist nightmare, techniques that may seem rough or primitive forty years later, but are clear progenitors of those used for today’s contemporary mind-bending cinema. Martino toys with our expectations, constantly fluctuating between the liminal borderlands of fantasy and reality for both Jane and the audience, not only expressing but creating the very tenuous hold she has on reality. (Note of awesome: One of his cinematographers on AtCotD is frequent collaborator Giancarlo Ferrando, probably best known as the cinematographer of Troll 2.)

Speaking of toying with expectations, Martino sets most of the deaths either off-screen or in dreams; the only verifiable deaths seem to be the ones caused by Jane or Richard, making AtCotD not only ambiguous, but unusually bloodless for a giallo. Of course, here again we find ourselves in a borderland, as AtCotD is more a hybrid of the supernatural/Satanic thriller, paranoia thriller, and giallo–with a splash of inheritance thriller thrown in later on. I know you were amazed at how easily a giallo crosses the line into inheritance thriller, but really, what are the major motives? Sex/love, revenge, and money.

drinking tea is a social ritual we like, too

trust me. i am super trustworthy.

it's got electrolytes!

Bill: Oddly enough, I didn’t even notice the lack of gore. I’d say that’s another feather in Martino’s cap. AtCotD is entertaining enough that I never felt like I was cheated out of seeing all the graphic violence I crave.  I never even thought of this movie as being near bloodless until you mentioned it. Maybe it’s because the couple or so bloody scenes you do see are so effective. Jane’s dream (or vision or whatever you’d call it) of her mother’s death is pretty striking. It’s not that there’s any effects that are anything special. What you see of the stabbing is so close up that it doesn’t need fancy effects work. But there’s just something about the way the dagger slides in and out in slow motion, thick blood burbling out of the wound, while you hear the lullaby-ish la-la-la music that plays over the scene, that makes it kind of unnerving. The slow stroke of the blade in and out is almost too real for such a surreal scene. Then there’s the puppy murder. The killing of, then onscreen bleeding-out of an adorable puppy dog is pretty hardcore. I mean, even John Carpenter, when deciding to have The Shape kill a dog to really solidify his evil for the audience in Halloween, didn’t show you the poor bleeding doggy corpse afterward.

It’s also possible that I didn’t miss the blood because of all the succulent booby flesh. Did you see what Mary was wearing when she invited Jane for tea?! If Mary (Marina Malfatti from 7 Blood-Stained Orchids and The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave) was my neighbor, I would drink so much tea, SO MUCH TEA! Nieves Navarro, who plays Jane’s sister Barbara in this, has a nice boobies in the mirror scene as Barbara gets dressed and flaunts a bit for her sister’s man (like the untrustworthy slut she is). Navarro’s got a lot of nice credits under her belt as Susan Scott, including Emanuelle e Lolita and Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals, so you know she’s a bit of a looker herself. [Fisty: She’s the contra-Edwige Fenech, taking practically every giallo role Edwige didn’t!] Jane’s dead mom is kinda hot, too. And then, of course, there’s Jane, sweet, sweet Jane … My beloved Edwige. Sigh. She has one of those great “showering in a sheer white top” moments that only seem to happen in movies like this and Toolbox Murders. If you want to destroy my sweater, hold this thread and I’ll go take a shower. I kinda feel like Richard, more than Jane, is the true victim in this movie. Imagine the Hell of Having Edwige Fenech as Your Girlfriend and Her Being Completely Frigid All the Time (Chinese have a lot of hells). I don’t really blame him for constantly shoving those blue roofies – I mean … vitamins – in her face. I’d give her the “vitamins,” too.

