Nine Guests For A Crime (1977)

AUGUST 22, 2022


For the past couple years, Vinegar Syndrome has been releasing three-film sets of "Forgotten Gialli", offering a spotlight to the ones that fell beneath the cracks for one reason or another (rights issues and, occasionally, the quality of the films themselves being the primary culprits). They're on the 5th volume now, and while I haven't watched every film on the previous sets, I'm comfortable saying that Nine Guests For A Crime (Italian: Nove ospiti per un delitto) may be my absolute favorite discovery on these sets thus far. If they could find a movie this fun on even *every other* volume, it'd be worth picking them up and keeping the series going until they run out of options.

Like The Killer Is One Of Thirteen, which appeared on an earlier set, the film is loosely based on Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None (aka... well, you can look it up. Oof), concerning a group of folks on a secluded island who all seem to have reason to be the killer that keeps whittling down their number. This particular group is a family comprised of patriarch Uberto (Arthur Kennedy) and his three children (two sons, one daughter) and their respective spouses, as well as his sister and his new, much younger bride. And the movie hilariously introduces them all by piling up the red herrings/potential motives: one of them asks if she brought her guns, Kennedy's wife and one of the sons' wives trade barbs about their respective infidelities, the two brothers don't get along, etc. We're also informed about how the boat is the only way to get off the island, and even when they arrive they're still adding more foreshadowing elements ("Where is my underwater breather?" someone muses, forty minutes before someone "drowns"). With so many gialli overloading their final ten minutes with exposition to explain everything, I was completely charmed that this one seemed to be trying to get everything out of the way quickly instead.

(Amusingly, one thing we see when they arrive is a giant cannon but it plays no part in the proceedings. Chekov must be weeping into his gun.)

It's also a supremely horny entry in the sub-genre, which you wouldn't think would be the case considering it's only a family unit (the one non family member, Kennedy's assistant, is the first to die). They're on the island for about twenty minutes before one woman is sleeping with her brother-in-law, and another son is also shacking up with his father's new bride (so, his own stepmother) in plain sight of the old man! And (spoiler for 45 year old movie ahead) while he dies before realizing it, it turns out his wife is actually his first cousin. You get the idea that if there wasn't a standard killer, these folks might end up just killing each other out of jealous rage over everyone being cuckolded by their own family members.

As for the killer plot, it's a pretty decent one, though the math is a little fuzzy when all the pieces are in place (too complicated to explain here, but basically the killer should appear younger than they do). Also it's a little hard to track how everyone is related; I had to laugh that the IMDb actually lists the genealogy next to the character's names ("Lorenzo / Uberto's son") but even they screw it up, listing someone as a daughter of a character they are actually older than. After I finished I rewatched the introductory scene, both to giggle at the foreshadowing (which was apparent even the first time around, but now 100% clear) and just to recontextualize everyone's interactions now that I knew how they actually related to each other. It's not impossible like some movies (looking at you, Home Sweet Home), but definitely takes a little bit of sorting out in your head to keep straight.

And now the most important aspect of any proper giallo: How is the J&B used? Well, I'm here to tell you that, in all the years of watching these things, I've never seen that familiar green bottle introduced so randomly. In the middle of a scene inside, they cut to Uberto's daughter (who is outside) as she makes her away across a patio, grabs a glass, then reaches inside a giant wooden duck (!) and pulls it out, pouring herself a glass. Then it cuts back to the woman inside. It's almost like they realized they had a contract to show the bottle in the first 15 minutes or whatever and desperately inserted the shot in the middle of a scene to make sure they didn't get fined or something. I was cackling for five straight minutes over the audacity.

Hilariously, the bottle is referenced during the disc's lone interview, with actor Massimo Foschi (who plays the son who is banging his own stepmom). It's a bit rambly, including a lengthy discussion of a prop liver he had to eat in a cannibal movie a few years later, but it's got some good stuff, including how he was instructed to make sure that the label could be seen whenever he had to pour a drink. He also keeps the film's vaguely incest-y theme extended to reality, seemingly suggesting he had an affair with the woman who played his sister (when asked about her he says something like "She was better off screen than on" and smiles before changing the subject). The only other extra is an audio essay, though it plays over a still of the film's title card instead of the appropriate footage, so I had trouble concentrating on it.

Honestly, even if the other two films on the set are duds, this one would be a worthy entry to the growing Forgotten Gialli collection (this is the 5th volume, to be clear). The discs aren't as feature-heavy as Vinegar's standalone sets, but ultimately that stuff doesn't matter - it's rescuing these obscure films and giving them a noticeable platform to make sure they find the audience they deserve. Plus, I still feel guilty writing up a review before I've gone through the extras, so when they're jam-packed I almost kind of sigh sometimes, as watching three commentary tracks (cough, the new Dog Soldiers 4K release, cough) means I could have watched three other movies in their entirety with that time. And they could be as fun as this! I haven't even mentioned the all-timer final shot before credits, which had me laughing even longer than I did at the J&B bottle. If you prefer your gialli to be serious, I'd steer clear, but if you, like me feel that the crasser the better, then by all means dive right into this one.

What say you?


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