Seven Deaths in the Cat's Eye

Seven Deaths In the Cat's Eye

"James, I shall truly go mad if this keeps on."

After being expelled from her boarding school for naughty behavior, Corringa (Jane Birkin) visits her relatives at the family castle in Scotland. Among those living at the castle, she finds her mother (Dana Ghia), her aunt, Lady Mary MacGrieff (Françoise Christophe), her uncle, Dr. Franz (Anton Diffring), and their son, Lord James MacGrieff (Hiram Keller), who is as moody and troubled as he his young and handsome. When Corringa's mother is brutally murdered, she learns that the people in these parts take the family lore – stories of vampires and murder – very seriously. After the funeral, Corringa is shocked to discover that her mother's coffin has been busted open and that the body is missing.  When more and more people are found dead, Corringa is left to wonder if her mother has become a vampire and if James could be one too. It would certainly explain his odd behavior. The only witness to the gruesome attacks is the family cat.  But is it a witness... or the killer?

Seven Deaths In the Cat's Eye (not to be confused with The Cat With Jade Eyes) is Antonio Margheriti's fusion of giallo and Gothic horror. I'd say that the movie is about 50% of each and wavers between the two worlds but, in the end, it's clearly a giallo. In a way, the Gothic elements (dark castle, family curse, vampires, catacombs, bats, etc.) act as a cover for the killer and his very human motives, diverting attention away from what's really going on. To put it another way, superstition is an accomplice in the killings.
  • The castle and most of the fashions may be from the 19th Century or earlier, but the movie is actually set in the 1920's. We can tell by the jazz records, the mention of Sigmund Freud, and Corringa's modern attire in the funeral scene (see below).
  • A gorilla locked in a castle suspected of murder? This is a not-even-subtle appropriation from Poe's "Murders In the Rue Morgue." The supernatural angle and the family curse are clearly inspired by "The Fall of the House of Usher."
  • If Antonio Margheriti's name sounds familiar, then you my be a Tarantino fan. In Inglourious Basterds, Sgt. Donny Donowitz (Eli Roth) goes undercover as Italian cameraman "Antonio Margheriti" when the commandos infiltrate the Nazi movie premiere. It's Tarantino's homage to the great pulp director.

What the Hell Am I Watching?

You read correctly. This is a movie that sheds suspicion of murder on a fluffy lap cat.  In fact, here's a drinking game for Seven Deaths In the Cat's Eye: drink every time the cat shoots a menacing look at the camera. Sip if it's just a drawing of the cat.

The cat's name is "Kitty," by the way.

Fashion Moment

Sad but fashion-forward. Corringa wears black feathers and a stylish bell hat. It's what all the flappers in mourning are wearing this season.

The Red Queen Kills Seven Times

The Red Queen Kills Seven Times

"There are far too many coincidences."

When Kitty (Barbara Bouchet),  Franziska (Marina Malfatti), and Evelyn (uncredited) were children, their grandfather (Rudolph Schündler) told them of the Wildenbrück family curse: That in 1672, an ancestor known as "The Red Queen" took revenge for her own murder by rising from the grave and killing seven people - and the last victim was the sister who killed her. Now, every hundred years, the Red Queen returns to kill seven more people, the last being a sister of the Wildenbrück family.  Years later, Kitty and Franziska share the tragic secret of Evelyn's death. Though she died accidentally, the sisters hid the body in the family castle and told everyone that Evelyn moved to America.  But in 1972 – the year of the curse – people are being murdered by a strange dark-haired woman in a red cape, who bears a resemblance to Evelyn and laughs with a sinister cackle.  Could Evelyn be taking revenge from beyond the grave? Or has the ghost of the Red Queen returned? Kitty is dating Martin (Ugo Pagali), a married man – could his schizophrenic wife be the killer? Kitty knows that she will be the seventh victim, but who will be the other six and how will they die?

The Red Queen Kills Seven Times is a fantastic giallo, full of twists, turns, red herrings, and a web of complicated character relationships. You may have to watch it twice to sort things out, but it's hardly a chore, thanks to the fast pace, good acting, and an engaging plot which mostly makes sense. Though the film is set in modern times, it borrows elements from Gothic horror, with a castle setting, cobwebbed dungeons, secret rooms, and a family curse.
  • A year before this movie, writer/director Emilio Miraglia made a horror movie called The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave, which is also about a woman named Evelyn who avenges her own death.
  • Bruno Nicoli provides another great harpsichord-based score, which marries Gothic formality with a funky, modern style.
  • There's a dream sequence in the middle of the film which has become iconic in the world of giallo, featuring the knife-wielding killer running down the hallway of a modern building in slow motion, her cape and hair flowing behind her.
  • There's some pretty bad 70's art in this movie, but notice that Kitty has a painting by Joan Miró over her bed. 
  • I like that the title promises seven murders and then over-delivers.
What the Hell Am I Watching?

