Wealthy aristocrat Patrick Davenant (Chris Avram) invites nine guests to a party at an abandoned theater. They include his ex-wife Vivian (Rosanna Schiaffino), much younger new girlfriend Kim (Janet Agren), daughter Lynn (Paola Senatore), sister Rebecca (Eva Czemerys), her lesbian lover Doris (Lucretia Love), smarmy artist Russell (Howard Ross), Vivian's jealous husband Albert (Andrea Scotti) and Lynn's snarky boyfriend Duncan (Gaetano Russo). Plus a creepy stranger in a Nehru jacket (Eduardo Filipone). No-one seems to know who invited him nor who he is. While the guests bitch and snipe at each other, or else sneak away for some illicit hanky-panky, a mysterious murderer in a silly mask starts bumping them off, one by one. When Patrick and his friends try to escape, they find the door is locked. They are trapped inside the theater with a merciless killer.
An Agatha Christie-inspired giallo that draws very loosely from Ten Little Indians the silly, frankly nonsensical L'Assassino ha riservato nove poltrone (The Killer Reserved Nine Seats) marks the evolutionary dead-end of a style for which Mario Bava set the template with Four Dolls for an August Moon (1970). Other examples include Ferdinando Baldi's equally tiresome Nine Guests for a Crime (1977), Stelvio Masi's equally misogynistic Five Women for the Killer (1974) and arguably even Michele Soavi's superior Stagefright (1987). In these body-count pictures the mystery is less important than the murders and opportunities for sleaze along the way. Later this style of giallo had a significant impact on American slasher movies. Adjust the age of the cast and this lot are no different from the dumb, horny teenagers Jason Voorhees or Michael Myers bump off in their respective franchises. To slasher film fans it will come as no surprise the entrapped victims-to-be don't let a little thing like murder get in the way of their sex lives, wander off alone, canoodle then die. Naturally each of the attractive actresses disrobes before director Giuseppe Bennati stages the clumsy murders for maximum misogyny. Indeed Bennati includes a scene with a lesbian character stabbed repeatedly in her genitals anticipating the equally offensive set-piece in Dario Argento's slapdash The Mother of Tears (2007).
Certainly the spooky old theatre injects an eerie atmosphere ("Looks like Dracula's summer home", quips the boorish Russell). It is a wonder any of them set foot in there in the first place. Bennati's prowling camera adds some menace to proceedings though he also recycles shots to dull effect and stages the murders in lazy fashion. What is more the filling between murders is the worst sort of daytime soap opera drivel. Bennati's clunky script, co-written with Paolo Levi and Biagio Proietti, is riddled with logic holes and trots out a hokey supernatural angle, twisted family back-story, vague Catholic allegory and Scooby-Doo motives in a vain bid to paper over glaring cracks. And speaking of Scooby-Doo, the killer's ridiculous mask (which makes the guilty party look vaguely like Cameron Mitchell in a clown nose and curly blonde wig) is liable to draw more chuckles than shudders. An eclectic cast including classy international star Rosanna Schiaffino, giallo regulars Chris Avram, Eva Czemerys and Lucretia Love, future hardcore porn star Paola Senatore and later zombie and cannibal film staple Janet Agren (looking especially lovely) struggle to muster a single convincing reaction to increasingly absurd events.
Bennati shuns a crucial component in the mechanics of the suspense thriller: compelling protagonists. By making the women hysterical neurotics and the men macho swine that slap them silly and having everyone hiss and bitch at each other constantly, he invites viewers to derive voyeuristic pleasure from seeing them 'punished.' If The Killer Reserved Nine Seats is irredeemable as a narrative, at least it is watchable as camp. Typically for a giallo the score by Carlo Savina interweaves lovely melodies with smooth grooves. Buy the soundtrack, spare yourself the movie.