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  Crimes of the Black Cat Faster pussycat, kill, kill!
Year: 1972
Director: Sergio Pastore
Stars: Anthony Steffen, Sylva Koscina, Giacomo Rossi Stuart, Jeanette Len, Renato De Carmine, Umberto Raho, Romano Malaspina, Annabella Incontrera, Shirley Corrigan, Imelde Marani, Liliana Pavlo, Lorenzo Piani, Isabelle Marchal, Irio Fantini
Genre: Horror, Sex, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen... where a series of bizarre murders are occurring at the fashion boutique run by beautiful Francois Balli (Sylva Koscina) and her hunky husband Victor Morgan (Giacomo Rossi Stuart). The latest victim is leggy model Paola Whitney. Police initially suspect her recently dumped boyfriend, Peter Oliver (Anthony Steffen), a blind composer who turns detective to investigate these horrific crimes. Aided by Paola's comely roommate, Margot Thornhill (Shirley Corrigan), Peter discovers each victim received a mysterious basket delivered by a woman in white (Jeanette Len), but the case takes numerous twists and turns before his nightmarish confrontation with the brutal killer.

Italy was in the midst of a giallo boom by the early Seventies and as with the spaghetti western, spy spoof and gothic horror crazes that came before, imitation proved more commonplace than innovation. Crimes of the Black Cat lifts its blind hero from Dario Argento's international success Cat O' Nine Tails (1971), the high fashion setting from Mario Bava's Blood and Black Lace (1964) and an opening scene that vaguely recalls the then-recent smash hit The Case of the Bloody Iris (1971). Even Annabella Incontrera appears playing virtually the same slinky lesbian she did in that movie.

Yet Sergio Pastore proves even the most hackneyed ingredients can be recycled into an entertaining affair, especially when added to arguably the loopiest murder method in any gialli. This is the one where the murderer (dressed in a black hat, trench coat and leather gloves, of course) uses a leaping killer kitty whose claws are poisoned with curare! You've got to love it for that alone.

Plot elements date back even further to classic Hollywood thrillers like Eyes in the Night (1942) and 23 Paces to Baker Street (1956): e.g. the sightless and temperamental hero who overhears a crucial detail at a noisy bar; the devoted manservant (Umberto Raho); the showdown in a darkened apartment wherein the blind man has the advantage and uses a tape recorder to confuse the killer. What marks it above simple pastiche are touches of Italian flair ranging from Pastore's occasional psychedelic camera effects; an array of glamorous women in and out of chic outfits with plentiful nudity during the lingering sex scenes; and some notably vicious gore that reaches a crescendo during a grisly razor attack in the shower.

Though nowhere as audacious as an Argento film, the tangled mystery is quite well constructed though hindered by spaghetti western regular Anthony Steffen who is his usual stiff, noncommittal self. Most blind detectives are uncannily perceptive in other areas, but his senses border on the supernatural. Investigating Inspector Janssen (Renato Di Carmine) grows thoroughly sick of him turning up at the aftermath of every murder, although he himself is less than helpful, greeting his every observation with a flip remark. Jeanette Len evokes some sympathy for the once glamorous circus performer reduced to being the killer's drug-addled minion. The actress, whose real name was Giovanna Lenzi, was actually married to Sergio Pastore and previously appeared in his spaghetti western: Chrysanthemums for a Bunch of Swine (1968), which sounds more like the cry of an irate florist than something a gunslinger would say, but there you go. Lenzi later directed her own giallo, Delitti (1986), that was 'supervised' by Pastore and is commonly described as the worst ever made.

However, the real bravura, barnstorming turn comes courtesy of Sylva Koscina, glamorous star of Deadlier than the Male (1966) and A Lovely Way to Die (1968). Quite how they persuaded her to do what she does at the outrageous finale, we'll never know but Koscina provides this film's real show-stopper.

Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam


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