A fun, hokey gothic romp from Margheriti.
A man is murdered with a cut-throat razor- his, and the identity of the killer hidden from the viewer by a series of impressively abstract camera angles. The unfurling carnage is watched, with a lazy eye, by a ginger furball of a cat; which follows the killer down a flight of shadowy steps. The slain man is deposited in a dungeon and left as food for the squeaking and voracious rats, which advance almost immediately; and proceed to nibble on the prostrate cadaver.
In stark contrast to the darkness, the next scene shows a horse drawn carriage approaches a sunlit castle- which is supposedly in Scotland, but clearly belongs to a more Mediterranean setting! The passenger in the carriage is Corringa (Jane Birkin) a (rather overgrown) schoolgirl, who is coming to spend the holidays with her Mother at the castle. As they draw near, the coachman surreptitiously makes the sign of the cross; but when Birkin notices and enquires what he’s doing, he offers the fairly unlikely explanation; "Oh, it’s just a custom in these parts." But that is far from the only absurdity- unseen by both the coachman and his passenger, their arrival is being carefully scrutinised, from a castle window, by a curtain twitching gorilla (!).
Despite the castle’s suspiciously Latin appearance from the outside, inside it is overflowing with gothic monstrosities more in keeping with its Highlands setting- complete with toothy gargoyles peering from every wall. Birkin is reunited with her Mother, Lady Alicia (Dana Ghia) and her Aunt, Lady Mary MacGrieff (Francoise Christophe)- the Matriach of the castle. She also eventually meets the other residents: the dusky eyed Suzanne (Doris Kunstmann); the icy Dr. Franz (Anton Diffring); a kindly Priest (Venantino Venatni); the usual array of servants; and, finally at dinner, she meets the handsome, but supposedly quite mad Lord James MacGrieff (Hiram Keller)- son and heir of Lady Mary.
So, as Birkin begins to discover some of the castle’s secrets and as the first night wears on, (under the watchful eye of the omnipresent feline) somebody- or perhaps ‘something’ begins to stalk the cobwebbed corridors with murderous intentions; all the time clutching a gleaming cut-throat razor. And as the false faces of the castle’s inhabitants begin to slip- revealing their scandalous pastimes and sordid secrets, normally kept hidden from polite society, Birkin realises she must separate fact from fiction if she is to survive the languid stare of the cat’s eyes... Dum,.. Dum,.. Duuuummmb (insert arch theatrical music!)
Margheriti (under the Anglicised pseudonym Anthony M. Dawson) adapted this oddball, old dark house gothic chiller from a novel by Peter Bryan. It is a film which is, if not downright comic, then at least arch and knowing. Margheriti is certainly not afraid to mix the royally absurd with the po(e)-faced proceedings- the very notion that Sir James would keep an insane gorilla (apparently bought from a passing circus), locked up, in his room is deliciously nutty. Further evidence that the director was playing with the conventions of gothic cinema and giving those in the know a sly wink, was the (what I presume was intentional) ‘mistake’ of one of the characters calling the gorilla an ‘orang-utan’; that, and the ubiquitous presence of the cut-throat razor, clearly alluding to ‘Murders in the Rue-Morgue’. Only one of the red-herrings (or is it?), that Margheriti sprinkles liberally throughout his film; and certainly not the only nod to Edgar Allen Poe- see if you can spot the others!
Margheriti also seems to relish the glaring gothic clichés which he piles one on top of another. Everything from hidden doors leading to bat infested, cobwebbed corridors to family curses- it is whispered that "...when a MacGrieff murders a blood relation they turn into a vampire!" He was no stranger to the threadbare extravagances of gothic cinema in the 1960’s - with such films as THE VIRGIN OF NUREMBURG (1963) and THE LONG HAIR OF DEATH (1964), he had carved out quite a name for himself. SEVEN DEATHS IN THE CAT’S EYES can be seen as a logical progression from those films and then, to later that year (1973), when he was instrumental in the creation of Andy Warhol’s FLESH FOR FRANKENSTEIN and BLOOD FOR DRACULA -(although Warhol acolyte Paul Morrissey was credited as director on both pictures, debate has long raged over whether Margheriti did indeed direct some, if not all, of the action). Regardless of how much involvement Margheriti had in those two films, they can be seen as the logical conclusion of the themes he was playing with in this film- the sly nods and winks becoming a full on, gored up camp pantomime (and none the worse for it!).
Perhaps the best thing about SEVEN DEATHS IN THE CAT’S EYES is the way that the characters in the film slowly start to reveal themselves; coming out from behind the bland facade of (probably) Victorian life- (although the film appears to be set in the late 19th Century, some of the clothes worn date to the 1920’s- giving it a somewhat...ahem... ambiguous dateline!) Like peeling away the layers of an onion- which is rotting from the inside, the dubious individuals who populate this hysterical melodrama reveal all-sorts of quirks and social twitches which throw doubts on their good social standing- and their sanity.
Birkin makes for a likeable heroine who remains straight-faced whilst surrounded by knowing cliché; an innocent threatened by greed and murderous perversion at every turn. It is also worth noting the presence of Serge Gainsbourg (the French easy listening Superstar, who famously- and scandalously, dueted with Birkin on the infamous ‘J’taime’), as a laconic Scottish detective with an amusingly overblown accent.
SEVEN DEATHS IN THE CAT’S EYES is an opulent treat. Effective as both a black comedy, one where the laughs are both subtle and unobtrusive; and a sumptuous gothic melodrama-come-giallo. Like an imaginary Edvard Munch painting where you notice that one of the mourners at a funeral is turning to the viewer and giving them a knowing wink...
BODYCOUNT 7 female:3 / male:4
1) Male killed with cut throat razor; his body fed to rats
2) Female smothered to death with pillow
3) Male has his throat slit with the cut-throat razor
4) Male has his throat slit with cut-throat razor
5) Female has throat slit with cut-throat razor
6) Female killed (method unseen and offscreen)
7) Male shot dead