Blu-ray Review

Blu-ray Review: The Cat O’Nine Tails (Dir. Dario Argento, 1972)

The Cat O’Nine Tails [il gatto a nove code] is largely regarded (tenuously so) as the second instalment of Dario Argento’s Animal Trilogy, sandwiched between The Bird With the Crystal Plumage (1971) and Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1974). While it does lack some of the panache of those two films, the Karl Malden vehicle is still a largely enjoyable fare, seemingly influenced by The Spiral Suitcase and Hitchcock’s Suspicion, and containing some visuals that would be seen again in Deep Red (1975).

Upon walking home one evening with his niece Lori (Cinzia De Carolis) – who affectionately refers to him as “Cookie” (or Biscottino depending on whether you’re watching the English or Italian dub) – Franco Arnò (Malden), a blind crossword writer overhears a conversation which sounds suspiciously like blackmail in a car near his apartment. He thinks nothing more until a break-in at The Terzi Institute, a genetics lab, triggers a number of deaths. Ex-newspaper man Arnò joins forces with the handsome and charismatic investigative journalist Carlo Giordani (James Franciscus) and together, they do a little digging and attempt to solve the mystery, which in true Gialli style, picks off anybody who edges closer to the truth, via some nifty subjective camerawork before revealing the killer.

The Cat O’Nine Tails is an unique entry into the Argento oeuvre because it is the only film to remain uncensored in any parts of the world, and yet, by his own admission, it is one of the filmmaker’s least favourite. He believes it to be “too American”. Perhaps, it is the sprawling narrative which fixates on genetics and the XXY chromosome which can distinguish criminality – the murder gene – and the nine leads which make it increasingly convoluted and by the time the end arrives, and on a rooftop no less, the killer’s reveal feels rather arbitrary.

Less than twenty minutes in, there’s a tremendous set-piece involving a train and corpse; in addition to murder, intrigue, jump-cuts, extreme close-ups, recurring visual motifs – the filmmaker’s use of colour really is second only to Bava – glorious costumes courtesy of Luca Sabatelli and charming performances from Malden and child actor De Carolis, all backed extraordinarily by a subtle yet jarring score by that little-known composer, Ennio Morricone. While it is regarded as a lesser Argento – although not to the degree of Dracula 3DThe Cat O’Nine Tails is a stylish little number, perhaps not narratively speaking but as per Argento, a visual treat.

Arrow Video once again fleshes out their restoration with extras, although this time not quite as many or as varied as expected, the greatest achievement is that 4K restoration, the 1080p presentation, and the newly translated English subtitles for the soundtrack. The audio commentary is provided by Argento author and father of FrightFest Alan Jones, who is joined by critic/author Kim Newman. The commentary does contain spoilers so it is advisable to watch the film beforehand but it’s interesting, personally, I could listen to Alan Jones read a shopping list, but both men have fun and their vast knowledge is more than put to good use.

Special Features

Nine Lives (15:22) – An exclusive interview with co-writer/director Dario Argento recorded for Arrow Video in 2017 written, edited and directed by Federico Caddeo. In it, the filmmaker discusses the story and how he regards it as a sequel to The Bird With the Crystal Plumage and how he found shooting in Turin.

The Writer O’Many Tales (34:46) – Dardano Sacchetti wrote CONT with Argento and in this extended interview, the Italian writer discusses his career in detail, from his filmic first memory to how he met Dario Argento, and how he spent his pay check. It’s a little drawn out, and far more about the man than the film, and also twice as long as the Argento segment, in which he’s incredibly respectful to his ex-collaborator but make no mistake, there’s no love lost between the two men.

Child Star – Another new interview, this time with actress Cinzia De Carolis. This was unavailable at the time of review due to a disc error.

Giallo in Turin (15:09) – A chat with production manager Angelo Iacono, in it he discusses his 16-year relationship (seven films) with Dario Argento whom he describes as “adorable”.

Original Ending (3:07) – As originally written, The Cat O’Nine Tails didn’t end with the death of [redacted]. Footage was shot of Lori being rescued and an epilogue featuring Giordani and Terzi. While the original footage is now lost, the script pages survive and are presented here in English for the first time, containing lobby card images from the ending.

