SEVEN DEATHS IN A CAT'S EYE
1973 - ***1/2
This international-Italian/French co-production stars yeh-yeh girl Jane Birkin as a plucky ingenue possibly going mad in a mansion full of eccentrics, like Paulette Goddard in the 1939 CAT AND THE CANARY if the Bob Hope part was played by a brooding Byronic pretty boy. With photography lush enough that at times Birkin's luminous hair has the beauty of Sissy Spacek's in BADLANDS, this film bumps up three stars now that it's not a panned, scanned, washed-out mess. The only remaining flaw is a truly ridiculous gorilla suit, which is anyway a nice souvenir from the age of the old dark house mystery, which someone in this film loved.
One of the stand-out elements here are the clothes, which 'nod' to an assumed setting of 1930's England, but just nod, keeping the high fashion edge rather than getting bogged down in stuffy details like bowler hats and woolen overcoats. For her mourning wear (above) Birkin is given a beautiful black fur collar and her nightgown's sexy without being tacky (Von Sternberg would have approved). The whole production, aside from lingering close-ups of rats eating the face of victim #1, is very tasteful. The music is the orchestral suspense-generating variety rather than the moody giallo electric guitars of the time, but that's not worth a demerit. Indeed, the only demerit is maybe dubbing Serge Gainsbourg (he's the detective) with a fake Scotch burr, and not letting Jane B. do her own voice in English (She was English, after all, despite singing in French for hubby Serge). I kept thinking, hey! She's Charlotte Gainsbourg's mom! and imagining Charlotte even being conceived during this shoot, though that's maybe a stretch. Still it would fit with Charlotte's career choices, and thus this would be a great double bill with ANTICHRIST! Meee-yow!
SEVEN NOTES IN BLACK
(AKA THE PSYCHIC)
1977 - ***1/2
Italian filmmaker Lucio Fulci may be a lot of things, but boring ain't one. Sure, he's a fan of cheap-ass gore, pointless gross-outs, nightmare logic, and jarringly placed schlock pop ballads, but THE PSYCHIC (AKA 7 NOTES IN BLACK) proves he can deliver a lovingly lensed telekinetic wife searching for her own killer style-mystery with giallo elements: there's some Poe motifs and an array of time capsule 70s horror film trends, for there were many telekinesis-bandwagon-jumpers after the success of EXORCIST, CARRIE and THE FURY. Bixio, Frizzi and Tempera's music will rattle the lamps off your table and the ending is incredibly tense, clever, and torturous without being gory. Truly both Hitchcock and Poe would probably nod to each other from across the balcony. Great use of a musical pocket watch melody (the "Seven Notes" as a gimmick, ala the sing-song la-la-la tape in BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE - but it serves the story rather than just being a bandwagon-chasing gimmick. You'll scream! You'll cry! You'll think Jennifer O'Neill is a goddess. Her facility with mental powers made her ideal to appear in Cronenberg's SCANNERS four years later. Yo--that means for once Fulci set a trend! Even the dubbing is good. Thing is, can ya find it, where obscurity's buried it now that the old Fulcibox from VCI is OOP. What? PERVERSION STORY too? Meanwhile THE BEYOND comes out in Blu-ray. Where is the love, man? Bixio, Frizzi, Tempera, take us out.
FIVE DOLLS FOR AN AUGUST MOON
1970 - **
Movies like this early Bava effort live and die by the score and the sleazy organ at work here makes you remember the old Shadow radio show, not in a good way... Who knows what Ennio might have done with a few electric guitars instead? The plot's a typical Ten little Indians thing (the number sliced in half) and occasionally the score gets much too jaunty as the bodies are stored in the freezer next to the freshly killed pheasants. Since the house is all modern and stark white there's little opportunity for Bava's deep red and purple gel color schemes. Luckily the women are hot, the clothes are foxy, and there's lines like "death makes you feel dirty." and "houseboys come and go but there's always the bottle." There sure is...
