Cat Scratch Slayer

by Arthur B

The most Scottish giallo of all!
The MacGrieffs are an aristocratic Scottish family. (They're the most Italian-seeming Scots ever, but never mind.) They rattle about in their ancestral home, Dragonstone Castle which sits on an island their family has ruled over since time immemorial, and is riddled with secret passages so that the staunchly Catholic family could hide priests during times of Protestant-led persecution. (Never mind that the architectural style of the exterior shots is distinctly Mediterranean.)

There are various significant residents and guest in the house. Most important of all is the castle cat, the most big-faced floof-furred whisper-socked fluffkin you ever did see. There's also Lady Mary MacGrieff (Françoise Christophe) the family matriarch and her sister, Lady Alicia (Dana Ghia), who have ongoing tensions concerning money. (Mary is broke, Alicia is loaded, Alicia won't give Mary the money she needs to pay the bills and keep hold of the castle.) You have Lady Mary's son, Lord James (Hiram Keller), who looks like he stepped off the front cover of a romance novel and who is said to have killed his baby sister when he was a boy; everyone tells him he's mad, so he plays up to it, spending most of his time working on artwork in various forms with only his pet gorilla for company.

Then you have Dr. Franz (Anton Diffring), who's been placed in charge of James' treatment, the mysterious Suzanne (Doris Kunstmann) who claims to be James' "French tutor", various priests, and the protagonist of our story - Corringa (Jane Birkin), Alicia's daughter, who's just been expelled from the convent school she was sent to but hasn't gotten around to telling her mum yet. Corringa had better tread carefully, though - tensions are high with Mary's money worries, Dr. Franz' frustrations with his treatment of James and all the ways his unorthodox approach is going wrong, and the persistent rumour that any MacGrieff who kills one of their own will rise from the grave as a vampire. What of the bad luck from Corringa's accidental burning of her copy of the Bible? And then there's the slayings by the mysterious killer who strikes in the dead of night, when the only witness is the gingery-wingery growly-meowed Garfieldian whisker-colonel... Will Corringa get to the bottom of the mystery, or be yet one more of the Seven Deaths In the Cat's Eye?

Although in general giallo tended to go out of its way to offer a distinctly modern take on the old string-of-murders horror-mystery, Seven Deaths has a weirdly old-fashioned atmosphere to it. The sets and scenery make it look like it was filmed using borrowed bits of tat from the Hammer Studios storeroom, and the sound quality is unusually poor - it sounds like it was recorded on 1950s-vintage equipment.

The soundtrack music itself is particularly stodgy and old-fashioned, more reminiscent of horror soundtracks from the previous two decades than something from 1973 and is gratingly heavy-handed, with the dubbing job being rather mediocre. (Serge Gainsbourg, brought into the project via Birkin who he was having an extremely intense and widely-celebrated relationship at the time, shows up as a police detective dubbed with a hilariously incongruous Scottish accent.) There's a scene where the wufty-tailed wuzzle-puss wakes Corringa from sleep and the soundtrack bludgeons you over the head like it's the scariest thing ever, when it's just her gently being nuzzled awake by a yeowly-growly fussypaws; it transitions into quite a fun dream sequence of Alicia arising from the grave as a vampire, but this still feels incongruous and accidental rather than deliberate.

By far the most giallo-like features of the movie are the way the murders are depicted, with the killer largely being an offscreen presence with only their gloved hands appearing to do the deed, and the frank treatment of sexuality, with allusions being made to Suzanne's bisexuality for cheap titillation and Corringa and James getting it on cousin-style as the pet gorilla watches. Beyond these scraps of sensationalism it's really a rather stodgy, old-fashioned affair; the sexual elements of the movie aren't enough to push it beyond a 15 certificate these days, and the old-fashioned costuming makes it hard to figure out what era the movie is taking place in beyond the fact that it's probably somewhere in the 20th Century and whatever decade we're watching, James is dressing and mooning about like he's auditioning for the role of Barnabas Collins in Dark Shadows. (Actually, he reminded me a lot of Matt Berry of Darkplace fame, both in his face, his costume, and his overall dubbing.)

As with many old-fashioned slayings-and-scenery affairs of this ilk, much of the movie is taken up with the characters rattling about in this big old castle talking at each other in the desperate attempt to pad out 40 minutes' worth of plot into a 90 minute movie. Sex scenes, where they occur, are perfunctory and seventies-tastic in their overall presentation; murders likewise. More or less the only scenes which really got me excited were the various appearances of the grumpity-wumpity smoosh-faced moggywoggywoo, who is always a joy to see. (Though there's one scene where the script calls for the purry-wurry softmittened kittypants to jump onto a coffin as it is interred in a tomb, and it's quite evident that they cut from a shot where the wufflemogster jumps off a wall to a shot where someone dropped the whiskerdrooped ticklepaws onto the coffin, and the poor thing looks panicked for a moment before being rescued from up there by a cast member.)

Unfortunately, this is the internet age, so whilst watching this movie for a few shots of a growl-bellied moggymonster might have made sense in the 1970s, most of us have an effectively infinite supply of sparkle-eyed tuftytoes at our fingertips. Recommended only if you don't need to pay for it and you want something to listen to in the background and occasionally see a fuzz-socked tiptoe-tummy-tiger.

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Comments (go to latest)
Robinson L at 20:15 on 2017-11-15
So, Arthur, this is just a wild guess, but by any chance, did you adopt a cat recently? Or begin a relationship with someone who has a cat?
Arthur B at 22:37 on 2017-11-15
I don't know what gave you that idea.
Robinson L at 00:00 on 2017-11-16
Me neither. It was just this weird thought that hit me completely out of the blue. Just one of those things, I suppose.
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