we don't understand it, but we'll watch you do it

richard's got the right idea

Fisty: There are a lot of familiar faces, both pretty and … not so pretty. Surely you recall Luciano Pigozzi as Angus in Seven Deaths in the Cat’s Eyes, Cesar in Blood and Black Lace, and Losat in The Whip and the Bodythe guy is all over the genre. And Inspector Smith? That’s Tom Felleghy, whose face might be vaguely familiar in Nightmare City and Strip Nude for Your Killer. Vera Drudi (in Torso, Seven Blood-Stained Orchids, Let Sleeping Corpses Lie), George Rigaud (Death Walks on High Heels, A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin, The Case of the Bloody Iris), Gianni Pulonne (TCotBI), Carla Mancini (7B-SO, What Have You Done to Solange?), etc. Practically every face in AtCotD (right down to the puppy, I’m sure) was in at least one other giallo, and likely a score of spaghetti Westerns, commedia sexy all’italiana, Decamerotico, poliziotteschi, cannibal films, and so on. And of course there are giants George Hilton and Ivan Rassimov to balance out the lovely ladies of the cast.

Unfortunately, Rassimov doesn’t have a whole lot to do other than lurk menacingly, occasionally grabbing at Jane, but he does just that till the cows come home. And Hilton’s Richard is just suavely creepy enough to create the perfect amount of ambiguity that makes both Jane and us uncertain of who he really is, just a cad or something more. Marina Malfatti is serenely yet poisonously lovely and mysterious, and not a little bit regretful as she subverts Jane, and Nieves Navarro coolly bitchy as only a sister can be. However well-supported she is by the rest of the cast, though, Edwige is truly the star of the show. As Jane, Edwige is absolutely convincing in her fright and vulnerability as Jane’s state of mind becomes ever more precarious and paranoid. Mia Farrow’s got nothing on her.

Bill:  Rosemary who?

who wouldn't trust that sweet face?

sister sister

Fisty: Now, speaking of Satanists, how about them Satanists? Diametrically opposed to Edwige, Marina, and Nieves in terms of hottness, our Satanists are a nasty crew of unkempt, uncouth, and unsavory figures. It’s pretty much the grossest orgy I have ever seen on film–not counting porn. Julián Ugarte’s JP McBrian is nasty from the tippy tips  of his brass claws to his amulet-clad sunken chest. Jane’s disgust is palpable as her eyes roll madly when he mauls her, devouring her face with his goatee, and as the pasty-faced coven members converge upon her, the juxtaposition of Mary and Jane’s beauty (and the latter’s boobies) with the unwashed masses at the Black Mass becomes downright maddening. Adding to the madness is Bruno Nicolai’s superb score (make sure you watch the Italian with English subtitles as the score gets all jacked up in the English dub), which takes an almost incongruously upbeat tenor in this scene, something groovily ominous–though notice that it appropriately builds in intensity as the orgy reaches its climax with Jane’s sublimination and release. As McBrian mounts Jane, blood-smeared teeth and all, her fear escalates until it crosses the threshold into desire, and we get our obligatory kaleidoscopic orgy whirly-vision. Fucking A.

jazzhands for ... SATAN

you've got caninus spiritus in your teeth

mary dispenses a judas kiss

Bill: McBrian actually looks an awful lot like my brother Joe, so, you know… That’s pretty disturbing for me.  One curious note, which is a bit of a spoiler, but I want your view of this, Fisty: In a sense, for Jane, the orgy actually works! Part of Jane’s problem is her frigidity. She fears she’s going to lose Richard, because she can’t bring herself to have sex again after her trauma. This fear of losing him, as much as the nightmares, is what’s driving her to seek help and the Satanists do it. At the height of her horror, in the middle of what is practically a gang rape, the scene shifts and she’s now enjoying herself. She’s back at home, in bed, getting a serious deep Richarding and loving it. She’s still a damaged, fractured, woman, as you see by the multiple reflection shot of her face in the bathroom mirror immediately after the sex, but, goddamn it, she’s got her swerve back.  I’m not sure what to think of that. You?