Why was Wildenbrück castle built with a staircase to nowhere? Kitty chases the killer through the house and up a staircase. She opens the door and finds herself outside, falling two stories down the front of the building. And if she was raised in this castle since childhood, why doesn't she know about this little architectural quirk?

The doctor at the psychiatric hospital has no problem casually dropping the surnames of famous patients. But he refuses to divulge first names because that would be unethical.

Fashion Moment

Because Kitty and Martin work in the fashion industry, there are a lot of great 1970's mod looks and wild fabric patterns featured in the film. But my favorite is worn by Rosemary (Pia Giancarlo), which somehow combines pirate stripes, newsboy knickers, and an oversized French beret.

The glasses complete the look.

Also, Martin's house uses the same set as the apartment in The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh.  That's definitely the same wallpaper and the same sofa. I also recognize some of the distinctive lighting fixtures.



"I love you. I love you all. I love all of you."

Jennifer Corvino (Academy Award winner Jennifer Connelley) is an American teenager at a Swiss boarding school who can communicate telepathically with insects and suffers from episodes of sleepwalking. The school just happens to be a funicular rail ride away from the home of Professor John McGreggor (Donald Pleasence), a famous insect scientist who is confined to a wheelchair and is assisted by a helper monkey. For nearly a year, the village has been terrorized by a killer who preys on young girls, but the police are baffled. The students at the Academy are only casually concerned. Can Jennifer find the killer with the help of her insect friends? Will Jennifer's horndog French roommate Sophie (Frederica Mastroianni) live to see the end of the movie? And what dark secrets does the school hold?

Err. Mah. Gerd.  I love this movie, you guys. Seriously. It is, hands down, my favorite Dario Argento film. If you're looking for a crazy, weird flick and you're sick of Troll 2, give Phenomena a spin because absolutely nothing makes any sense in this movie. It's like the script was written in Italian, translated into Martian, and then translated into English because no human beings talk or behave like the characters in Phenomena. It is totes cray-cray, but I'll get into specifics a little later. By the mid-80's, Argento moved away from giallo and into the realm of supernatural horror, but Phenomena seems to be an effort to marry the two genres. The movie is very atmospheric and there are some good horror effects, but things really ramp up in the last 15 minutes with rotting corpses, a fight scene on a boat, fire, a decapitation that comes out of nowhere, and, of course, a monkey with an old-fashioned strop razor. That she found lying in a trash bin.

  • Among the many music credits are Goblin (of course), Iron Maiden, and Mötorhead.
  • The costumes were done by Georgio Armani.
  • The use of a knife-wielding monkey was clearly inspired by Poe's "Murders in the Rue Morgue."
  • Jennifer uses an orange phone when she's talking to her dad's agent from the bank, not a red phone. So close. 
  • I listed the body count as 8+ because we're never told how many victims there were before the movie started. There was the Dutch tourist at the beginning (played by Argento's daughter, Fiore) and McGregor's assistant, Rita, but there's an indeterminate number in between.
  • Phenomena is my favorite Dario Argento film because it has every single one of his signature moves: a spear through the mouth, women smashing head-first through a window, slowly exploring a creepy old house, hidden rooms, scaling the outside of a building, Daria Nicolodi in the cast, creepy dolls, creepy doctors, psychic powers, swimming while fully-clothed, fire, women being poisoned, macro lens shots, maggots, a plot point lifted from a Poe story, a guy in a wheelchair, partially-decomposed human remains, and the main character is a foreigner living abroad.
  • In the September 28, 2012 issue of Entertainment Weekly, Buffy the Vampire Slayer creator Joss Whedon names Ingrid the chimp as one of his "five favorite horror characters."

What The Hell am I Watching?

Go back and read that synopsis again. Seriously. She talks to bugs. Helper monkeys. Donald Pleasence with a Scottish accent. I could go on for days about all the crazy in this movie, but here are just a few highlights:

There are at least four moments when the monkey just appears out of nowhere. BAM! MONKEY!

There's one line of voice-over in the entire movie and it's completely superfluous.

