From an interview available on the Anchor Bay disc it would appear that Dario Argento is one of his own worst critics, stating that his follow up to his sensational debut, ‘Cat O Nine Tails’ is actually his least favourite of his movies overall. Whilst he states this is because he tried too hard to emulate a range of subgenres within the movie, what we get to enjoy is an interesting and gripping thriller whose subject content was remarkably relevant before its time.
The second of his ‘animal trilogy’ follows the investigation of a reporter and a blind man with a love for puzzles as they try to solve a mysterious series of murders at a genetic research facility. With nine tenuously connected leads to follow their search becomes much more important than sales on a tabloid as the killer begins to stalk them.
The ‘giallo’ part of Argento’s animal trilogy needs no introduction, nor does his ability to effectively construct such a piece. This reputation is both well-deserved and evident in this movie. The story itself is a tightly woven series of key set pieces, with little or no scenes wasted or used as padding. The consistent use of the camera to offer unique perspectives of even the drabbest set locations ensures that the eye is always focused exactly where Argento wants it to be, and whilst the sets are not quite as vibrant as they are in ‘Susperia’, Argento’s utilisation of unusual architectural design hints to the viewer that there is often more to see in the scenes than meets the eye – I won’t insult you’re intelligence to explain why he might encourage us to do this in a mystery thriller.
The subject material, in this case the study of the XYY chromosome (and its link to violent tendencies in males), gives the movie the credibility so few giallo movies achieve. The story drops several hints as to who the killer is along the way; of course our relationship with the killer is made all the more intimate with the trademark through-the-eyes-of-the-killer camera perspective now typical in giallo movies.
The acting is reasonably good, and whilst the fashion and interior décor give the movies age away, the characters aren’t as wooden as you might expect. The script, whilst a little clunky in parts, delivered by a mixture of Italian and English speaking actors is adequate, and again avoids several 1970s pitfalls; although the sex invitation (literally) is a little cringe worthy. The death scenes range in their effectiveness, but as Argento freely admits, a lack of special effects, combined with his tenacity for showing the whole act of murder, does leave some scenes looking considerably less than convincing. The violence is not particularly strong but there are some scenes which would have arguably been quite shocking at the time.
As strong as so much of this movie is, the one major criticism I have of the movie it is that the ending does come a little out of the blue, and it would have been nicer if more hints were left throughout the movie for us to solve. Let us not be too critical though, ‘Cat O Nine Tails’ was created in Argento’s infancy as a director, and this piece by piece unravelling of plot is undoubtedly perfected in his masterpiece ‘Deep Red’.
Overall, whilst Argento has since created an eclectic range of movies spanning several genres, ‘Cat O Nine Tails’ is a movie which sees him carving a niche in a genre he would become famous for. It is a taut thriller, with an engaging story. The spattering of on-screen violence, although tame by horror standards today, may seem gratuitous to some, but those who follow Argento’s work will agree it is simply his style and all artists have their critics.