We’ve made reference to Rosemary’s Baby three times already in this review. It’s inevitable with this movie. Now, while Martino is great, he’s not the equal of Polanski and All the Colors of the Dark is not the equal of Polanski’s movie (except in sexy! Oh yeah!), but one thing is does just as well is show the isolation, paranoia, and loneliness of its star. Jane is apollo sad and Edwige plays her perfectly. You already mentioned how convincing she is, but I really want to drive home just how good she was. Even when she’s in a room with her doctor or Richard or having tea with Mary, walking with her, talking to them, she still seems completely closed off from everyone, desperate for anyone to grab onto, but unable to make a connection. In fact, the only times in the movie that Jane doesn’t seem completely sad and alone are when she’s in danger and terrified. When she  should be alone, you worry that she isn’t, that someone is really there to get her. Part of that is how convincingly terrified and confused Edwige plays it and partly it’s the way Martino films her. I don’t think he ever goes as far as to use a first person POV, but whenever Jane is by herself, the camera sort of stalks her, moving along side, hiding behind the railing on the staircase, watching her from above or below. The camera is a predator and she is always so alone, so vulnerable. And the last part of it is that, of course, usually, there really is someone there to get her. The sinister blue-eyed man is never far away. He’s actually more reliably present, more therefor her than anyone else seems to be and he’s trying to kill her. And you don’t know if he’s even real!

seriously, can i take it back?

goddamn satanists

the three faces of edwige

Fisty: I’m totally with you on the orgy situation, Bill. It’s important that it does work for Jane, helping her free herself, from her insecurities, from her thoughts, from her nightmares, from her moral code, so that she can simply BE with Richard, without fears shadowing every act. (And note that by the second orgy/Satanic ritual–yes, we must experience TWICE the High Octane Nightmare Fuel–Jane is no longer revolted, but an active participant.) Unfortunately, the freedom she gains is ephemeral, and Jane finds that all those colors can get a whole lot darker. She turns up a Time Life Book of the Occult and Supernatural among Richards things, Mary’s motives are revealed and she “disappears,” Richard and the blue-eyed man appear to be in cahoots … and when everything finally comes together, very little is what it seems. Though it makes a great deal of sense in its culmination, the finale and its ambiguity may leave some viewers cold.

I’ve heard complaints about AtCotD, namely the unlikeliness of the Satanic cult aspect, and that’s it’s not really a giallo. Okay, shut up. If I’ve learned anything from the trippy hippy dippy lit of the Seventies and Sarah Lyddon Morrison, it’s that folks were just as likely to drop into a Satanic orgy as they were to drop acid or macrame themselves a plant hanger. As for the giallo elements, AtCotD is just dripping with them. Granted, many of the overt visual signifiers may be missing (black-gloved killer, hello), many of the ultimate threads remain: murder, darkness, mystery, paranoia, eroticism, J&B. Especially in the figure of Jane, whose involvement all stems back to the most classic of giallo tropes, that of the eye-witness. Witnessing her mother’s murder is the fundamental inagural act of the entire plot. Juxtaposed with that, in AtCotD as in gialli in general, is the unreliability of our witnessing. How reliable is the witness? How much of what they saw is filtered through and warped by their personal perceptions? It is from those two cardinal concepts that every action in AtCotD stems, and which we find most conceptually important to the giallo.

can you spots the two giallo icons?

i thought writing on mirrors with make-up was a chick thing

they're coming to get you

Bill: They’re Coming to Get You was the title of the US dubbed version. Not as good a title as All The Colors of the Dark, i’d say, but worth mentioning, because of the awesome poster. It’s a bit misleading, what with those glowy-eyed zombie faces, but oh so freaking cool.

Fisty: Totally misleading.

AtCotD should appeal to both fans of gialli and Seventies occult suspense, though I wouldn’t make it a starting point in either genre. Though the plot wanders and cheats a bit, it’s still a visually striking, effective, and boundary-pushing entry in the giallo canon, and a genuinely suspenseful occult horror film. With oodles of boobies. It’s not his best work, but Martino has made an especially exciting giallo, one that actually maintains a steady pace, briskly forging ahead toward its equivocal conclusion. And the one thing we can be sure of ending up with is a damn good time.

