The Ghost

not to be confused with the royal trux song

not to be confused with the royal trux song

Lo spettro
aka The Ghost
aka Le spectre du Dr. Hichcock
aka The Spectre
Director: Riccardo Freda
Released: 1963
Starring: Barbara Steele, Peter Baldwin, Elio Jotta, Harriet Medin, Umberto Raho
Running time: 96 min
Genre: Gothic horror

Don’t move, darling, or I’ll cut you. Doctor John Hichcock is half the man he used to be. Struck down by a wasting disease and confined to a wheelchair, he has only death to look forward to. That and tormenting his beautiful young wife, Margaret. It’s whispered that Hichcock’s illness is just retribution for his weird and unnatural medical experiments, the devilish rites being held in the house of evil, crippled Doctor Hichcock. Regardless, he continues with those evil ways, subjecting both Margaret and his old friend Doctor Charles Livingstone to séances with his childhood nurse-cum-housekeeper Catherine, and also subjecting his body to daily injections of poison. Whether those injections are really meant to kill or cure, only Hichcock could say.

Margaret, however, has something to say, and it goes a little something like, “If you don’t kill him, I will!” After all, she’s the lovely young thing tethered to a hateful, too-slowly dying old man. Forced to play nurse as well as wife , Margaret has turned to the young and virile Charles for comfort. Animal comfort. Conservatory floor comfort. Driven to hate by Hichcock’s cruelty, Margaret insists they do away with their impediment to happiness–and wealth. And after all, wouldn’t it be better for Hichcock, too? To no longer suffering as a living corpse? It’s for the best, really.

But once the deed is done, things begin to go awry. Hichcock’s hound howls ceaselessly,  his wheelchair perambulates of its own accords, and Catherine channels Hichcock in her sleep, his spectral voice calling for Margaret. Then the will is read, and things go from bad to worse as Margaret and Charles discover that Hichcock’s cruelty extends beyond the grave, leaving Margaret the house and estate (on condition that she employ Catherine for the rest of her days) and one-third the contents of his safe. The other two-thirds go to the Home for Indigent Orphans run by Canon Owens. WHAT THE FUCK, thinks Margaret. The missing safe key seems to be yet more abuse from the malign Doctor Hichcock, but perhaps it’s a blessing in disguise. She and Charles immediately plan to find the key and get into that safe, robbing it just a little before it’s opened by officials, one-upping both the deceased Doctor Hichcock and the greasy Canon Owens in one fell swoop.

they both took the hypocritic oath

they both took the hypocritic oath

flowers make me feel like a cripple

flowers make me feel like a cripple

why does this gin taste like cripple?

why does this gin taste like cripple?

But first  they have got to find that damnable key. Increasingly frantic, Margaret and Charles search for the key beneath Catherine’s intrusive nose. On top of that, Margaret must countenance gossip in the village, for after all, it’s Scotland in 1910, and a handsome young man staying with the recently bereaved lady doesn’t look quite right. Nor does Margaret seem like a grief-stricken widow, even to staying away from the memorial service. But who cares when there’s a fortune to be found? Especially when they think they know where to find it: Catherine claims to have seen him put it in his vest pocket–of the suit he was buried in. Well, it’s off to the tomb to investigate, but not before the spectral visitations kick in, and the blood starts to flow, and suspicions grow like worms.

That wonderful inspiration that will save the lives of millions of poor cripples! While not quite as darkly thrilling or subtly perverse as The ‘orrible doctor ‘ichcock, Lo spettro is a fine example of the color Italian Gothic, featuring Barbara Steele at her most stunning and delightfully pernicuous.

Fisty: My two main issues with Lo spettro are a) I keep conflating the English and Italian titles of its predecessor L’orribile segreto del Doctor Hichcock, and calling it The ‘orrible Doctor ‘ichcock. Which is kind of weird. And also, I’ve been calling it Lo spettro because that has a much less generic and more suggestive sound to it than the US title of The Ghost. Even the more literal translation of The Spectre  would be an improvement. But really, those are my main complaints.

