2 stars

directed by: Giuseppe Bennati
starring: Rossana Schaffino, Christea Avram, Eva Cemerys, Lucretia Love, Paola Senatore, Gaetano Russo, Andrea Scotti, Edoardo Filippone, Luigi Antonio Guerra, Howard Ross, Janet Agren

choice dialogue:

"A woman can be a lesbian and be considered pleasantly eccentric."

Scintillating party conversation before things turn really nasty

slash with panache?

       Agatha Christie would have been mortified. THE KILLER HAS RESERVED NINE SEATS is TEN LITTLE INDIANS with added nudity, lipstick lesbianism, pill-popping, (off-screen) genital mutilation, incest and frantic topless chicken dancing in see-through chiffon negligees. Ms Marple, apparently, had need not apply.

       At the suggestion of someone at a party (although nobody seems quite sure whom) nine people make their way through the night-time English countryside (which is, actually, a locale transparently located somewhere nearer Roma) to an oppressively grand castle; owned by one of their number- rich aristocrat, and birthday boy, Patrick Davenport (Christea Avram). Once there they gather in the sparsely lit courtyard (the background music swapping pleasant Euro-fluff for cheesy Hammer House of Horror tones), one of them cheerfully pipes up- "It looks like Dracula's Summer house!". The group is ushered indoors and then into an impressively baroque circle theatre, by a solemn looking man in a Nerhu shirt and gold medallion, whose remark, "I spent a night here- 100 years ago.", seems to pass by without much comment.

      The group "ooh" and "ah" at the opulence that surrounds them and then quickly reveal their stock Euro characters. There's Patrick- the common link, his ex-wife, his fiancée, his daughter and her playboy boyfriend, his sister- the predatory lesbian and her lover, his fiancée's ex-lover and a middle-aged doctor. It's quickly made clear that there's much tension between them with many a barbed comment ("You can't forget him, can you?" - "Why don't >>you<< make me forget him?"), and smoldering looks- causing the mysterious stranger to comment with an acid tongue, "You know what I like about you people? … You're so civil to each other as you tear each other apart." He follows that up with almost an aside to the camera, "The actors are present and now the play may start…"

      Now, you don't have to be a genius to guess that any play that's going to start on these boards will have a fairly bad conclusion. Before I could muter the words "Holy giallo!", the first pair of breasts had popped out their sequined restraints and the first gleaming blade put in an appearance. Patrick is very nearly killed by a rafter falling onto the stage after its support was cut, which leads to recriminations and finger pointing as to who may be responsible and wish him dead, "I can think of a reason for any of you.", mutters the shaken but unharmed host. "Hey, where's that guy in the Nerhu shirt?", pipes up one of them (the guests displaying the kind of group intelligence usually associated with teens going backwoods camping in early 80's slasher flicks).

     A little later (after more clothes fall off and are swapped for an Elizabethan bodice), Patrick's fiancée, Kim (Janet Agren), takes to the stage, and for the amusement of the others, acts out the final moments of the doomed heroine from Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet- but with pre-empting, and possibly influencing a similar moment in Michele Soavi's STAGEFRIGHT, her death throes are a little too convincing. After the applause dies down they find a dagger sticking out from her back, and Doris (Lucretia Love) spies a figure in a black cape and mask flee through the backstage area and takes off in hot pursuit. Meanwhile the rest of the guests discover that all the exits have been barred and the phone is dead…

     If you'd thought that the guests would be picked off one by one, in Bennati's giallo, you'd be right; an act ably helped by their apparent rampant stupidity, when they regularly divide up and go off chasing shadows down badly lit corridors. However, THE KILLER RESERVED NINE SEATS isn't your straight-ahead giallo. There are strange manifestations, a painting that seems to depict the events of the night before they happen and, most tellingly of all, Patrick confesses to his ex-wife that, "One hundred years ago a group of party-goers came to visit this theatre one night. They remained behind locked doors. When the doors were finally opened they were all dead and mutilated.". He continues that it was exactly a hundred years ago this very night (quell-surprise!)- which kind of makes you wonder why he didn't have a bad feeling about coming here!

     The supernatural angle adds a bit more colour but really just serves to confuse an already not very coherent film where one of the characters is so insensitive, nay, stupid, to put on the killer's mask and try and do a bit of pranking even after the first bodies turn up! The actors, also, aren't aided by the fact that Bennati has them in screaming hysterics in one scene and, immediately after, feeling all horny shimmying around in negligee, the next; it doesn't really help the film generate and maintain much suspense either. Admittedly I don't think the director was aiming for it to be a high class thriller (despite its opulent setting the film has a decidedly cheap feel to it), rather he wanted to make an out and out exploitation movie- it's pretty telling that every woman in the film has a nude scene, but it won't come as much of a surprise that none of the men do.

     Like many films of the time Bennati's movie has the dubious distinction of reveling in its onscreen debauchery, whilst also punishing it. I'm sure a shrink would have field day with the his decision to include a scene where one of the lesbians is repeatedly stabbed in the crotch by the masked killer with a knife (albeit it off-screen), before hammering a nail through her hand (which is shown in loving close-up). I expect Bennati had, er, issues.

      Grindhouse giallo-a-go-go anyone?

BODYCOUNT 8   bodycount!   female:4 / male:4

       1) Female stabbed in back
       2) Female crushed to death in a sliding door contraption
       3) Male found hung
       4) Female repeatedly stabbed in crotch and then has hand nailed to a pole
       5) Male found strangled with rope
       6) Male choked to death with rope
       7) Male found strangled with rope
       8) Male choked to death with rope

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