Editing insight:

DoctorKittenYo: i really think we need to make a point about the significance of how that puppy is really cute
living0dead0punk: haha
DoctorKittenYo: hahaha
DoctorKittenYo: that was not the point I meant to make
DoctorKittenYo: but that puppy really IS cute

Seven Deaths in the Cat’s Eyes

pet sematary

La morte negli occhi del gatto
aka Seven Deaths in the Cat’s Eye
aka Seven Dead in the Cat’s Eye
aka Cat’s Murdering Eye
aka Les diablesses
aka Oi eromenes tou Diavolou
Director: Antonio Margheriti
Released: 1973
Starring: Jane Birkin, Hiram Keller, Françoise Christophe, Venantino Venantini, Doris Kunstmann, Anton Diffring, Dana Ghia, Luciano Pigozzi, Serge Gainsbourg
Running time: 95 minutes
Genre: Gothic, giallo, inheritance thriller

Here, kitty kitty: A choking scream and crimson blood splattering. A straight-razor. A body is dragged and then dropped deep into some catacombs. Rats descend upon the corpse, stripping it of flesh in a matter of moments. A cat is the only witness. So begins Antonio Margheriti’s La morte negli occhi del gatto.

Following her expulsion from convent school, Corringa MacGrieff returns to Dragonstone Castle, her family’s ancestral home for the first time since she was a small girl. In residence at the gloomy castle are her mother Lady Alicia, her aunt Mary, the Dowager Lady MacGrieff, her mad cousin Lord James MacGrieff, a new priest Father Robertson, James’ doctor Franz, and James’ French tutor Suzanne, as well as a full complement of domestics. Oh, and there’s also an orangutan that James rescued from a travelling circus and named … James. Castles are expensive to maintain, what with all those battlements to dust and servants to feed, and Lady MacGrieff is feeling the pinch, and has asked Lady Alicia to Dragonstone to hit her up for some funds. Though denied by her sister (in-law? they look alike, but I’m not sure whether they’re both MacGrieffs by blood or marriage), Lady Mary seizes upon the gamine Corringa as another opportunity: Since Alicia has no money of her own, only Corringa’s inheritance, why not marry off Corringa to her son James? Also eying Corringa’s … assets … is foxy doxy Suzanne, who exhibits an intense interest in Corringa’s playing Claudine at School and stripping down to her skimpy slip while blithely bragging about her convent school escapades and expulsion. “Too many books never did a woman any good,” she announces, as she casts her schoolbooks on the fire–along with her Bible. Whoopsie! That might be an omen.

“too many books never did a woman any good”

At a family dinner, Lord James makes an unexpected–and unwelcome–appearance. Attraction simmers between James and Corringa, until she makes the mistake of mentioning that they had played together as children, along with his sister, you know, the one he accidentally killed. Awkward. James indulges in some witty barbs, retaliating in the only way he can for his emasculation, with um, incivility. Uncomfortable with her sister’s demands and insulted by James, Lady Alicia plans to stay only a few days before taking Corringa back to London, but alas, she is smothered in her bed that same night, with the titular cat as the sole witness. The same night, Corringa is awakened by the yowling of Kitty, and sees Lord James apparently hovering outside her window above a hundred foot drop. Is she dreaming? Following the sound of the cat’s cries, Corringa makes her way deep into the bowels of the castle, stumbling across the mutilated corpse from the beginning and first panics, flips out on some innocent bats, then faints.