Bill: I have a complaint! There’s a small stretch of the film, from just before the murder to shortly after, before the weird things start happening, that is just a tad boring.  I don’t know what could’ve been done about that, really, since there are things happening, necessary things, they’re just not terribly exciting. This is maybe, at most, ten minutes of the movie and a pretty minor thing to bitch about, since the rest is pretty damn good.

watch it, sister

watch it, sister

oh, i will show you some cares

oh, i will show you some cares

just no

just no

Oh! One other issue I have is with the confusing fuckery that is the credit for the film’s score. The music is credited to Franck Wallace, a pseudonym, but it doesn’t seem quite clear who, in this case, was using the name. I think it was likely Franco Mannino, since Wallace was a name he used and that’s what got put in the credits. However, Francesco De Masi, who supposedly provided his own score at Freda’s request after Freda decided he didn’t like Mannino’s work, gets sole credit on some surviving tapes that were found. (You can find all this junk on IMDB.) This leaves me scratching my head and wondering who provided the haunting, creepy, yet so, so pretty music box waltz  that is used so effectively throughout the movie. I love it! So it kind of sucks that I don’t know who actually wrote it or even what the name of that piece is. I spent a good two hours trying to find a version of it online that didn’t have dialog from the movie over it, but I never was able to find it. In the film, in possibly the best, most intense scene, when Barbara Steele is shaving a nostalgic Hichcock, and considering murdering him, it plays on Hichcock’s music box and he refers to it only as a Viennese waltz. I can’t know if this was a pre-existing piece of music used in the movie, whether it was written for the movie or, if it was, who then actually wrote it. Gah!

Fisty: Okay. I’m with you on the shaving scene, though. It’s excellent foreshadowing, and builds to a wonderful intensity. It also hints at currents beneath the surface, like with the way Margaret pauses when Hichcock refers to her as a “beautiful penniless young thing, not a care in the world.” When he says that, she stops as if transfixed, razor to his throat, and her stillness stretches out till it calls Hichcock’s awareness to her. That pause is so evocative, hinting at a past that–for Margaret, at least–is not so lovely as Hichcock would remember it. It is significant in how it suggests some of the difficulties of Margaret’s position: Coming up from poverty, a poverty that was hardly so carefree as he would call it, to the heights of respectable marriage to a wealthy, respected doctor, and then descending into the misery of life as a nurse to a hateful, dying cripple. Because let’s face is, Hichcock is a dick. And a half. A life with Charles is for Margaret a fresh start: She’s thirtyish now, but with a virile young man she can begin again, have a family, possibly children, things that are beyond her reach as long as the horrible Hichcock is in the picture. So her desperation is palpable.

legitimate drape

legitimate drape

who died and made you widow?

who died and made you widow?

my hand smells like cripple!

my hand smells like cripple!

Not to downplay Margaret’s darkness; no, one of Lo spettro‘s strengths is Steele’s weird beauty and her capacity for bitchiness while still communicating vulnerability. Often this was simplified in the dual roles she was famed for (eg, Asa/Katia in Black Sunday, Muriel/Jenny in Nightmare Castle, even Harriet/Beatrice in An Angel for Satan), and those are a great use of her. But I do prefer Margaret for Steele, as she wonderfully creates a decidedly bad lady who is both cruel and conflicted. Not all witch  and while certainly not innocent in the least, still invested with a little pathos. Shades of Francesca Annis in Polanski’s MacBeth, but in gorgeous Edwardian gowns.

Bill: No downplaying for her darkness! She had Livingstone shoot a dog for making noise! Everyone in the movie (except for Canon Owens, who I think just wants the best for his orphans) is pretty dickish, but when Margaret and Charles start killing dogs, no matter how nuanced, layered or conflicted they are, I start thinking they deserve what’s coming. Cruel, horrible Hichcock, as really the only true sadist in the movie, is still King Dick and the absolute worst of the bunch. He’s exactly the kind of prick that you could believe would come back from the other side to troll you from beyond the grave, but at least he wasn’t killing doggies over a little bit of  howling.

Fisty: You know I don’t ever condone wanton killing of animals, but I think that was used to show a tinge of madness in Margaret, how unstable she is. There’s wonderful use of the dog’s incessant mournful howling, and I think that scene nicely underscores how inhumane Margaret and Charles are in their uncharity, especially when compared to a dumb animal. So though it makes me have a sad, it’s absolutely a useful scene. And a really good one, too.