These jet-setting millionaires may be a generally oily and unlikable lot, but don't think for a minute that this means they're not incredibly well dressed. The costumes are drool-worthy, from Edwige's scanty white petal bikini to the slim-cut hep-cat trousers favored by the gents of the cast. Spangles, gauze, colorful lacey undergarments, and pop art fabrics abound. The house where much of the action goes down is the seaside equivalent of the Frank-Lloyd-Wright-esque mansion at the end of "North by Northwest," with its cliff-side perch and vast expanses of window. Everything is circa-1970-sumptuous, right down to the rotating round bed and the ritzy glassware. And yes, in case you were wondering--these folks ARE drinking J&B. (more here)Yep, can there be any doubt that J&B is the official scotch of the genre gialli?
SHORT NIGHT OF GLASS DOLLS
1971 - **1/2
An ornate title with objectifying noun; Jean Sorel as a soft butch version of Franco Nero; the drab atmosphere of communist Prague; a sinister classical music club connected to conspiracies worthy of David Icke: sounds like a potentially interesting Eastern European giallo knock-off. Aside from a great last ten minutes, however, GLASS DOLLS puts the drag in draggy. Even Ennio Morricone's score lists along at half-mast, limiting itself to some screechy panic attack drones, somewhere between Bernard Herrmann and an orchestra tuning up before playing Bartok. I had the soundtrack long before seeing the film and used to love to listen to it on my Discman while walking through Prospect Park at night with my dog Inga, every shadow on the stone bridge walls like death incarnate as we walked through the long tunnel from Grand Army Plaza, the Bartok-ish Herrmann-ish avant garde jangles frying my nerves in the most giddy of ways.
But dude, where are the hot clothes? The hot girls? Barbara Bach's sexy lame' dress is left behind in the first ten minutes and there's seldom any swankiness after that. Only Ingrid Thulin (WILD STRAWBERRES), as a sex-hungry fellow journalist, gets any color, and then only via headscarves that only make her look older than she already is.
Expertly summarizing the film's distinct old vs. young generational conflict as analogous to Eastern European politics is James from Behind the Couch:
The film also serves as a sly allegory addressing the destructive nature of totalitarian governments, like the one in power in Czechoslovakia at the time. The weird socially elitist members of the cult represent overpowering authoritarian systems in which the higher classes literally suck the life out of younger generations, those less well off and anyone else who opposes them. The older generation is depicted as inherently sinister in this film. The disdain and suspicion of the elderly middle class is exhibited clearly in the scene in which Gregory sneaks into the goldsmiths building and into a room full of elderly people in evening dress listening to a classical concert. They sit motionless and look uncannily like the undead ghouls in Carnival of Souls.That sounds creepy all right, but is it any fun? Without the pop art colors it's just dispiriting, man! There's not enough J&B in the world...
CASE OF THE BLOODY IRIS
1971 - ***
When it comes to soundtracks, Bruno Nicolai is no Ennio Morricone, but he's literally awfully close (he conducted Ennio's early Argento scores), so what is the deal with the trite muzak in IRIS? Star Edwige Fenech compensates for the schmaltz as a neurotic heroine escaping a bad group marriage by moving into a Satanic high rise apartment with some models already in the midst of being knocked-off before she gets there. Everyone's a suspect, including Fenech (or it all could be her imagination). The killer is the official giallo type: androgynous in black stocking mask, raincoat, fedora and gloves. In this instance, alas, the gloves are a sickly looking yellow rubber variety. A real turn-off!
I'm not giving anything away by mentioning the main culprit is Fenech's mysterioso architect boyfriend, or wait, is it her jealous ex-husband, the one who drew her into the Wildflower Group sex club from which the title 'perhaps' gets his name? An hour after watching you won't be able to remember who any of these people are, but is that really so bad?
The real stars of IRIS are the elevator and stairways of the modernist high-rise where many a murder and moment of tension doth occur. Could this film have been seen by Brian De Palma? What's that? You don't care? You can't leave me, Carmen! I'm bound to you, do you hear? Bound body and soul. Yes, shit dubbed dialogue like that abounds but some parts are pretty kinky-creepy and Fenech is great as always, her tortured soul battling her corruptive body in a one-woman show, Catholicism's whole trip wrapped up in a languorous wiggle.