When Alicia’s body is discovered, Lady Mary convinces Franz to provide a certificate of natural death, despite all evidence to the contrary. James spies on Alicia’s funeral from the cemetery walls, as does Kitty, who then makes a startling appearance, leaping onto Alicia’s casket. As we all know, this is another terrible omen, and proof of vampirism, and Lady Mary retaliates by ordering Kitty sealed into the family crypt with Alicia. Instead of a wake, the household goes into a bunch of explication, and we discover that some of the household are playing double roles. That night, kindly groundskeeper Angus sneaks back into the cemetery that night to free Kitty, but finds the casket empty. He then pays with his life as the straight-razor makes another appearance. Meanwhile, Kitty watches over a sleeping Corringa as Lady Alicia comes to her in a psychotronic dream, pale and hair blowing, exhorting Corringa to avenge her death. Knowing the family legend, that a MacGrieff murdered by another MacGrieff will become a vampire, Corringa fears the worst. Is she dreaming? Is there something supernatural stalking Dragonstone? Or is there something more venal afoot?

monkey see, monkey … kill?

Half Agatha Christie murder mystery, half giallo, and half Gothic, Seven Deaths in the Cat’s Eye is one and a half hot messes of fun by a master of Italian Gothic horror.

Bill: More of a tepid mess I’d say. Not much heat to go around in this flick. Least ways, not for a fella such as myself. Jane Birkin as Corringa is kind of attractive and has one really promising scene in her sheer slip, but that’s about as good as you’re going to get with her. Doris Kunstmann, playing Suzanne, is sexier, but just as under utilized. When I pop in a giallo, I want to see heat! Passion! … or at least some tits. I don’t need Skinemax softcore, but you have to offer me something! Look at The Whip and the Body, a similar Gothic thriller: no nudity, no graphic love making, but the women are GORGEOUS and photographed beautifully, everyone struggling with volcanic passions barely restrained, every scene smoldering with intense sexuality. Watching The Whip and the Body, I felt like my groin could spontaneously combust at any moment! Watching Seven Deaths in the Cat’s Eye, I didn’t really feel my groin at all. Where’s the heat?! Eh, James was pretty handsome, I guess.

when cousins are two of a kind

Fisty: Amusingly, if you simply Google Jane Birkin, you’ll see her ta-tas at least twice on the first page of results. Its not as though she was shy or assuming artistic pretensions (unlike some modern starlets, you know who you are). And how can you see her without hearing “Je t’aime… moi non plus” playing in your head, Bill? I’d think you’d love that. She does seem a trifle out of place here, though, looking to me so quintessentially Sixties; in the post-Great War world of 7DitCE, she looks awkward and coltish, but also wholesomely pretty, a startling juxtaposition with the elegance and glamour of Doris Kunstmann, Françoise Christophe, and even Dana Ghia. But that’s the point, isn’t it? Despite the red herring of James’ insanity (and the death of his sister), Corringa and James are the Babes in the Wood, innocents in the cynical, dissipated, and decadent world of Dragonstone. Their romance hardly has time to smolder, but instead is the bright sparks of a newly struck flame, a counterpoint to the jaded appetites surrounding them.

And perhaps that’s partly because 7DitCE isn’t saying a whole lot, what you see is what you get. As with the Gothics Margheriti did so well (Danza Macabra, The Virgin of Nuremberg, The Long Hair of Death), 7DitCE is a lot of style, and little to no traditional narrative or plot. The story is fairly silly, and the characters not especially deep–much as we would find in a typical giallo. And should we even mention the Chekhov’s gun of a giallo generic killer? Seriously, nothing prepares us for the reveal of the real killer except that a) he’s in the movie, and so he must have a reason for being there, and b) we’ve seen a few gialli in our time. The motivation for the murders is really completely peripheral to the movie; whodunit or whydunit is of less importance than howdunit–which is of even less importance than how things look at feel. But the setting of a remote castle in a long ago time, and the strange, claustrophobic atmosphere and supernatural events are squarely in the Gothic realm.