But Canon Owens, you are totally insanely wrong about. The man is a cold, slimy fish. When the will is read, the camera lingers on his mug as he goes from smug, to greedy, and back to complacent once more. It’s nicely telling. Those orphans aren’t getting much from Doctor Hichcock, but Canon Owens will be lining his pocket with silk and velvet.

i'm not always crippled, but when i am, i torment my wife

i’m not always crippled, but when i am, i torment my wife

have a nice funeral, babs, dr hichcock will pay

have a nice funeral, babs, dr hichcock will pay

going bump in the night?

going bump in the night?

Bill: That wasn’t greed, it was joy for all the good things he’ll be able to do for his orphans.  (Fisty: Ha!) Or to them. I’ll admit, he was a little sketchy in that scene and he probably is just as slimy as everyone else in the movie. You have to wonder if Hichcock surrounds himself with shitters or if he finds good folk and shapes them into the nasty people he wants them to be. Charles seems like he may have been okay at one time. There are definitely some moments where some inner decency shines through in him. I could see Hichcock actually planning and secretly facilitating the affair between Charles and Margaret just to tarnish them both and allow him to punish them for the transgressions he orchestrated. I like that even a straightforward, evil character like Hichcock has some wiggle room in just how wicked he is because of the complexity of the characters. Maybe he was jealous of Charles’ youth and virility or maybe he was surprised and upset by the affair or maybe he just wanted to fuck with some people to get his rocks off and they were unlucky enough to be the people he had around. There’s room for interpretation. Though, if his portrait is an accurate depiction of his soul, I’d have to say it’s the last one and that Doctor Hichcock’s wickedness is absolute, because that was one freaky, ugly painting.

Watching Lo spettro, there were three authors that I was reminded of. One of them, Shakespeare, I can’t talk too much about for fear of spoilers, but there were some aspects of the dénouement that felt like a twisted, convoluted riff on Romeo and Juliet. Way more than Billy Shakes however, I was reminded of Poe and of Cornell Woolrich. There are some very “Tell-Tale Heart”-like moments in the film and one particular twist that is almost identical to the Woolrich story “Post Mortem.” I’m trying to talk Fisty into writing a piece about Woolrich, btw, so anyone reading this, let her know she needs to do that.

Fisty: When we’re on a regular schedule, then maybe I’ll have a minute to do it!

haaaaands holding haaaaaaands

haaaaands holding haaaaaaands

mecca lecca hi, mecca hichcock ho

mecca lecca hi, mecca hichcock ho

will all great neptune's ocean wash this blood clean from my snuffbox?

will all great neptune’s ocean wash this blood clean from my snuffbox?

I got a lot of the same references, though maybe a little differently. “Post Mortem” is so obvious that there was never any question about it. With regards to Shakespeare, though, I think I mentioned MacBeth, by way of Margaret’s wickedness, and Charles’ suggestibility into knavery, as well as the imagery of blood on the hands. The lovers are certainly star-crossed in the traditional sense, though, much as Romeo and his fair Juliet are. I got Poe more by way of Roger Corman, specifically the dénouement of The Pit and the Pendulum. (These movies are over fifty years old; are we concerned about spoilering them? Shouldn’t it be “spoiling,” not “spoilering?” Why are we saying that?) And I see a lot of noir allusion, especially with the destructiveness of the star-crossed lovers once greed and guilt get out of control. The relationship between Charles and Margaret also references the way that the shared knowledge and responsibility for a crime spells an inevitable demise for their love.  There’s also Hichcock’s impotence as the husband, symbolized by the wheelchair, and the marriage’s subsequent childlessness. Also, the stifling entrapment Margaret feels, which Freda masterfully implies in the claustrophobic atmosphere of the Hichcock domicile. Virtually every member of this ghastly household is perpetrating an assault upon the conventions of family, hearth, and home.