Speaking of superfluous, the script is packed with completely inconsequential details that never pay off later. Jennifer is a vegetarian. Her father is a famous movie star working in the Philippines. The baby food that Sophie's parents left behind after their recent visit tastes bad. It's Passover. And we're treated to a rambling story about the time Jennifer's parents got divorced. The movie could have been about 20 minutes shorter with more judicious editing.

The name of the bank Jennifer visits is "Swiss Bank."

Jennifer gets fully dressed before sleepwalking. Falling from a building doesn't wake her up. Getting hit by a car doesn't wake her up. And when the two guys who hit her try to help her, she struggles against them, mumbling "I'm sleepwalking!"

Falling into a pit of maggots and rotting human remains? Well done, sir. *slow clap*

Fashion Moment

Jennifer is usually dressed in crisp, all-white outfits (the better to show all the dirt and blood that accumulates by the end of the film) but what really stands out is her sharp school uniform, complete with leather-banded beret. Nice job, Georgio Armani.

Is this a uniform, though? It looks like one, but in the classroom scene the girls are all wearing casual clothes - jeans and Bee Gees T-shirts.

A Blade in the Dark

A Blade In the Dark

"When you're in the dark there's menace in every sound... danger... 
there could be monsters, killers... murderers lurk in the black dark."

Bruno (Andrea Occhipinti) has moved into a wing of a remote villa to compose the score to a horror film, directed by his friend Sandra (Anny Papa). Soon after he arrives, he meets Katya (Valeria Cavalli), who is looking for her friend, Linda, the former tenant. When Katya suddenly goes missing, Bruno is only left with a series of mysterious clues: blood on the stairs and on some shrubs, mysterious phone calls, and whispered voices on his recordings that seem to say "Linda... secret... no one must know."  Is working on the scary movie playing tricks on Bruno's mind? Could the mysterious Linda be murdering intruders? Or maybe Sandra or Bruno's girlfriend Julia (Lara Lamberti) is the killer. Perhaps it's Giovanni, the caretaker who keeps a scrapbook of murder-related newspaper clippings. The clues don't seem to add up, but answers can be found in the most unlikely places.

A Blade In the Dark (not to be confused with Blade of the Ripper) is my favorite Lamberto Bava film. His movies tend to lack subtlety and rush to the kills, but this one really takes its time, ratcheting up the tension slowly and quietly and building to some great, bloody payoffs. This is exemplified by the killer's box knife blade, which he slowly extends before each kill: click... click... click... And when we do get to the kills, he goes all out. The second murder, in the bathroom, is especially gory and the strangulation using film stock has a poetic irony.

  • The movie opens with a film within a film, which doesn't have any musical score. That's because Bruno hasn't written it yet.
  • The music that Bruno does come up with is elegantly creepy – simple modulating arpeggios, reminiscent of John Carpenter's theme to Halloween.
  •  That bathroom murder is an obvious homage to Psycho, right down to the frantic cleanup afterwards. In fact, there are a lot of important elements in this movie that were lifted right from Psycho.
  • Michele Soavi, who plays real estate agent Tony, was Lamberto Bava's assistant and scored uncredited or walk-on roles in a lot of Bava's films, as well as those of Bava's mentor, Dario Argento. He also went on to become a skilled director of horror movies like Stagefright and The Church.
  • I once met Giovanni Frezza (the blond kid from the film-within-a-film) at a horror movie convention. He was really nice. He gave up acting at the age of 13 and is now a marketing manager living in Italy, occasionally showing up at fan conventions.
 What the Hell Am I Watching?

We never actually find out what Katya was doing in that closet when we first meet her.

Speaking of which, the women in this movie have a habit of appearing out of nowhere, popping out of closets, from behind corners, out of shrubs, and behind curtains.

A Blade In the Dark was made in Italian and is available on DVD dubbed into English, but the translation is really awkward. This results in some unintentionally hilarious phrasing and vocabulary. Here are some of my favorites:
"I must say, you're very perspicacious, because that is exactly what I was thinking."
"How are you in the feathers?" [meaning "in bed"]
"You know, Julia, you're being slightly difficult."
"This is all the whiskey you possess?"
"The difference between fantasy and reality often becomes minimal."
"Give me a break, Bruno. Don't begin again. Just don't begin."
Fashion Moment


One of Lamberto Bava's favorite things to do is to give the audience visual cues by connecting characters and objects to the killer through color – specifically, the color yellow, which gives the genre its name. The first victim is wearing a yellow skirt.

The second victim carries a yellow bag.

A box of yellow tennis balls provides an important clue.

