The Cat O’Nine Tails (Blu-ray Review)

Dario Argento, be thy name!  Why So Blu and Blue Underground are back to bring you even more from the Italian master of horror in The Cat O’Nine Tails.  The Cat O’Nine Tails is Dario Argento’s second film in the so-called “Animal” trilogy, but unlike his “Three Mothers” trilogy later on you don’t really need to see these films in any sequential order.  They’re also referred to animal, because each contains a particular animal in the title of the film.  The first one is called The Bird With The Crystal Plumage, then The Cat O’Nine Tails, and finally Four Flies On Grey Velvet. No, none of these films deal with any animals either.  They’re also NOT horror films in the traditional sense.  Argento didn’t really get into the traditional horror theme until 1975 with Deep Red. Argento’s earlier work is classified as “giallo,” meaning thriller.  Okay, so without any more hesitation let’s dig into The Cat O’Nine Tails on Blu-ray! 


The Cat O’Nine Tails starts off with a simple robbery gone wrong and someone dead at a prestigious research facility.  A blind would-be witness (Karl Malden) who is a puzzle maker by profession teams up with a tenacious reporter (James Franciscus) who is looking for the latest scoop in the murder case.  Not only does the film start with one murder, the body count keeps on rising…and rising.  In one of the most unlikeliest team ups ever (unless there’s another Dario Argento film with a team up like this that I haven’t seen), will the reporter and the blind puzzle maker solve the case?  It’s a bit of a stretch, but so unique.  

The Cat O’Nine Tails would be Dario Argento’s second film in just over a year.  It’s the second film in his much acclaimed “Animal” trilogy.  These three films were murder mystery thrillers on acid.  In other words, they were very graphic, but had so many twists and turns that one could not just dismiss them as fluff.  This was the beginning of the 1970’s, so it was about to get real!

The Cat O’Nine Tails is extremely stylish, and provocative.  Ennio Moriccone provides the chilling score.  In my previous review of Deep Red I may have made mention that all of the great contemporary directors may have been influenced by Dario Argento.  I threw in names like John Carpenter and Quentin Tarantino on that one.  For The Cat O’Nine Tails I will throw in Brian De Palma into the mix.  Argento uses special techniques like the first person POV (point view) shot when having his characters talk to each other.  De Palma also uses this technique a lot.  What’s so cool is that this was forty years ago!  Argento seems to have been so cutting edge early on in his career that looking back at techniques like this boggle the mind.

The violence is very well staged and for the budget that they had to work with Argento was very ambitious.  You only know that the killer or killers are around when you see their pupil fill up the entire screen.  That’s their cue.  Keep in mind this is 1970.  It’s not some little portable high definition camera they stick in someone’s face.  It’s an entire rig!  Argento’s “fly on the wall” scenes are great, and how cutting edge is it that The Cat O’Nine Tails takes place in and around a genetics research laboratory?  There are scenes in which doctors and research scientists carry on about creating the perfect baby by altering the genetics at a microscopic level.  Gattaca anyone?  Awesome!

Once the film reaches the final act, you are warned to hold on tight, because you will be taken on a ride that will mess with your head and make you ask a lot of questions.  I wish I could get my hands on the now out-of-print Bird With The Crystal Plumage on Blu-ray.  It would be a treat to collect all of Dario Argento’s films from the animal trilogy.  For those interested, this version of The Cat O’Nine Tails is NOT RATED.


Blue Underground has bestowed upon The Cat O’Nine Tails a 1080p 2.35:1 widescreen picture.  I’m shocked that for a 40+ year film this print looks pretty spectacular!  Check out all of Catherine Spaak’s cutting edge fashion choices and you will see some stunning color clarity.  Film grain is consistent throughout with very few soft spots.  DNR was not applied.  Edge enhancement is also not an issue.  A few bits of dirt and debris creep up here and there, but you’ll most likely miss it.  This print was taken from the finest elements available and in this reviewer’s opinion, it’s pretty top notch. 


The Cat O’Nine Tails is presented in a 2.0 DTS-HD track and a 1.0 mono track for you purists out there.  I watched it in 2.0 and it was just okay, but being a bit above just okay.  It was okay squared.  Dialogue is clear and easy to listen to, although the depth of field is sort of non-existent.  It’s okay, because this isn’t a film filled with explosions or over the top action, it really isn’t called for it and does not take away from enjoying the film at all.  It’s an average soundtrack and I am happy with it.  The keywords are: Dialogue driven film. 

Special Features

The pickings are rather slim and short.  There are a few theatrical, television, and radio spots here for your enjoyment.  There’s a radio interview with the stars of the film James Franciscus and Karl Malden.  The best one of them all is a featurette with Dario Argento himself.  It runs about ten minutes.  Too short, though.

  • Tale of the Cat – Interviews with Writer/Director Dario Argento, Co-Writer Dardano Sacchetti, and Composer Ennio Morricone
  • Theatrical Trailers
  • TV Spots
  • Radio Spots
  • Radio Interviews with Stars James Franciscus and Karl Malden

Final Thoughts  

Blue Underground is doing a fantastic job releasing these awesome Dario Argento films that I’m hoping they will handle the catalog almost exclusively.  The Cat O’Nine Tails is an awesome multiple murder mystery highlighted by some great cinematography, production design, and music.  Several themes that were touched upon back in 1971 are shockingly still relevant and being talked about to this day.  I’ll leave it up to you if you want to play with The Cat O’Nine Tails on Blu-ray.  Meow.


Order The Cat O’Nine Tails on Blu-ray!


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