The way Freda has Hichcock’s scheme play out really poses the question of who the true villain is. Margaret is A villain, yes–and to a lesser degree, Charles–but is she THE villain? Or is it Hichcock, and does he go to a fitting doom? While Lo spettro is not as enigmatical as The Horrible Doctor Hichcock, there is still some ambiguity.

babs steele, tomb raider

babs steele, tomb raider

the 'orrible doctor 'ichcock

the ‘orrible doctor ‘ichcock

profondo rosso

profondo rosso

Bill: And the movie is just that much better for it.

Honestly, I agreed to review this one without checking it out first. I’d never seen this or The Horrible Doctor Hichcock. When I first looked at it, I was expecting it to be kind of boring. I figured we’d have a rehash of the 7DitCE review, with you (meaning Fisty, not you, good reader) raving and me snoring. Aside from a few slow minutes, however, I was totally wrong. I got sucked into the movie–so much so that I forgot to take any notes–then spent the two hours after I watched it still caught up in it and yapping to someone about it on Facebook. So … very much NOT boring. I liked it a lot. I loved some of it. In addition to the shaving scene we talked about before, there’s another really great scene (that also involves that same razor) later in the film. There’s a brutal slashing with this brilliant *svip svip svip* sound for each slash. One character is standing outside of the room where the murder takes place and you just hear that *svip svip svip* noise again and again. It cuts back to the murder itself, into what I suppose would be a victim’s POV shot, and as the razor flies, the blood literally runs down the lens of the camera. The murderer’s face is tinted red by the blood covered lens in what is a very, very Sam Raimi-ish scene in a year when Sam Raimi would’ve been about four years-old. Another really creepy scene features a supernaturally propelled wheelchair at the top of a set of  stairs that so perfectly prefigures some of the most memorable scenes from The Changeling that I have to wonder if Medak wasn’t influenced by Lo spettro. If he was, he has good taste.

Fisty: Let’s go ahead and just say that watching and enjoying this film is indicative of good taste.

Chockablock with neuroses, murder, drugs, and adultery, Freda’s Lo spettro is an elegant and colorful Gothic thriller rich with characterization and tension. High production values highlight Barbara Steele’s weird beauty just as a strong script by Ernesto Gastaldi and expert direction from Freda use her witchlike persona to great effect. It’s one of her strongest perfomances, and she’s ably supported by Peter Baldwin, Elio Jotta, Harriet Medin, and Umberto Raho, not to mention beautifully framed by the budget luxe sets and costuming. A lean, mean treat for fans of the Italian Gothic.

this one just makes us laugh

this one just makes us laugh

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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!

The Whip and the Body

it’s whipping time

La Frusta e il Corpo
aka What!?
aka Night is the Phantom
aka Son of Satan
aka The Body and the Whip
aka Der Dämon und die Jungfrau
aka The Whip and the Flesh
Director:
Mario Bava
Released:
1963
Starring:
Daliah Lavi, Christopher Lee, Evelyn, Stewart, Tony Kendall, Ida Galli
Running time:
91 minutes
Genre:
Gothic horror, spaghetti gothic, Italian horror, erotic horror

What!?:Prodigal son Kurt Menliff returns to his family’s ancestral home, only no one is happy to see him. Kurt had previously left under terrible circumstances, banished and disinherited by his father the count for his infamous and cruel behavior, and the actions that caused a young woman to kill herself. Disgusted with the vagabond life of a pariah, Kurt seeks to wreak vengeance upon everyone from his past life: his father who cast him out, his brother Christian who has the inheritance that is rightfully his, beautiful Nevenka who was once his fiancée but who is now married to Christian, even the servant Georgia who festishistically prays to the dagger with which her daughter Tanya killed herself after Kurt’s desertion. Kurt begins his enterprise when he encounters Nevenka on an isolated strand below the Menliff castle, and the two are irresistibly drawn to one another, just as they were before his banishment. When Nevenka resists, Kurt savagely whips her, a beating that ends in abandoned seduction. Afterward, Kurt returns to the castle, where the family begins searching for the missing Nevenka. While alone in his rooms, he hears a voice calling and approaches the window. The wind blows the curtains around him, and when Kurt emerges from the swirling fabric, the same dagger that killed Tanya is buried in his throat. Though not grief-stricken, save for perhaps the too quiet Nevenka, the family is understandably disquieted by Kurt’s murder. Someone among them must have done it, but who? Lord Menliff, to punish his son for returning? Giorgia, in revenge for Tanya’s death? Christian, to secure his inheritance? Or even Tanya herself, from beyond the grave? Nothing is certain but that death and madness stalk the Menliff castle as the murders continue and Nevenka is haunted by Kurt’s memory–or perhaps his ghost. In solitude she revisits the ecstasy they shared while Cousin Katia seeks refuge in Christian’s arms from the evil and insanity permeating the House of Menliff.

