Friday, August 27, 2010

Honourable mentions: Seven Deaths in the Cat’s Eye

Italian director Antonio Margheriti appears on the blog from time to time. We honourably mentioned his film Long Hair of Death due to the elements that he borrowed from Carmilla. His films Castle of Blood and its colour remake Web of the Spider are examples of films about vampiric ghosts.

In the case of the 1973 movie Seven Deaths in the Cat’s Eye we are faced with a (rather enjoyable) film that is, at its heart, a murder mystery. Vampires, however, are mentioned and at least one character believes in their reality – though we as an audience know that a mortal murderer is behind the deaths.

rats have eaten the face
The film begins with the sound of someone dying and footsteps, a crate being dragged and the crate then falls down stairs. All this is observed by a cat, who is the constant silent witness to the events that unfold. The crate spills its contents and we see the corpse of a man. Time segues forward and the rats have eaten away at his face.

gorilla at the window
A horse and carriage goes along the road. The driver Angus (Luciano Pigozzi) – for we are in the Scottish highlands – has met his passenger Corringa (Jane Birkin) at the station when he was going for supplies for his employer – Lady Mary MacGrieff (Françoise Christophe) of Dragonstone Castle, Corringa’s aunt. She remembers the castle from when she was a little girl and mentions the MacGrieff legend, to which Angus crosses himself and then says to do so is an old custom. As they arrive we see a fanged best, perhaps a gorilla mask, at a window.

arguing over money
In the castle Mary and Corringa’s mother, Alicia (Dana Ghia), are arguing over money. Mary wants Alicia to give some to help keep the estate running but all Alicia’s money is held in trust for Corringa. She suggests that Mary sells the castle and moves to London – it would be good for her son James (Hiram Keller). When Corringa arrives it appears they did not expect her for a month. She says that the school closed early due to building works but then admits to Suzanne (Doris Kunstmann) – a ‘French teacher’ employed for James – that she has been expelled.

Father Robinson inspects the Coat of Arms
We quickly meet our other players. Father Robinson (Venantino Venantini) who is there to replace the current Priest (Franco Ressel). Dr Franz (Anton Diffring, the Man Who Could Cheat Death)) who is there, allegedly, to treat James, but is having an affair with Mary. Dr Franz hired Suzanne and is having an affair with her also. James is a rude individual, with few social graces, who has inherited his title and is believed to have killed his own sister when they were children. The Gorilla is his – also called James – though he calls it an orang-utan. We also discover that the MacGrieff legend is that a MacGrieff who is murdered by another MacGrieff will rise as a vampire to extract revenge. The coat of arms looks, to Corringa, like it shows a vampire though Franz calls is a Chimera.

in the secret passage
This first to die is Alicia – smothered. The murder is covered up by Franz and Mary, and he writes a death certificate that suggests she died of natural causes. During the time the murder was occuring Corringa had discovered a secret passage and subsequently found the body with the rat eaten face – a find she keeps to herself – and is then freaked out by bats in the passage. She is not allowed to see her mother’s corpse, which is quickly placed in the family vault. During the funeral, the cat jumps on the coffin and a local states that if a cat follows a dead person they will be a vampire – similar to the traditional idea of cat’s jumping over coffins causing vampirism. The cat is purposefully locked in the vault at Lady Mary’s order.

the vampire Alicia
That night Angus returns to the vault to release the cat, sees that the coffin is broken open and is then killed, throat slit by a razor, murdered by an assailant unseen but who Angus clearly knew. Corringa is in bed and the cat enters her room, lies beside her and then bites at her neck as she shifts in her slumber. Corringa subsequently dreams of her mother, returned as a vampire, who says that Corringa is similarly marked by the cat and must help her mother exact revenge on her killer.

Corringa and James
That is our vampiric input and it is all in the head of Corringa, traumatised by finding a body and her mother dying, fascinated before then by the legends and cursed with an over-developed imagination. For the viewer, we know a human culprit is to blame and the film throws in red herring after red herring with the suspects dropping like flies.

I rather enjoy Seven Deaths, it has a nice, sumptuous feel. From a genre point of view the vampire element isn’t enough to make this anything more than a fleeting visitation during a thriller. The imdb page is here.


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