La Morte negli occhi del gatto
Review by Katherine Follett
Posted on 13 October 2008
Source Prism Entertainment VHS
Categories 31 Days of Horror V
A doe-eyed young woman arrives at her aunt’s castle, having been expelled from Catholic school for her escapades. Her aunt is an icy countess, determined to hang on to her crumbling estate even though she has no money. There’s rumor of James, the cousin who has gone mad. There’s the mysterious young “French teacher” and the haughty doctor assigned to James’ care. And there’s a sinister pair of eyes watching all the goings-on from behind barred windows.
Seven Deaths in the Cat’s Eye, which sounded from the box like the tale of a murderous cat, sounded promising, but in the end, the film was a bust. Much of the blame for its failure can be found in simple technical flaws. In an attempt to appear gloomy, the lighting was nonexistent. A good 60 percent of the running time is taken up by a dark screen full of wobbling shadows. And in an attempt to create the feel of a mannered British estate, the dialogue was super-fast, accented, dubbed in post-production in the ’70s Italian style, and mostly unintelligible. There was also the unfortunate fact that the VHS formatting didn’t use the “pan” part of pan-and-scan, opting instead to simply cut off the ends of the shot whether there was something important there or not. This left a lot of shots of empty space, shoulders, or two noses talking to each other. So with almost no visual or verbal cues, I had to trust the soundtrack to tell when something sinister was going on. And a lot of the time, that soundtrack would build to a stunning crescendo as the camera came to rest on—a fluffy orange tabby. Seriously, the “murderous” cat (who turns out to be just a cat) looked a lot like Morris, “the finicky cat” from beloved 9Lives cat food commercials of the ’80s.
Less a horror film than a whodunit, Seven Deaths in the Cat’s Eye starts when the young lady, Corringa, arrives at her aunt’s castle, where her mother is staying. The aunt has asked the mother for money, and the mother has refused, building tension between the two. And there’s something more than just friendship between the aunt and the doctor assigned to care for her “mad” son, James. When the mad son finally appears, it’s obvious he’s not so much mad as a dashing rogue who’s being kept out of the public eye so as not to bring shame to the family name. There are also legends that the members of this family are secretly vampires. Throw in the “killer cat,” a wild ape, a suspicious servant, the French teacher who was really there to serve as a sexual distraction for James, and a little cousin-love between James and Corringa, and you have a lot of different things competing to be the reddest herring once people start dying. The deaths (I assume they happen, because the soundtrack has a lot of screeching strings, and then I don’t hear those characters’ voices mumbling anymore) aren’t particularly interesting, and during the first one, we catch a glimpse of a hand with a straight razor, so we’re pretty sure it’s not the cat. Which is really too bad.
The film proceeds like an unfunny Clue, with a bunch of unsavory wealthy people wandering around a candlelit mansion being killed off one at a time with everyone under suspicion. So many separate threads and tropes are tangled into the mess, with no one lead ever going anywhere, that after a while, the viewer ceases to care. Yet at the same time, the sets and costumes are nice, the acting unobjectionable, and the dialogue far too understated for camp value. The only funny moments were the dramatic shots of the poor cat, who always looked sort of fluffy and snuggly and LOLcat-like. In the end, the killer isn’t supernatural or mysterious or even one of the many, many suspects we’d been introduced to—it was a tiny minor character, a priest who turned out to be an impostor and an obscure relative who stood to inherit the dark, crappy old castle if everyone else died. There were no clues to point to this explanation, or to point away from any of the others, so the mystery ends up being a big rip-off. But by the time the killer is revealed, most viewers will have given up futzing with the contrast and straining against the speakers to get a handle on what’s happening anyway.
There was one bright spot (figuratively—there was nothing bright in this film literally): our first glimpse of James, the mad son. Before he appeared, James’ “illness” was the subject of many mysterious conversations, and given the multiple shots of strange ape eyes, I somehow got the impression that James was a hideous deformed freak (turns out the ape, like the cat, was just a pet. What gives?). But then James arrives at a staid dinner party. He is not deformed—not in the slightest. He bears more than a passing resemblance to Brad Pitt or Karl Urban (who played Eomer in the Lord of the Rings trilogy). He’s charismatic, and blazes away the other characters’ stuffy mannerisms with an abrupt rudeness, stealing the scenes as much as one can in the mumbling and the murk. It seems like female wide-eyed brunettes willing to strip for ’70s Italian-made horror are a dime a dozen, and Corringa is no different from any of them. Also common are the blandly rugged male stars that blunder their way through these factory-made films. But it was striking to see a young male actor with promise appear in such an obscure production. It makes you wonder what other gems lurk in the muck of otherwise unwatchable B-movies.
Anthony M. Dawson
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The Dead Don’t Die1975
The Brides Wore Blood1972
Girl in Room 2A1973
Nude for Satan1974
Rock ‘n’ Roll Nightmare1987
Brides of the Beast1968
Seven Deaths in the Cat’s Eye1973
The Curse of Bigfoot1976
Dark Night of the Scarecrow1981
Moon in Scorpio1987
The Legend of Hell House1973
Grave of the Vampire1974
Rana: The Legend of Shadow Lake1975
Attack of the Beast Creatures1985
Humanoids from the Deep1980