Quite frankly, Sergio Pastore’s THE CRIMES OF THE BLACK CAT isn’t a terribly good movie- it fails as a thriller on practically every count, but it is an absolute riot of early 70’s kitchness.
The credits roll over a grey Copenhagen, accompanied by a startlingly perky, pearl ‘n’ deanesque loungecore opening ditty. The action unfolds in a busy fashion house- where funky zigzag dresses and white afro wigs are the order of the day. A young model- Paola, wanders into a room alone and finds a basket, covered with a yellow shawl. Within seconds, everyone in the building, hears her blood curdling scream- and she is found dead; the cause a baffling mystery. Paolo’s ex-boyfriend Anthony Steffen (Antonio de Teffe’), who she had dumped only the night before, suspects that her death was not of natural causes. Steffen- who is a blind sound engineer, teams up with Margot (Shirley Corrigan)- a friend and co-worker of Paola’s, and together they try and discover the truth behind the model’s mysterious death. Steffen comes to suspect that a whispered conversation he eavesdropped on- where it sounded like a woman was being blackmailed into carrying out an errand, has something to do with it all. Soon another body is found- Harry (Romano Malaspina) a fashion photographer, who has his throat slit by an assassin in black. Steffen and Margot discover the grisly remains and soon Steffen becomes suspect numero uno- his race to discover the identity of the real killer becomes even more desperate. With the help of his manservant- Burton (Umberto Raho), Steffen attempts to track down a mysterious woman in a white cape- the same woman who he heard that first night in whispered conversation. Before he can come up with any real answers the mystery deepens- and becomes more deadly. Another model from the fashion house- Helga (Annabella Incontera), returns to her apartment to find that someone has left her an intriguing present- a basket, its contents hidden behind a yellow shawl....
THE CRIMES OF THE BLACK CAT is a particularly ramshackle giallo, but, once the viewer has got used to the early 70’s excesses- freakout zooms and druggy camera angles; plus the, often, confusingly, disjointed narrative, it is a wildly enjoyable one none-the-less. There are some truly bizarre and fun things on offer here. The characters are especially colourful- my favourites being the phenomenally grumpy police detective who barks at Steffen, "I’ve a sign on my door, says homicide. So let me do my job and don’t mix in...", and Burton- Steffen’s manservant, who has been dubbed by a Kenneth William’s sound-a-like (and, as you can imagine, that makes for many unintentional titters, I kept on expecting him to say "Ooh Matron, mind where you stick that blade!"). Another character- who could only have come from an early 70’s giallo, is the woman that Steffen is trying to track down who turns out to be a junkie, ex-circus performer, pet shop owner and part-time (unwilling) assassin’s accomplice(!)- he eventually tracks her down because, "...she smells- no its true by God!- kind of fetid." Other things to savour are a killer with the audacity to drive to the murders in a canary yellow Volkswagen beetle. A shower scene lifted from Hitchcock’s PSYCHO (1960), but with added gore- lots of it. More slap ‘n’ tickle than you could shake a stick at. And the two subway workers who grumble in the background, after a victim has fallen under a train- "...they never think who has to do the dirty work. It makes you wonder why we joined the force..." But best of all is the royally absurd method in which the killer uses to bump the models off - (and this isn’t really a major spoiler- it is revealed fairly early on the film), a black cat (of the title) is placed in a basket and the basket is covered with a yellow shawl which is doused in a feline repellent, when the intended victim removes the shawl to peek inside, the cat leaps out and scratches her- its claws having been dipped in deadly curare, a poison which results in a the victim’s heart giving out. Modus operandi don’t come much more bizarre than that!
There are so many wonderfully cheesy snippets it’s a real shame the whole thing doesn’t hang together. The editing is appalling, and although some of it could be put down to a substandard video release, the film just doesn’t flow properly- its choppiness ruining all but the most obvious elements of the story. It just doesn’t really work as a thriller- and, perhaps arguably, the primary task of a giallo is to thrill. Pastore seems unable to maintain any modicum of suspense and only one scene even approaches anything resembling a nail-biter- when Steffen is lead to a death trap building site and he must, despite his blindness, try and escape both the lethal attention of his assailant and the numerous deep pits full of quick lime which surround him. It doesn’t help that many of the elements in the film are already over familiar- a kind of giallo greatest hits. The fashion house setting comes straight out of Mario Bava’s seminal BLOOD AND BLACK LACE (1964), and the character of the blind protagonist has been clearly been lifted from Dario Argento’s THE CAT O’ NINE TAILS (1971)- a hit the previous year; the success of which couldn’t have escaped Pastore’s attention! Worst of all, or perversely ‘best of all’- depending on how you view it, is the final revelation of the killer, whose identity will elicit a "what the fuck!?" from most who see it- it certainly did from me.
To sum it up, Sergio Pastore’s THE CRIMES OF THE BLACK CAT is fun, fun, fun- a kitchy cheeseball of a movie. Just don’t expect anything more substantial than that.
BODYCOUNT 8 female:6 / male:2
1) Female killed with poisin administered via a cat scratch
2) Male has neck slashed open
3) Female killed with poisin administered via a cat scratch
4) Female pushed/falls under subway train
5) Female found hung by yellow shawl
6) Male falls into pool of quick-lime
7) Female slashed to death in shower with cut-throat razor
8) Female falls through window to her death