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.