Sunday, May 15, 2022

#2,754. The Cat O' Nine Tails (1971) - Dario Argento 4-Pack


Dario Argento’s follow-up to Bird With The Crystal Plumage, The Cat O’ Nine Tails is a giallo with plenty of style that also features one hell of an intriguing mystery.

Reporter Carlo Giordani (James Franciscus) joins forces with blind man Franco Arno (Karl Malden) to try and solve a string of recent killings, all of which seem to be connected, in one way or another, to a nearby genetic research institute.

Unfortunately, there are very few clues and a growing list of suspects, including Professor Terzi (Tino Carraro), the head of the institute, and even Terzi’s daughter Anna (Catherine Spaak). But as Giordani and Arno close in on the truth, the elusive killer turns his attention to them, going so far as to kidnap Arno’s young niece Lori (Cinzia De Carolis), threatening to kill her if the two amateur sleuths don’t back off.

As he did with Bird With the Crystal Plumage, Argento infuses The Cat O’ Nine Tails with style to spare; throughout the movie, we’re treated to a series of POV shots – from the killer’s perspective – that build both the tension (we know the minute we’re seeing through the killer’s eyes that something terrible is about to happen) and the overall mystery (as one potential suspect after another is polished off, we cannot help but wonder whose eyes it is we’re actually peering through). And while The Cat O’ Nine Tails is far from Argento’s most violent film (it’s not nearly as bloody as Suspiria, Deep Red, or Phenomena), a few of the kills are fairly brutal, including one set on a train station platform.

As for the tension, it reaches a fever pitch in a sequence where Giordani and Arno break into a cemetery crypt late one night, only to be surprised by the killer. Yet as good as this scene is, it’s outdone by the film’s superior rooftop climax. Argento even stages one hell of a car chase, when Anna, driving Giordani’s car, attempts to elude the police!

It’s in the story department, however, where The Cat O’ Nine Tails truly excels, building its central mystery piece by piece, with shady characters (all of whom seem to have something to hide) and plenty of false leads, resulting in a payoff that’s both surprising and entirely satisfying.

Bird With the Crystal Plumage may, indeed, be Argento’s best giallo, but I rank The Cat O’ Nine Tails right up there alongside it.
Rating: 9.5 out of 10

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