CAT ‘O NINE TAILS


A series of murders at a laboratory that is exploring the genetic foundations of crime is investigated by a young newspaperman and a blind ex-journalist who creates crossword puzzles (you can’t get much more giallo than that). It’s Dario Argento’s follow up film to his initial offering, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, and is a lot of fun, though a bit drawn out and apparently the director’s least favorite film. It has the typical Argento touches: brilliant visual stylings; first rate art direction (sometimes I think giallo filmmakers chose locations first and then come up with a story); questionable plot points; and non-Italian leads. Actually, the story holds together better than most of these sorts of films, though there are some shoddy moments and the bad guy has the incredible good luck of always showing up at just the right time and place to make sure he isn’t discovered and to keep the story going. And as for non-Italian actors, it stars three, count ‘em three, American thespians (Karl Malden, very good as the blind man; James Franciscus, not bad as the younger journalist; and Catherine Spaak as the sex object who likes to wear pants suits with more slits than fish have gills). The 70’s clothing certainly brings back memories and the movie has some interesting side bits, such as a visit to a hustler gay bar of the period and milk that is delivered in triangular paper containers rather than bottles. “Do you know how many people are together right now making love this very second? …780 on the average. Really. I don’t know if you’re aware of it or not, but that was an invitation.”

THE STENDHAL SYNDROME (1996)


A psychological horror film by the greatest of the giallo directors, Dario Argento. The plot revolves around a woman police detective who is after a vicious rapist, but who suffers from the titled malady: a penchant for becoming so overwhelmed by artwork, that she faints and/or hallucinates. It has all the usual problems of a giallo film; the plot often makes no sense and more often is just plain silly. But it also has all the virtues of an Argento film: it’s visually stunning and so emotionally evocative one can’t stop watching it. It’s more than a little creepy and often unpleasant and not just in subject matter. The lead actress, Asia Argento, who is viciously raped and beaten in realistic, drawn out detail, is also the daughter of the director (not sure I want to be at their house for Thanksgiving). The psychopathic villain is played by Thomas Kretschmann, who has the looks of a Nordic god, and the haunting score is by Ennio Morricone. One of Argento’s best.