Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Cat O'Nine Tails

I don’t know that I can stress enough just how much I adore the films of Dario Argento. He is easily the greatest Italian horror director of all time, and while his output after the 80s generally doesn’t come close to matching his earlier work, he is still responsible for many of the greatest horror films and gialli ever made. This is one of his earliest, most unheralded films, but it definitely holds up as well as his more famous gialli like Bird with the Crystal Plumage or Tenebrae.

The film partners up two sleuths (an elderly blind puzzle maker played by Karl Malden and a young reporter played by James Fransiscus) as they try to solve an increasing series of murders centered around a robbery at a research institute that’s studying the effects of the XYY chromosome on violent crime. They find a series of loose clues, nine in all (hence the title), but find that they have attracted the attention of the killer, and every time they get any closer to solving the case, they put themselves and their friends in harm’s way.

There’s quite a few of what would become Argento’s standard “killer’s POV” shots, several years before films like Halloween and Friday the 13th would make such shots routine in American horror, and a number of creepy quick closeups of one of the killer’s eyes. Argento has always been a very stylized director (indeed, part of the reason his more recent films have been so lackluster has been a sharp toning down of that style), and while he doesn’t quite hit the heights here of later films like Suspiria or Opera, he still infuses the film with a look and feel that helps to elevate it above most of its giallo brethren.

Another thing that helps is the refreshing viciousness of the kills. This is another area Argento has never shirked away from, and the brutality of such kills as a poor photographer getting strangled with a garrote for having unknowingly photographed a murder just makes the movie an extra bit of fun for everyone. If you like your thrillers flashy, bloody, somewhat incoherent, and ending with a chase through the rooftops, you need to check this film out. And then go see Argento’s other films, if you haven’t already.

Rating: *** ½

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