Trailers: Italian Theatrical (1:46), International Theatrical (1:52), US Domestic Theatrical Trailer (1:37)

Also included as part of the boxset is reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Candice Tripp, a double-sided fold-out poster, four lobby card reproductions and (unavailable for review) a limited edition booklet illustrated by Matt Griffin, featuring an essay on the film by Dario Argento, and new writing by Barry Forshaw, Troy Howarth and Howard Hughes.


Blu-ray Review

Blu-ray Review: Don’t Torture a Duckling (Dir. Lucio Fulci, 1972)

Of the three main maestros of Italian horror, it is Lucio Fulci who is regarded the most lurid, gory, even the trashiest of the trio, or at least he might have been once upon a time. Following many of the tropes associated with the genre, this Giallo also touches on prostitution, child murder, paedophilia, religion, truth, loss, and motherhood, Don’t Torture a Duckling is replete with symbolism and depth, the term ‘masterpiece’ has been somewhat cheapened over the years but this could well be Fulci’s.

Opening in rural Southern Italy, the landscape is split by an ugly concrete motorway bringing with it a bit of modernity; prostitutes, and the ‘outsiders’ (following the first of the murders) in the form of rich ex-drug addict Patrizia (Barbara Bouchet) and city journalist Andrea (Tomas Milian). The idyll of the small village is rocked when the first of the boys, Bruno, goes missing. His brutal murder is quickly followed by the senseless deaths of his friends Michele, and Tonino. Suspicions soon lead to a local ‘witch’ Magiara (Florinda Bolkan), one-time student of eccentric black magic-practitioner Francesco (George Wilson), and of course because of her difference – even after she is exonerated – some local men take the law into their own torturous and contemptible hands, little do they know that the real culprit is much closer to home. It is down to Patrizia and Andrea to work together and expose the killer before he/she strikes again.

Mixing the thematic and stylistic tropes of the giallo with Gothic horror, Fulci makes women the interesting subjects in the narrative, especially Bolkan who is not only the most sympathetic character but whose performance is exceptional. In a film about the destruction of innocence and child murder, it isn’t actually their disturbing deaths that are the most shocking. Fulci builds the superstition and style, mood, tone and atmosphere with light and  bright wide exterior shots and juxtaposes them with claustrophobic dark interiors and yet subversively, just as the killer comes from within the community so, too, are these children killed outdoors.

Violence is, as one can expect, never shied away from and a truly gripping story intensifies to an emotional and visceral crescendo which is unforgettable thanks mainly to the editing and that slightly grating piece of pop music used to accompany the brutality. Yes, the effects are a little dated and the acting, a tad histrionic but it’s in keeping with the genre and boy, what a social commentary it provides. Traditional, old-fashioned values and small-town mentality are pulled apart and what goes hand-in-hand with that? Religion. Understandably, this film courted controversy in the eyes of the Catholic Church especially given the film’s ending, which is almost gleeful in its transgression (the director’s own Catholicism making it all the more delicious and rebellious) especially considering it’s length, audacity and those gratuitous close-ups.

While Lucio Fulci never seemed to have the sumptuous production value of Mario Bava or the operatic visual mania of Dario Argento, he’s integral to the period, Gialli, and Italian horror – Don’t Torture a Duckling more than proves that and now, thanks to Arrow Video you can view it in all its lurid high definition gory glory.


The Blood of Innocents (30 mins) – This video essay is delivered by Dr. Mikel J. Koven from the University of Worcester and author of La Dolce Morte: Vernacular Cinema and the Italian Giallo Film. He discusses the concept of ‘vernacular cinema’ (those films which tend to avoid the bourgeoise mainstream audience) with enthusiasm and makes this a fascinating lecture. While it is ultimately a bloke behind a desk, the essay is intercut with many clips of multiple film texts which fall under the Giallo umbrella including work from Sergio Martino, Dario Argento, Pupi Avati, and Antonio Bido.