this is the cover of a lois duncan novel

Corringa, too, is straight out of the Gothic: a young, unspoiled girl in a gloomy old house. She isn’t exactly the active amateur sleuth of the typical giallo, but more a hapless victim, tormented by the events she’s caught up in–even the killer calls her an innocent and regrets having to kill her. After all, she wasn’t even meant to be there.  Really, almost no effort is made to solve the murders; most characters are just concerned that they not be held responsible, and that their own unrelated plots not be uncovered, and as viewers, we are more concerned with whether the underlying reason is mundane or supernatural. Being the former, we know again that we’re watching a giallo. It’s that racketing between the genres that the problems come in. Ultimately, gialli are stories contemporary to the time in which they were made, and all their accouterments, from motivation to setting ought to be, too. Blending these with the rococo sensibilities and stylings of the Gothic is awkward, especially in the Gothic’s implication of sex and violence, which is inimical to the giallo‘s explicit sex and violence. Viewers can find it difficult to reconcile to two genres, because well, frankly, even Margheriti finds it difficult to balance them.

Bill: Not only are the characters lacking in depth, for me, at least, they were completely uninteresting. I am perfectly fine with characters thin enough to be translucent, so long as I can at least laugh at something they do or say or have even one trait that makes them stand out. Corringa and Suzanne have, like, one good line apiece, but are, otherwise, just as bland as everyone else. The Jameses and the cat  are the only consistently entertaining beings in the movie … and one of them only lasts halfway through the movie.

kitty sees dead people

I don’t think it would’ve been so hard to blend the Gothic and supernatural with the giallo. I think they’d blend perfectly, just like peanut butter and something that goes good with peanut butter, so long as you do it right. The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave is a good example of a movie that does so. Hell, the first few minutes of 7DitCE are a good example! The movie starts off with a lot of promise. The opening scene, so wonderfully described in the synopsis, is great. It’s got flash, pizazz, and it’s got blood. At no other point in the movie, however, is any other death quite so great. I want more rats and razors! A big, dark, Gothic castle is the perfect place for both. I can imagine a fantastic chase through the catacombs beneath Dragonstone, a blade glinting in torchlight, Corringa running in terror in her sexy slip, startled bats taking flight, frightening her into a dark side passage where the killer stalks unseen. Sadly, that scene isn’t in the movie.  Instead, she just walks backwards into the bats and ends up in the kitchen. D’oh!

Fisty: Really? The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave? Are you as high as Scott? Let’s not even go there, dude.

what did mummy tell you about burning bibles?

If you’re looking for pizazz, what about the dream sequence (which, oddly, is subtitled)? It has a wonderfully bizarre and hallucinatory feel reminiscent of Argento, a quality Margheriti excels at in his other works. Though we viewers know there is a mundane force behind the killings (because we’re watching a giallo), that dream sequence, along with the superstitions harbored by virtually everyone in the castle, creates a mood of paranoia and suspicion for Corringa and the others–and even she begins to think she might be going mad. It’s James, the putative madman, who seems to be the only inhabitant of Dragonstone who can think clearly. In fact, he and Corringa take opposing paths, with him being insane at the start and slowly becoming one of the sanest characters, and her driven from normalcy into being unbalanced. Serge Gainsbourg’s Inspector is the only other person who seems to know what’s going on, and he really doesn’t appear to think he ought to let anyone else in on it–till the very end. But it’s all good. After all, though it carries the trappings of a giallo, 7DitCE approximates an Agatha Christie murder mystery, or an inheritance thriller. The actual plot, the motivation, is hardly convoluted. Following the rules of the genres, it’s easy to decipher the killer–though the motive is baffling until the very (abrupt) end.

And though the characters themselves are somewhat flat, the players aren’t. Everyone here seems to know what they’re doing and they go to it with a will, turning in some intensely straight performances just this side of hammy. It’s the only way to handle dialog that is sometimes deliriously overwrought: “You are absolutely on fire tonight, darling! Are you excited by all the blood that has been flowing around here?”  and “Why all these scruples all of a sudden? When you found me, you knew I was a slut!” being two of my favorites.

what more can suzanne do but strip and say, ‘here it is?’

