3 January 2018



'A puzzle enthusiast and a reporter decided to find out why some people die, and ended up on the same list...'

I must be blunt. There is no whipping in this film, despite its referencing in its catchy title the old naval whip that flayed the skin off the backs of the poor beleaguered sailors of yore. Not only is there no naval whipping (you need MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY for that, nothing like a good old dose of Captain Bligh!), but there isn't any sexy male-female whipping either, or even female-to-female, which can also be quite good for a larf.

There's no whipping in it at all, in point of fact. The title is instead a rather clever metaphor, of which more later. If you're still with me and haven't wandered off disappointed on hearing about the total absence of flagellation in the movie, then we're looking here at Dario Argento's superb follow-up to his debut feature film, THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE. I'm prepared to bet good money that there isn't even a bird at all in that one.

THE CAT O' NINE TAILS is a good old murder mystery or giallo thriller, with enough chills thrown in to justify a horror tag as well. It's the story of a blind, middle-aged crossword-and-other-puzzles enthusiast Franco Arno, brilliantly played by Karl Malden (A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE, THE STREETS OF SAN FRANCISCO).

He lives alone except for a small female orphan called Lori. We're not sure how he came by her, exactly. In an everything-must-go kind of yard sale dealie, maybe? Or maybe the orphanage was closing down and they gave away some of the stock for free just to be shut of it, you know, the way shops do sometimes? I got a slightly fire-damaged set of dining-room chairs that way once. Still have them. Cleaned 'em up right nice, you can hardly see the burns.

Anyway, when a break-in occurs at a genetics institute and then one of the institute's top scientists, a handsome Leonard Cohen-lookalike called Calabresi, gets shoved into the path of an oncoming train accidentally-on-purpose, Arno teams up with a reporter called Carlo Giordani to find out what exactly's going on at the old institute.

Why is it any of Arno's business, I hear you ask? Well, with his excellent hearing he overhears a conversation in which some fly-boy is attempting to blackmail one of the institute's scientists, so naturally he thinks that this gives him the right to royally stick his beak in.

He used to be an investigative reporter himself actually, just like Giordani, before he was blinded in an accident fifteen years ago, and he loves the thrill of the chase. Besides, you get the feeling that he's a born busybody anyway, like Miss Marple or Inspector Poirot or one of those lads. It probably makes him feel useful, makes him feel like he's helping and still has a purpose in life.

Giordani is a handsome young blonde Burt Lancaster-lookalike who doesn't mind at all that Arno and his bargain basement Little Orphan Annie want to tag along behind him everywhere he goes, 'helping' to solve the mystery of what's going on at the institute. And what exactly is going on behind those closed institute doors...?

Well, there's some top-secret scientific stuff going on, for one thing. The scientists there are looking into the issue of hereditary diseases and malformations with a view, if you please, to isolating and eradicating the criminal gene found in some people. Sounds high-faluting, doesn't it? It's all to do with chromosomes, apparently, of which I know nothing, but I can totally assure you that it's a really big deal in the science world amongst science-type persons.

Giordani's investigations see him ending up in bed with Anna Terzi, the stunningly beautiful adopted daughter of the millionaire founder of the institute. She's a knockout-and-a-half, even though all of her clothes are mysteriously torn. 

Her tight 'Seventies slacks and the sleeves of her blouses are all ripped to shreds. Is it a fashion thing, gentle readers, or is she merely the victim of the notorious pants-shredder who was operational at this time and seemingly only picked on female giallo actresses? We don't know, folks, we just don't know...

There's pure sexual tension hanging in the air between Anna and Giordani. It's that thing that happens when you meet someone for the first time and bam! You're hopelessly smitten and all you want to do is to go to bed with that person and ride the arse off of them till you've thoroughly scratched that itch.

If it's a film you're in, then you can probably go for it. If it's real life, you can be sure that a load of annoying f**king bollocks will conspire to mess things up for you. What's Giordani's secret, by the way? What makes a stunner like Anna want to go to bed with him? It couldn't possibly be the contents of his... fridge, could it? I have a 'SUSPICION' that it might be...

The scenes in Bianca's flat, where she's being literally stalked by the killer, are genuinely chilling. They're the kind of thing that makes you scared to wander around your own house at night. What's behind that shower curtain? And why is it closed? I'm sure I left it open. And what's that noise? Oh, thank God, it's only the cat. Wait a minute. I don't have a cat...

The scenes in Bianca's family crypt (how rich do you have to be to own a friggin' family crypt, anyway? I'll probably be tossed into a hole wearing a potato sack with armholes when my time comes!) are good and scary too. They call to mind Mr. Poe's PREMATURE BURIAL, both the story and the excellent film, starring Ray Milland as the man whose terrible fear of being buried alive controls and eventually ruins his life.

The music is done by Ennio Morricone, whom I saw performing his film scores live in Dublin in February 2015. It cost nearly a hundred quid but I told myself that this would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience, that the auld fella mightn't last much longer and would certainly never ever return to Ireland. He's been back twice since then, ahem. He's probably over here right now, thumbing his nose at me for doubting his longevity. What can I say? I was wrong. He'll probably live forever now just to spite me, lol.

His music for this film is wonderful, and so spaghetti-westernish in places that you half expect to see Clint Eastwood come riding up with a toothpick clenched between his teeth and cool murder in his eyes and Sergio Leone's name splattered in crimson across the screen.

The title refers to the nine different strands of the puzzle which Giordani and Arno are holding in their hands, but which they haven't quite managed to piece together fully quite yet. How many more deaths will there be before they crack the case? Will the photographer who looks like Al Pacino be killed too and, if so, will women cry? I cried, a little bit...

This magnificent giallo horror-thriller will be available to buy from ARROW VIDEO, in conjunction with FETCH PUBLICITY, from 29th January 2018. Christ Almighty, is it 2018 already? I haven't achieved even a quarter of my life goals for 2017 yet! Bugger. I'm off to very quickly write another novel, lose five pounds and meet the man of my dreams before midnight tonight. Sigh, if only my life were a film. One good montage would cover the lot...


Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger and movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens' fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra's books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:


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