Hell is Already in Us (20 mins) – Written and narrated by Kat Ellinger, this audio essay focusses on violence and gender with Ellinger defending the claim that Lucio Fulci was a misogynist filmmaker. She refers specifically to his 1982 New York Ripper and Don’t Torture a Duckling to state her case; that Fulci confronts the taboo and uses his art-form to comment upon civilisation and depicting oppressive patriarchal society in all its evil glory.

Audio Interview (Part 1: 20 mins/Part 2: 15 mins) – In August 1988, journalist Gaetano Mistretta sent a letter with a list of questions to the filmmaker and Fulci recorded an audio tape complete with all his answers and sent it back to Mistretta. It’s a great listen full of personal anecdotes about his process, his grandchildren even though we all know, he adds with a chuckle, that “children are monsters”, his favourite filmmakers (Argento, Cronenberg, Kubrick and Bava) and the correct length of a horror film (it’s 80 mins btw).

Interview with Florinda Bolkan (27 mins) – Filmed for Freak-O-Rama in 2016, one of Don’t Torture a Duckling‘s leading ladies chats about her experiences on set with Fulci (having completed A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin the previous year with him), whom she deemed a gentle man and genius. Discussion turns to that scene and despite never viewing it in its entirety, she agrees to watch it for the first time in 44 years, and is understandably horrified by it. Additional segments from this 2016 programme are also contained in the special edition content , all include those involved with Duckling including: The DP’s Eye (45 mins) – time spent with cinematographer Sergio D’Offizi, From the Cutting Table (25 mins) – assistant editor Bruno Micheli takes us through his process and in Endless Torture (15 mins) make-up artist Maurizio Trani talks his history with make-up, Fulci and the special effects used during the Bolkan scenes.

Audio Commentary provided by Troy Howarth, author of So Deadly, So Perverse: 50 Years of Italian Giallo Films.

Reverse sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Timothy Pittides.

First pressing only: collector’s booklet with new writing on the film by Barry Forshaw and Howard Hughes (not available for review).

Region: AB 1/2|Rating 18|Language: Italian/English|Subtitles: English|Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1|Audio: Mono|Colour|Discs: 2


Review: We Are Still Here (Dir. Ted Geoghegan, 2015)


The opening shot of Ted Geoghegan’s directorial debut We Are Still Here is a blank canvas of snow; desolate, cold and perfect. Anne and Paul Sacchetti are on the way to their new home – the exterior landscape is not the only frosty element to the scene, the deep chill clearly present in the car. Anne (Barbara Crampton) is broken – though no victim; devastation is written all over her face, her eyes red raw from crying. Paul (Andrew Sensenig) keeps his feelings hidden in the odd tumbler of scotch. They have recently lost their son Bobby in a car accident and the new home is obvious attempt at escaping painful memories; the couple are connected in their grief and yet completely alone with it.

From the moment they pull up to the house, it is evident that things are not what they seem. It is very subtle but look closely at the shutters of the windows, they move, as if they are blinking; the house lives. It has a history and energy which hippy séance-loving friends Jacob and May Lewis (Larry Fessenden and Lisa Marie) zone into when they pay a visit to the Sacchettis. The eeriness of the vacant rooms, creaking of door hinges and floorboards and a breeze coming from seemingly nowhere that keeps knocking over a framed photograph of Bobby. It has all the hallmarks of a haunted house film but somehow this feels more authentic. The camera is intrusive and lurks voyeuristically, the editing similar to Don’t Look Now as it draws the audience in, dialogue is scarce but that just adds to the tension.

Family is the heart of this film and Wojciech Golczewski’s original music compliments the theme wonderfully, playing with the melodrama and creating tension and foreboding. There are nods to Mario Bava, Lucio Fulci and Pupi Avati but they blend perfectly with the contemporary, albeit dateless, setting. There is even a yellow labelled J&B bottle of scotch perfectly placed, (although rebranded as B&J) displaying a sense of humour amid the modern aesthetic. The film is a slow burn and builds steadily to a bloody, yet profound, denouement. Oddtopsy FX provide some fabulous effects and gives us some real picturesque deaths as the house quite literally devours. Who knew arterial spray against a canvas backdrop could look so beautiful?

We Are Still Here plays with the 70s and 80s but feels wholly original. It is smart, well-acted, funny and was the standout of this year’s FrightFest.