That theatricality goes beautifully with the grand guignol setting, whether the characters are in sumptuous chambers adorned baroque bibelots, or scuttling through darkened catacombs, or meandering in elaborate gardens. There’s some beautiful photography despite the frequent abuse of zoom, and cinematographer Carlo Carlini saturates many of the scenes with an array of gorgeous hues.

Bill: It can be a pretty movie, and you know I love colors. There’s a lamp in the movie that is just outstanding, even when it’s just sitting there, being lampy, doing the sorts of things lamps do. And, yes, the players are better than the characters they play. The sets are great and I love the kitty. I like when he attacks necks. The fact that there are things to like about 7DitCE are part of why I’m so hard on it. It’s not a bad movie! There’s a lot to like about it: a mad orangutan, flesh-eating rats, a possible vampire, secret passages and dark catacombs, a school girl home from school and a self-proclaimed slut and supposed master of seduction … those are a few of my favorite things. This movie should be a lock for me, but they barely utilize any of it. If only they’d let loose, gone a little wild, lost their restraint, went fully over-the-top, and gave me something a little less Murder She Wrote, then I could’ve really enjoyed it. As is, it’s just not enough to keep me from being bored.

this is discretion

Fisty: Okay, your feelings are valid, Bill. Margheriti exercises a lot of restraint; the scenes of seduction and murder are pretty discreet, and I can see how that would tantalize, frustrate, and underwhelm you. I didn’t mind in the least, but thought it both classy and entertaining. And really, this–and pretty much any giallo–is supposed to be just that: entertaining. But for you, I guess it failed, which surprises me because I know how you enjoy Hammer films and gialli, and this channels the spirit of both.

I’m the first to admit that it’s not without flaws. Even tasteful and artistic direction and excellent acting cannot overcome an often (entertainingly) clumsy script and sub-plots and character arcs that dwindle and disappear. The whole mystery of James’ sister’s death–an ACTUAL mystery–is only a red herring, the Inspector hardly makes any appearances till the end, and the ape/orangutan seems significant but … isn’t. Like so much of the story. As Inspector Serge would say, “There’s too much that makes no sense.” But that’s what you get with Margheriti: trippy motifs and themes, not coherent plots.

But I do love the cat motif, how it creates suspense and is actually, you know, relevant. I especially love that he’s a big, fat, fuzzy marmalade boy (he looks just like a cat my mom once had named Teddy Bear), rather than a stereotypical black cat (though I love all kitties). I wonder whether they simply picked the most docile cat they could find … ? And the romance between James and Corringa seems genuinely sweet, and a nice contrast to the otherwise mildly sleazy goings-on. They’re a fairly unusual pair in a giallo, innocent, but not blandly so.

cutest harbinger of death evar

Though it is not an entirely successful Gothic inheritance thriller cum giallo, cleverly reversing the standard Gothic arc, instead going from the supernatural to the mundane, Seven Deaths in the Cat’s Eyes skillfully uses tropes  from all three genres to create a diverting exercise in postmodern Nerdrum-esque kitsch.

Bill: Great Gothic setting, but too much Masterpiece Theatre and not enough Joe Bob’s Drive-In for me. …and there was so much potential! It’s like, if a really smelly, ugly girl with zero personality is a vegan, who cares? But if she’s kinda cute, maybe sorta fun to talk to, smells like oranges, and she’s a vegan, it’s sad. Then you’re disappointed. I say, give it a look only if you’ve run out of better giallo to watch, really dig straight up murder mysteries or, like me, need to see every mad monkey/ape movie ever made. And when deciding whose opinion to value more, Fisty’s or mine, keep in mind that she’s the smart one and I love Michael Bay movies and cry during Bill Pullman’s Independence Day speech.

who’s a handsome psychopomp? yes you is!