Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Nove ospiti per un delitto (1977)

... aka: La morte viene dal passato (Death Comes from the Past)
... aka: Neun Gäste für den Tod (Nine Guests for Death)
... aka: Nine Guests for a Crime
... aka: Un urlo nella notte (A Scream in the Night)

Directed by:
Ferdinando Baldi

Here's yet another murder-mystery obviously inspired by a novel you may have heard of written by an author you may have heard of. The name Agatha Christie ring a bell? We'll just call this one Nine Little Indians. This actually has quite a bit in common with Mario Bava's earlier giallo / mystery 5 Dolls for an August Moon (1970). Both are set on an island in a swank house, involve a bunch of rich, backstabbing types, feature money as a primary driving force of the characters and feature a killer amongst them bumping everyone off. While not completely awful, 5 Dolls was one of the worst films Bava ever made. We'll see how this one fairs. Things open with a rather intriguing flashback as four guys (we only see their legs and feet) spy on a couple making love on the beach. The men then startle them, shoot the guy multiple times (including once in the face) and bury him alive in the sand. After they leave, the victim's hand emerges from the sand and his fingers twitch before a frame freeze, which could mean either he's just taken his last dying breath or perhaps he has somehow managed to survive the attack.

We then meet a group of nine people aboard a yacht who are heading to an uninhabited Mediterranean isle for a two week vacation. On the island, almost hidden among the rock cliffs, is a large stone vacation home owned by the old and filthy rich Uberto (Arthur Kennedy). Uberto's much younger trophy wife Giulia (Caroline Laurence), his sister Elisabetta (Dana Ghia) and three of his grown children plus their spouses are the “nine guests” of the title... and seemingly none of these people can stand one another!

Son Michele (Massimo Foschi) has a wife named Carla (“Flavia Fabiani” / Sofia Dionisio) and sums their relationship up best by confiding to Giulia that “Aside from being frigid, she's also stupid.” Michele and Guilia are actually lovers themselves; something both the father and wife seem to know about yet never mention. Youngest son Lorenzo (John Richardson) is saddled with a nasty piece of work named Greta (Rita Silva), who parades around naked and uses her husband's impotence against him by screwing pretty much anyone available and then flipping it all around on him because he's not a “real man.” Finally, daughter Patrizia (Loretta Persichetti) is a drunk, an all-around Debbie Downer and a shrill clairvoyant whose poor hubby Walter (Venantino Venantini) has to keep in line as she hysterically shrieks out comments like "Blood! Blood!" and “You can smell death in the air!” One of the biggest laughs in the film is her going on an intense rant about how she can hear seagulls on this bird-less island and how those are actually the souls of men who have died at sea and he just rolls his eyes and walks away.

The thoroughly unlikable characters gripe, scowl, screw around and plot against one another, little realizing that someone wearing a black diving suit has already killed the two sailors who brought them there, hidden their yacht and disabled their smaller boat, effectively stranding them. And then they start dying one by one... There's death by gunshot, stabbing, drowning, smothering with a pillow, strangulation, decapitation, being pushed off a cliff onto rocks, getting burned alive and, the bloodiest bit by far, being shot through the neck with a harpoon gun.

The best mystery movies keep you guessing, provide unforeseen plot twists that are plausible within the film's narrative and manage to undermine your expectations and surprise you by the end. This one does none of that. It's one of those movies where everyone potentially has a motive to kill (as is usually the case when an inheritance is involved) yet one possibility seems so obvious from so early on that you're positive that's not where they're going... until they do. Predictability ends up relegating this mostly to the travelogue category as this features some breathtaking scenery in Sardinia. Any time the action moved outside I found myself more interested in looking at the water and rocks than reading the subtitles.

This also has a decent amount of T&A with every actress (aside from the older aunt) doing at least one nude scene, sometimes multiple ones. I've seen comments from some reviewers noting that the male cast members are fairly well known yet the females aren't. I think that all boils down to this being shot at the tail end of the giallo cycle. Most of the actresses who'd made a name for themselves in the 60s and early 70s were now (gasp!) over the age of 30 and thus likely deemed “over the hill” for a film that insists on romantic pairings of men in their 40s with women in their 20s. I guess it at least makes some sense when shallow rich guys go for a young gold digger who only wants money, but seeing how the rich daughter picks for herself the oldest guy of the bunch, this is just another case of cinematic daddy complex.

Aside from working as associate producer / unit manager on Bava's excellent THE WHIP AND THE BODY (1963) and directing the sleaze-fest TERROR EXPRESS (1980), this was the only time the director ever dabbled in the genre. His biggest success of all was the 3D western Comin' At Ya! (1981), which is often cited as the film that kick started a brief early 80s 3D craze. Baldi and his crew even got to make another 3D film; the adventure Treasure of the Four Crowns (1983), though that one flopped. I don't believe this was ever officially released in the U.S., though the German company Camera Obscura issued a DVD in 2014 with English subtitles.

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