Despite the presence of Joe D'Amato (admittedly as a director of photography and under one of his many alternate names) this little known giallo isn't quite as sleazy as the title would suggest. Although, whilst rather leisurely paced – some may say it is a trifle dull compared to some of its more spirited stablemates – THE CAT IN HEAT still manages to fascinate.
|Anna finds herself backed into a corner - quite literally ...|
Opening with yet another pastiche (or rip-off if you prefer) of the prevailing easily listening theme with breathy, nonsensical female vocals floating above it, those expecting a killer in black gloves and a fedora offing lovely ladies in chiffon might be a bit disappointed by Nello Rossatti's film. Although, as with many other gialli of the time (and 1972 was arguably the apex of the genre), the music is laid over a lengthy travelogue opening sequence showing a husband driving back to see his wife after a lengthy business trip.
On return to his gated home – which is just one of an upmarket housing estate – he immediately spies a body lying bloodied, among the gathering Autumnal leaves in their private garden. Naturally concerned for his wife's safety his fears are increased as he finds splashes of blood on the floor leading from the house. However, he finds his wife Anna (Eva Czemerys) ashen, but apparently otherwise unharmed, sitting at the kitchen table. In front of her is a loaded gun. He slowly coaxes out of her that she has killed the man, but she surprises him further when she admits that she loved the very person she has just killed …
THE CAT IN HEAT continues in classic off-balanced giallo style by using flashbacks to tell the story of how the apparent murder came to pass and how the husband lost his wife to a new lover. It also returns to the present and the very real possibility that the crime will be uncovered by any one of the couple's nosy neighbours whilst the corpse lays in the grass outside.
It is established early on that Anna was a loving wife, but one who was frustrated by her husband's long periods away for work. A new neighbour – again quickly established as the now dead man – both repels her (he fucks and fights with half-naked girlfriends noisily in front of the house without, seemingly, a care who see it). But whilst his boorish, drunken behaviour disgusts her it is also the very thing that ignites a latent passion in her.
|THE CAT IN HEAT takes a typically dim view of hippies.
Whilst the husband is away the cat will play and the neighbours soon embark on a passionate affair. It starts conventionally enough (shown by stereotypical strolls hand-in-hand by the ocean), but quickly takes a turn into something darker. Despite her top falling off at regular intervals, Anna is still the nice, middle-class housewife at heart and is shocked by her neighbour's rampant drug taking. She is especially horrified by his friends: drug-fuelled, wide-eyed dope fiends that howl like jackals at the slightest provocation. However, she is now in too deep and is seduced into not only a lesbian orgy but also an LSD freakout, where she unwilling takes a mind-expanding dose on a sugar cube. Things continue to spiral downwards to a would-be shocking climax, but not all is as it seems …
As I mentioned earlier, THE CAT IN HEAT – despite what I've written above – isn't quite the wall-to-wall sleazefest you might expect (although it's hardly THE SOUND OF MUSIC either). In fact the pacing is more DEATH IN VENICE than GIALLO VENEZIA (1979); with an almost mournful feel ably backed by a chilly evening hues (not the sunny Italy you might expect).
However, the film does fascinate in its contradictions – which were ubiquitous at the time. Anna is presented as a simple but beautiful soul whose sexual urges prevent her from being the loyal wife. She is presented as an empty vessel powerless to resist the masculine powers around her, and she quite literally becomes the 'cat in heat' and fucks her neighbour – the local tom cat (in one scene she is rounded on by his drunken friends who all yowl like cats at her). However, whilst the audience is expected to side with the stoic husband the film also invites the viewer to revel in its (not especially graphic) depravity. On one hand moralising, but on the other sensationalising the very things it is shaking its head at. This extends to the nudity in the film designed to titillate its straight male audience (predictably men make love with their trousers on in this one!).
|Anna (Eva Czemery) tunes and drops out with her new hippy neighbours.|
Although, rarely the main villains (Edwige Fenech vehicle ALL THE COLOURS OF THE DARK (1972) and Lucio Fulci's A LIZARD IN A WOMANS SKIN (1971) rare exceptions), drug-fuelled hippies, gurus and vacant ne'er-do-wells quite regularly provided a look-at-the-freaks sidestep in many gialli at the time. Here – apart from Anna's schizophrenic love interest - his friends are so half formed as anything beginning to be believable characters that they themselves seem to almost be figments of an increasingly bad trip by Anna. Of course, by this point in history hippies and the drug taking young were no longer seen as harmless peace-and-love buffoons but as potential conduits of violence, thanks to Charlie Manson and the other fractured youth and radical political cults in the United States and elsewhere in Europe at the time.
Still, perhaps that's reading too much into it. THE CAT IN HEAT is really just inviting its audience to revel in the dual and contradictory thrills of arousal and moral condemnation – as well as gawking at freaks. And not to moralise too much, after all although the film's inherent sexism wouldn't wash in a production today nobody watches a 70s giallo for a lesson in political correctness.
Unfortunately, where it is lacking is in the suspense department, apart from a couple of key scenes. Most of these revolve around the potential discovery of the corpse as the couple – now no longer estranged because of immediate circumstance – strive to dispose of the body. The well-meaning, cigarette cursing security guard – who notices car lights left on and nearly finds the corpse – brings to mind the similar light relief that Dario Argento would often employ in short bursts in his earlier gialli. The film also features a stereotypical homosexual character whose beloved pup also almost causes ruin for the couple after he campily skips after his pooch as it ventures near their garden. But what THE CAT IN HEAT does well is its sense of isolation, as – apart from a brief spell away – all of it takes place in a few adjoining locations (amplifying Anna's obvious claustrophobic sexual frustrations).
|Confession time: THE CAT IN HEAT takes a twist.
However, where the film really falls down (or perhaps excels) is its laughable conclusion … Skip this paragraph if you don't want the ending revealed …. It turns out that the hippy neighbour was left bloody by a graze from Anna's bullet and had staggered outside and slumped into a drunken, but otherwise healthy, stupor. The fact that he actually comes and apologises for his bad behaviour to the couple, and suggests that maybe he should move house as a way to make amends, is so deliriously silly it could be British farce. Add to this that this is, in reality, one of those rare gialli where no one actually dies.
Eva Czemerys is both beautiful and vacant looking (a perfect combination for this film). She was a regular actress in Italian sex farces in the early 1970s (which may explain why she is topless for much of this). Czemerys also appeared in the super sleazy giallo THE KILLER RESERVED NINE SEATS a couple of years later in 1974 (her career petered out by the mid 1980s and she passed away in 1996). She worked with the film's director, Nello Rossatti, on WIFE BY NIGHT the year before they made THE CAT IN HEAT together. Rossatti went onto even broader fayre with LO ZOMBO, TU ZOMBIE, LEI ZOMBA (1979), a horror/sex comedy about zombies running a hotel who eat their guests!
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