Tuesday, March 4, 2014

NINE GUESTS FOR A CRIME - DVD REVIEW


This is an entertaining and rarely seen giallo, and although it’s the second time it has appeared on the digital format, this release from genre specialists Camera Obscura is a very welcome one indeed.

On a bright, beautiful day on a desolate beach, a group of men armed with shotguns approach a couple making love.  As they get closer, the couple is startled and the guy makes a run for it, but he’s gorily blown to bits in a hail of shotgun fire.  Buried on the beach, the camera cuts to a close-up of the makeshift grave as a bloodied hand begins clawing out of the sand.

Following the credits, we’re promptly introduced to the “nine guests” aboard a large yacht on their way to an isolated house on the same stretch of beach from the opening.  Led by their stern father (Arthur Kennedy) and docile mother Elisabetta (Dana Ghia), this extended family also includes Lorenzo (John Richardson), Michele (Massimo Foschi) and Walter (Venantino Venantini), three brothers who, along with their superstitious sister Patrizia (Loretta Persichetti), are trying to enjoy their vacation with their respective wives, which include Greta (Rita Silva), Carla (Flavia Fabiani) and Giulia (Caroline Laurence). 

Upon their arrival, the whacky Patrizia has ominous premonitions about their idyllic vacation spot much to the irritation of everyone around her.  Despite the picturesque locales, she is soon overcome by the eerie calmness of the island highlighted by some light gusts of wind and the faint sound of seagulls in the distance but, before she gets too worried, she takes a swig of that proverbial Italian B-film standby, J&B Scotch.  As expected in any low-rent exploitation film, Patrizia’s premonitions about this “cursed island” become all too real when the two boat stewards are killed and the family yacht is put out to sea, yet no one suspects a thing because they’re too busy jumping in and out of each other’s beds.  When Carla mysteriously drowns, they decide to radio for help, and only then do they realise that their boat is missing raising tensions even further and, in turn, revealing many of the family’s dark secrets, including murder.
Greta (Rita Silva) cowers in the darkness.
Swiping elements from Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians in terms of its general scenario, director Baldi populates his film with a downright nasty group of people that are cheating, scheming or killing each other.  Headlined by Arthur Kennedy, the dependable cast of Italian exploitation vets handles the pulpy material with considerable relish and, although Kennedy is quite effective as the patriarchal figure, his role amounts to nothing more than an extended cameo.  Instead, it’s John Richardson that carries the bulk of the picture in this ensemble piece and he seems to be the only one that has any sort of conscience; his brothers on the other hand are a pair of heartless, self-centered bastards.

Essentially a spiced-up soap opera during the first half, Baldi still manages to conjure up a foreboding atmosphere even though he gets caught up in some typical ‘70s sleaze.  At one point, Patrizia is stressed out and decides to “cool off” at one of the outdoor showers while Sergio Rubini’s camera scrutinizes her naked body.  Further flirtatious interludes take up a large portion of the running time while the entire female cast is either parading around in bikini’s or see-thru nightgowns, which definitely provides the film with the requisite amount of cheesecake.  Thankfully though, instead of just another hodgepodge of naked flesh, Baldi infuses all of the nocturnal infidelities with a sense of unease and dread, as every shadowy corner and creaky door becomes a possible threat.  The rocky, windswept landscapes of Sardinia (where the film was shot) also add to the eerie atmosphere; never has a picturesque vacation destination looked so bleak. 

Camera Obscura’s new DVD is certainly up to their high standards with a beautiful, widescreen transfer, but unlike the earlier Italian DVD from Surf Video, this edition features both the Italian and German language versions with optional English and German subtitles.  Extras include a 26-minute on-camera interview with Massimo Foschi and an entertaining audio commentary with film historians Christian Kessler and Marcus Stiglegger (in German with optional English subtitles), a trailer, a poster/still gallery as well as an informative 24-page liner notes booklet including an interview with production designer Giovanni Licheri.  As usual, the price tag is a little expensive, but well worth it.  Order it from Diabolik DVD.

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