While fixing the yellow pool filter, Giovanni makes a grisly discovery (and then gets killed himself).

Sandra wears yellow boots when she encounters the killer.

Tony, the real estate agent, wears a yellow tie early in the movie. Guess who the killer is?

Slaughter Hotel

Slaughter Hotel

"I'm not one of those mad people who need you.
I just want to make love. Make love, that's all."

A renovated Medieval castle is now home to a clinic for lonely, mildly depressed women who spend their days playing croquet and their nights writhing naked in their beds half-asleep, flashing back to mundane moments of the past eight hours. Some of the patients include: Ruth (Gioia Desideri), whose husband unceremoniously drops her at the curb before speeding off, who compulsively twirls her hair; Cheryl (Margaret Lee) who, during her stay, has fallen in love with Doctor Frances Clay (Klaus Kinski); Anne (Rosalba Neri), a nymphomaniac who throws herself at the handsy gardener; Mara (Jane Garret), a troubled amnesiac who forms a special, close relationship with foxy ginger Nurse Ellen (Monica Strebel). Oh, and there's a killer murdering people.

Holy. Crap. This movie is crazy town banana pants.

It is...  I just...  There's no...  

What the Hell am I Watching?

Okay. Literally every single moment in this movie will have you asking "what the hell am I watching?" You'll have to pick your jaw up off the floor at the end and wonder if you didn't just experience some sort of manic fever dream. The camera work, score, and editing are completely unsubtle.  Every scene is just a little too long and the movie could have clocked in at under hour if they'd eliminated all the meaningless flashbacks. The story is non-existent – it's pretty much just soft-core porn, punctuated by a few murder scenes. The best I can do is summarize some key moments:

The castle itself is decorated with Medieval weapons and torture devices. Possibly not the most comforting, stress-free atmosphere for patients in a delicate emotional state. It is handy for the killer, though, who can stroll into the building, take his leisurely time selecting a weapon, kill someone, and then put the bloody weapon back in place before walking out the front door.

The main subplot of the movie is the relationship between Nurse Ellen and patient Mara. It starts out benign – Ellen takes a professional interest in Mara, gaining trust and becoming a friend to the troubled woman. Nothing odd there, it's all just part of the therapy. Later, Ellen gives Mara a massage (spending a conspicuously long time on the upper thighs). Just another part of her duties as a nurse. That night, Ellen walks in on Mara taking a bath, so she strips to her underwear, and gently daubs Mara's chestal area with a sponge. Again, it's part of the job. And she didn't want to get her uniform wet. After that, they go to the bedroom, dance to the radio, make out, get naked, and share some grownup time. That's where she may have crossed an ethical line.

In what is perhaps the most puzzling murder scene ever committed to film, the killer sneaks into Ruth's room while she sleeps, raises his dagger... and slips it into her hand before removing his mask. She then wakes up and sleepily lunges at him with the knife, but the killer disarms her and "chokes" her by cradling her head in his hands. He then plunges the knife into her heart and removes her underwear. End of scene.  What? Why go through all that? Why not just stab her?

If you've ever longed to see a scene that fuses elements of Silkwood and Flashdance, you're in luck. There's a moment where Anne cries in a hot shower while flinging herself dramatically against the walls. It's not so much "what am I watching?" as it is "why are they showing me this and why is it taking so long?"

Late at night, the asylum's chauffeur (by the way: this asylum has a chauffeur) sneaks into the lounge to finish the leftover drinks. It's a cute, funny moment.  For some reason, he then walks over to the iron maiden in the corner and opens it. Of course, the killer shoves him in and closes it shut, impaling the driver on the metal spikes inside. What in the world would compel him to walk over and open the thing in the first place?

There's a bizarre moment where Kinski walks head-first straight into the camera. 

The doctors at this clinic are as incompetent as most giallo police. When the police finally do arrive, though, they one-up the doctor's idiocy by concocting a plan to use Cheryl as bait to catch the killer.

This movie has the worst mystery I've ever seen. If you're paying any attention at all, you'll have no problem guessing the identity of the killer within ten minutes.

In the end, it takes 14 gunshots at extremely close range to take down the killer.

Most giallo sets are decorated with amateurish 1970's abstract art. The lobby of the clinic in Slaughter Hotel features three paintings by Joan Miró. Go figure.

Fashion Moment

Oversexed Anne slinks around the hospital in this revealing little number:

Rumor has it that Rosalba Neri was cast specifically to fill out this outfit.

Also, the killer is bringing capes back.