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Seven Deaths in the Cat's Eye

Such was the influence of Dario Argento's The Bird with Crystal Plumage (1970) that not only did it help spawn the subgenre of Italian cinema known as giallo, but filmmakers also aped the elaborate animal title — and those mimics include Argento himself with his Four Flies on Grey Velvet. What else can be made of the title for 1973's Seven Deaths in the Cat's Eye ("La Morte negli occhi del gatto") but flattery for, and coattail riding of, Plumage? That said, the movie itself has little to do with Argento's picture; it's more a giallo by proxy. Seven Deaths's sensibilities belong more to the gothic horror of Mario Bava, something director Antonio Margheriti (also known as Anthony M. Dawson) had successfully mined for his 1964 title Castle of Blood. Margheriti was a journeyman director, and one of the better genre directors of his period — anyone who directs a film titled Hercules Against Karate has to be some kind of genius — though unlike schlockmeister peers Umberto Lenzi and Joe D'Amato, he was rather austere in his exploitation. This is something of a Catch-22: his films are more artistically interesting, but lack the payoff of gratuitous sex and violence that's either expected or hoped for. Jane Birkin plays Corringa MacGrieff, who returns home after getting kicked out of boarding school only to find her mother has recently passed away. At the estate are much of her family, including cousin James (Hiram Keller) — who may be insane — and the bisexual Suzanne (Doris Kunstmann), who was brought to the estate to be the playmate of James. As is suspected from the title of the picture, there is a killer loose whose only witness is a cat, and the murderer is bumping off much of the MacGrieff family, leading the police (headed up by Birkin's then-husband Serge Gainsbourg) to investigate. Stylish and colorful, Seven Deaths's violence is surprisingly austere for 1973, and because the film never takes the wind out of our sails, it forces us to pay more attention to the flimsy plot. The film mostly deals in sexual double crosses (and suggests, and abandons, a Sapphic encounter between Corringa and Suzzanne), but this is also kept rather tame. That said, the picture is very gorgeously shot (by Carlo Carlini), and the lush colors recall the early Hammer sensibility — on those grounds, it's successful. Blue Underground presents Seven Deaths in the Cat's Eye in a good anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) with monaural Dolby 2.0 audio in English. Extras consist of the featurette "Murder He Wrote" (8 min.) and an interview with co-writer Giovanni Simonelli, which concludes with Antonio Marghrieti explaining how he chose the pseudonym Anthony M. Dawson. Keep-case.

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