Gialloween Day 2: The Cat o' Nine Tails
The second film in Argento’s Animal Trilogy, Cat o’ Nine Tails is the one that sounds best on paper. A blind puzzle maker teams up with a reporter to investigate murders tied to a break-in at a bio-research facility. It sounds giallo as fuck, but unfortunately, the film’s presentation and style leave something to be desired when compared to the trilogy’s other entries.
Don’t get me wrong though, the plot is very solid and complex. It has the most cohesive story / explanation within Argento’s gialli cannon, save for Tenebrae. The title is in fact a reference to the multi-tailed whip use for torture. Not because the killer uses it as a weapon (that would be too good), but because the film’s investigation has nine leads.
Navigating these leads we have our main players— Cookie, an old blind puzzle maker who was once a journalist, and Giordani, the young gun reporter eager to uncover the truth. The two leads play off each other nicely and the chemistry comes across as natural. Banter and comedic moments in this film work well to lighten the mood, a nice surprise since Argento’s comedy / sense of humor usually comes off as awkward and weird.
The script is not without faults though. The female ‘love’ interest in particular is very wooden. The perfect combination of bad acting and clumsy writing lead to sex scene that is equally awkward and hilarious.
The complexity of the script is not helped at all by its presentation. Cat o’ Nine tails is a very different film visually in comparison Argento’s other gialli. Lush colors and fabulous outfits are replaced with a drab palette of browns and an endless swirl of grey suits. Save for some shots of the main research facility and a couple inclusions of some spiral staircases, the set pieces stand out less here as well. Some films might be able to pull this off, but the intricate plot combined with a series of sets and people that look and sound similar ultimately do more to hurt than help the viewer. Details of the plot are swallowed . You really have to pay attention to this film to get the most out of it.
The music of the film, like its visuals are vastly different from the usual Giallo fare. The main theme sounds like something out of a spaghetti western. Calm and peaceful but sounds out of place with the modern setting. Everything else in the sound track is very syncopated, almost free jazzy combined with dissonant ambient music. Many viewers, myself included, will initially be turned off by this, but I’ve found that it gets better with repeated viewings.
Repeated viewings will reward the Argento/giallo fan as the great puzzle of the plot reveals itself. The discordant soundtrack will begin to mimic scattered pieces falling into place, uncovering a solid mystery thriller that was shrouded by its presentation. Unfortunately, because this film is not as visually arresting as Argento’s other films many, understandably, will miss out on the first viewing. Fans of the genre should do their best to pay attention or give this film a second chance, rather than leaving its puzzle pieces scattered on the floor, or worse, in a box collecting dust.