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The Hell Plaza Oktoberfest

The Hell Plaza Oktoberfest

Adam Jahnke - Main Page

Thanks to the folks at Blue Underground, it's Dario Argento Week here at the Hell Plaza Oktoberfest! So mix up a batch of homemade ravioli, pour yourself a glass of vino rosso and enjoy a week's worth of some of Italy's finest.

The Cat O' Nine Tails

The Cat O' Nine Tails
1971 (2007) - Blue Underground

There's a fine line between the mystery and horror genres. You don't have to turn the prism all that much to transform Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None from a pleasant little drawing room mystery to a gruesome story about a serial killer. Both genres are largely concerned with untimely deaths. Maybe the biggest difference is in the mystery, the thought of unmasking and apprehending the killer provides the comfort that the murders will stop. In horror stories, finding out who the killer is usually only leads to something even worse... and even capturing him or her is no guarantee that you're safe.

Straddling the line is the distinctly Italian subgenre of the giallo. Giallo films follow the pattern of a whodunit but linger over the murders in a style that's almost operatic.

They're a bit more concerned with plot than your typical slasher film but are usually filled with enough blood and sex that they appeal to the hardcore gorehounds too. Before branching out into increasingly bizarre supernatural territory, Dario Argento began his film career with the classic giallo The Bird with the Crystal Plumage. It remains one of the best examples of the genre and was so successful that Argento quickly followed it up with another giallo, The Cat O' Nine Tails. This one, unfortunately, doesn't work quite as well.

Karl Malden stars as a blind ex-reporter who now creates crossword puzzles. Walking down the street late one night with his young adopted grand-daughter, he overhears a bit of conversation about a blackmail scheme. Later that night, the research facility he was walking past is broken into and a security guard killed. Malden heads over to investigate and teams up with young reporter James Franciscus. Before long, the body count begins to rise and the odd couple uncovers a complex skein of disparate clues involving genetic research into criminal behavior and bizarre, semi-incestuous sexual deviancy.

This was Argento's second film and in its best moments, you can see him experimenting with the subjective angles and roving camera that would become a trademark. There is fun to be had with The Cat O' Nine Tails. The best death scenes, including one involving a train, are extreme and, if not exactly shocking, at least surprising. There are several fun set-pieces and the meandering story offers a number of quirky, off-beat character moments. This meandering story also suggests that Argento was already becoming bored with the giallo formula. Franciscus isn't bad in the lead and Malden is fun to watch although both of them occasionally seem to be phoning it in.

Blue Underground's recent release appears to be identical to the one released a few years back by Anchor Bay. The anamorphic transfer is top-notch and the 2.0 audio (available in your choice of dubbed English, dubbed Italian or dubbed French) is perfectly fine. There's quite a few nifty extras, starting with Tales of the Cat, a 14-minute featurette with on-camera interviews from Argento, co-writer Dardano Sacchetti and the legendary Ennio Morricone, whose score is one of the highlights of the movie. Also included are a pair of theatrical trailers, TV spots and radio spots, a poster and still gallery, bios for Argento, Sacchetti, Morricone, Franciscus and Malden, and two vintage radio interviews with James Franciscus and Karl Malden. The radio interviews are pretty great, with Franciscus doing a pretty poor job of promoting the movie and Malden slightly more successful at feigning enthusiasm.

The Cat O' Nine Tails is not essential Argento by any means. Longtime fans will certainly want to check it out and they'll be very pleased by this disc. But if you're just beginning to sample the many flavors of giallo, you're better off with The Bird with the Crystal Plumage.

Film Rating: C+
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B+/B/B+

Adam Jahnke

Adam Jahnke - Main Page
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