fall of the house of menliff

fall of the house of menliff

Seriously, What?!: When The Whip and the Body was distributed in the US, censors went nuts, and the cuts they made rendered the movie totally incomprehensible. Fittingly, it was retitled What?! for the 1965 US distribution; shockingly, it was not well received. But Bava’s tale of terror and desire is a stunningly sensual and moving Italian Gothic–and it is Christopher’s Lee favorite of all his Italian work.

Fisty:This is one of the most sumptuously beautiful movies to look at that I have ever seen. Christopher Lee was once a Grade A, stone cold hottie, and Daliah Lavi is no slouch herself, eerily resembling Italo-Gothic stalwart Barbara Steele. The two and their dueling cheekbones drenched in Bava’s luscious colors and lights would be a delight to watch under any circumstances.

kurt versus nevenka: cheekbone battle royale

kurt versus nevenka: cheekbone battle royale

Bill: I’d say she’s no slouch!  In one scene, the camera slowly revolves around her as she plays piano, lit just perfectly to show off her beauty.  She’s stunning.  By that point, you’d already seen her getting off on a lashing she was given down on the beach, too.  So hott.  I have never wanted, so badly, to flog a European girl as I did watching this movie.  And don’t even get me started on her ecstatic, hand biting scene. As for those “luscious colors and lights,” I’ll put my geek hat on and say that, watching this, I was reminded of the Marvel superhero trading cards that the Brothers Hildebrandt painted back in the mid-’90s.  All the lasers and explosions and energy blasts that go along with superheroes made for plenty of  interesting light sources and contrasting colors for the Hildebrandts to play with in their art, which they did with gorgeous results.  The crew behind The Whip and the Body did the same thing (only without the superheroes), creating a movie where almost every frame is like a vibrantly-colored painting.  It’s especially refreshing to watch a movie like this after the last two decades full of films with muted and washed out colors.  I think some of today’s filmmakers need to give this flick a look and see how amazing movies can be when you add a little color to them.

Hey!  Wait a minute!  What’s all this Bava talk, Fisty?  I paid attention to the credits and it said this was directed by John M. Old.  You mean the movie lied?!

Fisty: Well no, not really, Bill. Bava used a pseudonym. You see, it was once fairly common practice to replace overtly “foreign”-sounding names with Anglicized ones to make them more palatable to overseas (American) audiences. Bava used “John M. Old” for TWatB, as well as the spaghetti Western I coltelli del vendicatore (The Road to Fort Alamo), and the similar sounding “John Hold” for a writing credit on I coltelli del vendicatore (Knives of the Avenger). Both actors and crew did this; in TWatB you will find Gustavo de Nardo and Luciano Pigozzi masquerading as “Dean Ardow” and “Alan Collins,” respectively. And then you will also sometimes find actors or directors using pseudonyms to differentiate certain genres of their work (Joe d’Amato is an excellent example of this practice).

Bill:Oh.  I suppose that makes sense.  Oh well.  At least Christopher Lee didn’t use an assumed name.  He was all Christopher Lee, all the time. You know, even though he was used as the main antagonist of the movie, I found him more relate-able than any of the other characters. I didn’t really even see him as a villain, in spite of his sadism.

is he a bad boy, or really just a sad boy?

is he a bad boy, or really just a sad boy?

Fisty: That’s because he’s totally not the villain, or even a sadist. It’s all about Nevenka. Nevenka, Nevenka, Nevenka! Now, Kurt IS a cad and a bounder, and he probably always was a bit of a jerk, but I am willing to bet good money that he’s hardly the monster the others make him out to be. He was the favorite before he left, which hardly would have been the case had he always been the “serpent” the Count refers to him as. The Count, now, he is all kinds of jerk–and he taught Kurt everything he knew. Kurt says to his father, “You showed me the way,” referring not to just literally the secret passages, but also the way to behave, to act. Kurt is maddened by his father’s hypocrisy, especially in light of the count’s relations with Nevenka.

