Review: The Cat o’ Nine Tails

James Franciscus and Karl Malden in “The Cat o’ Nine Tails.”

When a string of murders unfolds across Turin, it’s up to a hard-bitten reporter (James Franciscus) and a blind puzzle-designer (Karl Malden) to solve the crimes and uncover their connection to genetic research conducted at the shady Terzi Institute.

“The Cat o’ Nine Tails” is a classic noir tale, complete with detectives, a femme fatale and a trail of clues, filmed with all the cavemannish bravado a youthful Dario Argento had to offer. Six years before the nightmare fantasy of “Suspiria,” Argento had no less an eye for the lurid and the macabre. In 1970s Turin, skirts are short, neckties are loud, cars are small and the blood that spatters each crime scene is impossibly red, the color of nail polish. In one memorable scene, a victim is thrown under a train, treating the audience to a shot of a dummy flailing around bizarrely with its head stuck to a rotating rail wheel. Cut-rate, audiobookish English dubbing only adds to the feeling of garish creepiness.

In spite of its coarse-grained charms, there’s only so far one can go in praising a film with an incomprehensible plot, crude editing and opaque, one-dimensional characters. When “The Cat o’ Nine Tails” was released on Blu-ray in 2012, Argento remarked that it was his worst film. Perhaps he was right, but “The Cat o’ Nine Tails” will still satisfy any viewer with a craving for Hitchcock al giallo.