31 Days of Horror: The Killer Reserved Nine Seats (1974)

the killer reserved nine seats

A rich man, Patrick Davenant (Chris Avram) invites a group of friends to an old abandoned theater that he owns. Once there they get locked inside and someone starts killing them one by one. Who is the killer? Why is he or she killing these nine people?

The Killer Reserved Nine Seats is an Italian Giallo by way of Agatha Christie.

All of the guests are financially connected to Davenant, in that he mostly supports them through various means. His death will benefit them all in various ways. It is his life that is almost taken first. I say almost because he is saved at the last minute. A large beam is cut free from its holding rope and it drops down on top of him, but just seconds before someone calls the man’s name, he moves and is saved.

Others are not so lucky. As the bodies pile up so do the accusations as to who could be the killer.

But first, there is a lot of silliness. Because this is a 1970s Italian Giallo and not some actual Christie adaptation by the BBC or some old 1940s movie, the characters spend a lot of their time taking off their clothes and getting horny with one another. What I love about that stuff is they are getting naked with one another even after the bodies start piling up.

There is one scene in which one of the women is attacked by the killer (he’s in a mask so she can’t tell who it is). She screams and shouts for help. A man comes in and fights off the killer. The woman escapes and runs to the others. None of them believe her. They say she is hysterical and hallucinating. When they return to the room where she was attacked and find the man who helped her dead by hanging. They decide he was the real killer and guilt drove him to suicide.

I couldn’t help but watch this scene and think of the #metoo movement. About all the statistics showing that when women cry for help, when they report harassment and sexual assault they all so often aren’t believed. I have no idea if the filmmakers were thinking about such things when they created this scene, but it feels very modern.

The script is mostly nonsense. At least the parts I could understand. There were several moments in which the characters inexplicably started speaking Italian and there were no subtitles. Italian films from this era often had the actors speak in whatever language was native to them, and then they would dub in the proper languages in post-production. Presumably, these sections were moments when the English dub has been lost.

What works in the film is its vibe. The theater setting gives us several different locations with different feels. The stage has working sets for the characters to play with. Curtains rise and fall. The auditorium and lobby are beautiful and ornate. The backstage area is filled with props and costumes. Upstairs the attic is dusty and filled with cobwebs. There is even an old crypt filled with candles downstairs. All of this gives the film atmosphere. The women are dressed in fabulous gowns, and the men are in nice suits. The camera moves about, and the lighting is filled with shadows.

I love that stuff. I can put up with all sorts of bewildering things in a script if the filmmaking is interesting.

31 Days of Horror: Macabre (1980)

macabre poster

There has been a lot of discourse over on Twitter lately about how cinema is more than just plot. This stems from a certain contingency of filmbros who loudly complain about things like perceived plot holes or a lack of narrative or some other problem within the film’s story without paying attention to the atmosphere or direction, acting or other aspects of a film’s artistry. The argument is that what makes movies special is not what actually happens, but how it happens, or how the story is told.

Lamberto Bava’s first film as a director Macabre is a good example of what I’m talking about. The plot is razor-thin. A woman returns to a rambling old mansion where she rents an apartment after being away for several years. The apartment is not her home, but rather a place she used to sneak away to and have an extra-marital affair. This was before her daughter drowned her son and before an automobile accident decapitated her lover (which happened just moments after she learned about the dead son). The reason she was away was due to being in a mental institute, having broken down after those two deaths.

All of this happens within the first five minutes of the film. For the rest of the movie the lady spends most of her time in her apartment having spirited relations with some unknown lover all the while the blind man who owns the building listens attentively downstairs. The woman’s daughter (who was not arrested for her brother’s murder as she made it look like an accident) periodically shows up and asks a lot of questions.

There is a mystery around the woman’s lover as he is never seen. And she has the freezer locked up for some reason. It is pretty easy to figure out what’s going on, especially since the posters and synopsis tend to give away the surprise.

But Bava (who is the son of Mario Bava, one of the grandfathers of Italian horror) knows how to make a movie, even when the plot is slim and rather hokey. The mansion is filled with creaky old stuff and interesting bric-a-brac. He films it from various angles with lots of shadows and light giving it a great gothic feel.

It reminded me a lot of really old films that clearly didn’t have much of a budget and were hemmed in by the censors from creating something really creepy. But were still able to create a mood, a vibe, and then had some ridiculous twist at the end. Bava does his best to create tension about what it is that freezer. He moves his camera slowly towards it, adds in mysterious music, etc. Even though you know what it is, and how ridiculous the idea is, you are still along for the ride. At least I was.