Cat o’Nine Tails, The / ll gatto a nove code (1971)

2.0 out of 5

The Cat o’Nine Tails is Dario Argento’s surprisingly artless followup to his stylish blockbuster giallo, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage. The elements that made the first film of his “animal trilogy” a much imitated classic—Hitchcockian plot twists, Vittorio Storaro’s Pop-fabulous photography, deviously innovative murders—have gone missing in this standard-issue murder mystery.

A series of crimes committed at a genetics firm brings together blasé reporter James Franciscus and sympathetic codger Karl Malden, who traded journalism for crosswords, with the help of his orphaned niece, after an accident left him blinded. The misleadingly kinky title refers to the number of clues on the trail to discovering a serial killer, as well as his weapon of choice, a whiplike wire for garroting.

There is a welcome stab at humour, as when Gigi “the Loser” is enlisted in the manhunt, and the frenetic jazz score is prime Morricone. But the story is flat, the lighting is flatter—a crypt as bright as a supermarket by a single flashlight—and blood has the unconvincing hue of fruit punch. But there’s no shame in shunning Argento’s career-low clinker: the director described it as his least favorite.

Don't Look Now (1973)

2.5 out of 5

The middling menace-in-Venice horror film Don’t Look Now, based on a Daphne du Maurier novella, is low on chills but high on arty, foreboding atmosphere. The latter quality is to be expected of celebrated cameraman-turned-auteur Nicolas Roeg. Church restoration expert Donald Sutherland is in the city to work on an old basilica, with wife Julie Christie in tow. The two are racked with grief and guilt following the accidental drowning of their little daughter. Except for one lovemaking scene, fragmented by showy slice-and-dice editing left over from the psychedelic era, the two are alienated from each other. One suspects that pages of their aimless dialogue could be ripped from the script and the story wouldn’t suffer.

Roeg’s Venice is remarkably free of tourists, gondolas, or even movie extras. It’s a noirish maze of back canals, arched footbridges, time-blackened bricks and rat-infested sewers, reminiscent of The Third Man’s war-torn Vienna. In all, an ideal setting for ghostly glimpses of the couple’s daughter in a Red Riding Hood slicker. The creep factor rises whenever a pair of spinster sisters show up. One is blind but clairvoyant, and Christie quickly gets sucked in with hopes of reaching her dead child.

Christie is mostly in a faraway mental place while Sutherland, who alternates between two expressions—vacant stare and shit-eating grin—is difficult to read. He finally gets animated when he performs an astonishing midair, hold-your-breath stunt as a rain of multicoloured tiles clack on the church floor below. Like a rebuttal to the the film’s plodding tale, Roeg employs a shock ending so audacious it must be seen to be believed. But lest his trickery be lost on slower viewers, Sutherland spells it out with the line, “Nothing is as it seems.”

Ruthless Four, The / Ognuno per sé (1968)

3.5 out of 5

Gold fever provides a pretext to set four prospectors against one another in this enjoyable, Giorgio Capitani helmed, Fernando Di Leo penned Euro oater. A West German and Italian co-production, this study in white-hat eschewing, greed inspired, amorality is provided with additional layers of meaning through a thinly veiled gay subtext that defines the relationship between two of the protagonists. One portrayed by a scheming, cowardly, submissive George Hilton, and the other being Klaus Kinski as The Blonde; a fascistic, faux priest in sunglasses.

They, in turn, are countered by an alliance of convenience between two, seasoned, former comrades; portrayed by Van Heflin and Gilbert Roland.

Oriented more toward character study and Machiavellian calculation than reliance on action set pieces, the highlight of the film is, by far, a gun battle at a windswept abandoned mission. It features a quirky little decoy. One involving a Reservoir Dogs-esque dance!

Kill and Pray / Requiescant (1967)

3.5 out of 5

While the revenge theme of Requiescant is far from original, the notion of Lou Castel playing a quirky bible-quoting, gunslinging, Mexican orphan, itinerant protagonist is certainly a little more novel.

However, compared to many titles of its ilk, Requiescant is possibly a little more heavy handed in the Marxist monologues department. So, for those sensitive to such matters, the Pier Paolo Pasolini co-written screenplay may prove to be a little too much. However, those who are able to overlook the blatant agitprop would find that there is a solid, and at times fun, western here. Indeed, Carlo Lizzani's Requiescant, with a story that involves Mexican insurrectionists, would probably make an excellent title to play back-to-back with Damiani's A Bullet for the General.

Requiescant features Mark Damon. Here, he is simply delightful in his turn as the proto-fascist, self-styled aristocrat baddie, George Bellow Ferguson. His performance would probably, in itself, justify the price of admission.

Maurizio Merli header graphic courtesy of Paddy O'Neill of Foxyfide Graphics