Seven Deaths in the Cat's Eye
Blue Underground // Unrated // $19.95 // October 25, 2005
Review by Adam Tyner | posted October 28, 2005
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After being booted out of school, young Corringa (Jane Birkin) returns to her family's Scottish castle. The cost of maintaining the castle is proving too much for her aunt to handle, sparking a squabble over money between Corringa's mother and aunt. The only witnesses to see her mother smothered to death with a pillow that night are her killer and the family cat. It's the first of many murders to plague the MacGrieff clan, a family whose vampiric crest reflects the legend that if one MacGrieff kills another, the victim returns from the grave as the walking undead. Who's responsible for these murders? Is it the family curse? Corringa's cousin James (Hiram Keller), an abrasive shut-in who skulks around secret passageways and has taken in an ill-tempered ape? Suzanne, the manipulative, bisexual woman employed to seduce young James? There are numerous suspects, and only the cat who watches the bodies continue to pile up knows who the murderer truly is.

Seven Deaths in the Cat's Eye was originally slated to be part of Blue Underground's second giallo collection, along with Forbidden Photos of a Lady Under Suspicion, The Girl with the Yellow Pajamas, and Strip Nude for Your Killer. It's probably for the best that this DVD was released on its own instead; although it has some of the usual giallo trappings on the surface -- a killer racks up a grisly body count and, aside from a pair of gloves and a ubiquitous straight razor, goes unseen by the audience until the climactic reveal -- Seven Deaths in the Cat's Eye owes more to Hammer's brand of gothic horror than the bloody murder-mysteries of Mario Bava or Dario Argento. Director Antonio Margheriti concentrates more on atmosphere than shocks or splatter, setting the murders and talk of curses and vampires against a castle teeming with secret passageways and a graveyard a short walk away, complementing the visuals with a perfect score by two-time Academy Award nominee Riz Ortolani. Whereas most of the gialli I've seen have had a contemporary setting, Seven Deaths in the Cat's Eye appears to be set near the close of the 1800s, an appropriate match for its mood and atmosphere.

As Seven Deaths in the Cat's Eye takes its cues from a more classic sort of horror, the pacing is more deliberate and the violence and sexuality subdued compared to the far more visceral gialli being issued on DVD this week by Blue Underground. Although the talent both in front of and behind the camera is apparent -- the direction, set design, and cast are unilaterally solid -- I didn't find the mystery particularly engaging. I recognize it as a well-made movie with a number of twists and turns that I'd usually appreciate (especially the strange and laughably costumed subplot with a murderous pet orangutan), but I can't honestly say that I really enjoyed Seven Deaths in the Cat's Eye. The actual mystery is uninvolving, and the pacing is much too uneven for my tastes. That's really what it boils down to, though -- taste -- and although Seven Deaths in the Cat's Eye didn't match mine, it's a well enough made film that I'd encourage intrigued readers to give this DVD a rental.

Video: Much of Seven Deaths in the Cat's Eye's success is owed to its visuals, and they're translated flawlessly in this 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation. With a fair amount of time devoted to scuttling through dark passageways, the inky, substantial blacks are appreciated, and the film's palette is nicely saturated all the way down to the neon red hues of its blood. The transfer is clean and consistent throughout, with the exception of one jarringly pale shot early on as Corringa is shuttled to the castle, and the light sheen of film grain remains unintrusive. Impressive, as usual.

Audio: The serviceable Dolby Digital mono soundtrack is primarily in English, with a few short stretches in Italian with player-generated subtitles. Unremarkable but certainly decent enough. The movie isn't closed captioned, and there are no subtitle streams available that run for the entire length of the film.

Supplements: Co-writer Giovanni Simonelli is interviewed in the eight minute featurette "Murder He Wrote". Simonelli speaks about his start in the novels that lent the giallo subgenre its name, breaking into the film industry, working with (and attempting to reign in) Antonio Margheriti, and commenting briefly about Seven Death in the Cat's Eye. After the credits is a brief set of footage of Margheriti himself as he explains the backstory behind the Americanized name he'd adopted. Short, but good.

The movie is divided into 23 chapter stops listed on the interior flap of the transparent keepcase, and the DVD includes a set of 16x9 animated menus. Everything but the individual chapter selections are available through the main menu.

Conclusion: Seven Deaths in the Cat's Eye is a hybrid of horror subgenres, leaning more heavily towards Hammer's gothic approach to horror than the giallo thrillers with which this DVD was nearly packaged. It's a movie I'd say I appreciated more than outright enjoyed, and that makes it difficult for me to recommend buying this disc sight-unseen. Blue Underground has done their usual fabulous job bringing this obscure Italian import to DVD, and Hammer enthusiasts looking for something similar but different should strongly consider at least renting Seven Deaths in the Cat's Eye.

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