Color, 1977, 88m.
Directed by Ferdinando Baldi
Starring Arthur Kennedy, John Richardson, Massimo Foschi, Sofia Dionisio, Dana Ghia, Venantino Venantini, Loretta Persichetti
Camera Obscura (DVD) (Austria R2 PAL), Surf (Italy R2 PAL) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
Another day, another
giallo gem from Camera Obscura. This time out we have one of the later twists on the whole "group of people getting knocked off in a beautiful location" formula, churned out as the genre was getting sleazier and cheaper in the latter half of the '70s. Nine Guests for a Crime is the handiwork of the late Ferdinando Baldi, a director best known for his spaghetti westerns like Blindman and Comin' at Ya! However, as he proved with the ultra-sleazy Terror Express, he could splash around in sleazy waters as well as anyone, and this one definitely fits in that category.
This time out, a prologue involving man getting attacked and buried in the sand while still alive sets the tone for this sun and surf slasher film in which rich, older businessman Ubaldo (Living Dead at Manchester Morgue's Kennedy) hauls his family to an isolated villa on a rocky island. On the boat ride over they swap observations like "My dear, why don't you think about all the times you betrayed your husband," just the first of many catty, sex-obsessed exchanges during the running time. Once they arrive the squabbling escalates, the blouses start falling off, and important pistols get tucked away for safety in metal boxes we just know will come in handy later. Then a killer in a scuba outfit pops up to to fire a flare gun into one of the family's nameless sailors and stashes the yacht out of sight, leaving everyone stranded on the island to swim, fish, and die. Meanwhile one of Ubaldo's sons, Michele (Jungle Holocaust's Foschi), keeps making the movies on his dad's sexy new wife (Persichetti) while his own "frigid" and "stupid" spouse (Emmanuelle 2's Laurence) turns a blind eye. Michele's two brothers, Lorenzo (Torso's Richardson) and Walter (City of the Living Dead's Venantini), have their own domestic issues to deal with, but that all falls by the wayside when the bodies start piling up (and disappearing at random). Then the survivors stumble on a literal skeleton in their closet connected to Ubaldo's spinster sister, Elizabeth (Ghia), and all hell really breaks loose.
Though too formulaic to be a classic, Nine Guests for a Crime is a lively and entertaining offering crammed with some surprisingly vicious murder scenes (one character getting wrapped in a net and set ablaze is particularly harrowing). The ridiculously overqualified cast easily elevates the script by Fabio Pittorru, the scribe behind the very similar The Weekend Murders as well as other gialli like The NIght Evelyn Came Out of the Grave and The Red Queen Kills Seven Times, while composer Carlo Savina drapes it all in a slinky score complete with liberal quotations from his work on Lisa and the Devil. Basically imagine a much raunchier, bloodier remake of Mario Bava's Five Dolls for an August Moon, and you'll get the idea.
Again coming to the salvation of a title long unavailable in a decent edition (most widely seen in fan subbed bootlegs of the improperly flagged Italian DVD), Camera Obscura decks this film out with a deluxe edition starting with a very impressive transfer of the main feature itself. The opening is shot with intentionally distressed contrast and a gauzy fabric over the camera to create a hazy atmosphere, but don' t be alarmed; after that everything is sharp and quite visually satisfying, though the film itself has a very bright, gritty texture throughout. As usual, the mono audio is presented in the original Italian and German dubbed with optional subtitles in English and German. (Apart from Kennedy, pretty much everyone appears to be speaking Italian so that track works quite well.) There's a fine audio commentary in German (with optional English subs) by Christian Kessler and Marcus Stiglegger, who go into exhaustive detail about the actors, run through the ins and outs of Baldi's strange filmography, and in the most hilarious detour, discuss their own contrasting preferences in women by comparing the actresses in the film.
As for the rest, the major video extra is the 26-minute "Nine Little Indians," with Foschi (speaking in Italian with optional English or German subs) sketching out the basics of his career beginnings and chatting about shooting in Sardinia, working with the "paternalistic" Kennedy, espousing the virtues of living in Tuscany, and the only gory scene he ever shot that he felt was really necessary. As a bonus, you also get the really crazy (textless) Italian trailer, a gallery of stills and poster art, and a liner notes booklet containing an essay by Kai Naumann (who charts the influence of Agatha Christie's Ten Little Indians on this and the thriller format in general) and a text interview with production designer Giovanni Licheri, who covers his collaboration with Baldi and shares a particularly funny anecdote about the victim in the film's opening scene.
Buy in the U.S. from Diabolik DVD
Reviewed on February 25, 2014.