Bill: And man, was Kurt’s brother living in his shadow or what.  Constantly talking about how he’s not afraid of him.

Fisty: I wouldn’t be surprised if even Tanya wasn’t the innocent victim Giorgia made her out to be. Perhaps she was scheming to compromise Kurt and force him to marry her, and when her plan failed, she killed herself because she had few options. And her mother might even know that, it could be part and parcel of her hatred for Kurt, that she resents how he didn’t fall into their trap!

Bill: Maybe so. Everyone in that place was fucked, even the servants: “Hello, lady, how about you clean your daughter’s blood off the dagger, you morbid old hag?”

Fisty:I know, right? But back to Nevenka, because after all, she’s the star of the whole show. Kurt only returns home because he is fascinated by her, and he wants his place–including her by his side–back. She is in control the whole time–he even refers to her as his master. In the beach scene, Nevenka strikes him first, spurring him into the games they once played together. When he whips her, he does it for her gratification, not just his own–most unlike your classical sadist. “You always loved violence,” he says, tipping us off that this isn’t something new, that their relationship was always founded on this dynamic. He is neither punishing her, nor revenging himself on her for remaining at Castle Menliff or for her marriage to Christian, instead he is giving her the pleasure she has been denied, both by her surroundings and herself. It is through this release that Nevenka achieves sexual fulfillment. (And notice how, when he first manifests to her, before whipping her and giving her that release, Kurt’s first instinct is tenderness.)

nevenka loving it

nevenka loving it

Bound tightly in her small, claustrophobic world, Nevenka is relegated to the position of a decoration, nothing more is required of her than to look lovely, dress prettily, sew, play piano, and then eventually provide an heir for the Menliff family. Whatever desires she may have are thwarted by her position, and by her innocent husband, whose boyish charms leave her cold. (And there’s the small matter of Christian’s longing for Cousin Katia; as a younger son, Christian could have married Katia, but once Kurt left and he became the heir instead, he could hardly marry a penniless relative, so it’s was Kurt’s bride he married.) As a woman in nineteenth century umm, wherever they are in Europe (somewhere with Orthodox Christianity and a seacoast, Romania? Croatia? Ukraine?), trapped in a crumbling castle with only a clueless husband, insane servingwoman, resentful poor relation, and a pervy father-in-law, Nevenka has few ways to exercise power or express her desires, and this imprisonment maddens her. Nevenka can sink into quiet passivity and let things unfold around her, or she can burst forth, like a phoenix–risking castigation and the condemnation of society. Though not a jaded libertine, Nevenka is so wrapped in passivity and boredom that she requires something more to stimulate her, and Kurt provides that for her–at her wish. But since she didn’t and can’t, she passionately hates this aspect of herself. She cannot be both Kurt’s lover and Christians’ wife, but neither can she be happy with the one knowing the other exists, and this is the central conflict of TWatB. If Nevenka had married Kurt, then perhaps she would have been able to fully express her desires. Perhaps–I HAVE GOT TO SHUT UP ABOUT THIS STUFF.

only the shadow knows

only the shadow knows

When Kurt seems to be haunting the castle–has he returned from beyond the grave? Or is he simply a manifestation of Nevenka’s desires? The further she sinks into a morass of hallucinatory terror, the more we doubt what we’ve seen. What is going on? So much crazy ass SUBTEXT! The Whip and the Body, despite some terrible dubbing (it is surely a crime to not have Christopher Lee dub his own voice in English?) is a masterpiece of color and shadow, a moody and atmospheric Gothic mystery absolutely worth seeing. Though it looks like one of Corman’s Poe thrillers, it is a psychologically compelling film that meditates on obsession and feminine desire. We didn’t even go into all the symbolism with the colors (watch for blue and then red)–not to mention the rose, the whip, and the dagger. We suck.

Bill: What?!  That wasn’t Christopher Lee’s voice?!