So you say you’re itching to watch a mystery - an old fashioned, pick ‘em off one by one whodunnit that ratchets up the tension until you’re begging the filmmakers to spill the beans? Well, consider that particular itch scratched. But believe me when I tell you that The Killer Reserved Nine Seats (1974) has different itches moving around for its whole running time, offering up gothic soap, incest, lesbianism, copious amounts of nudity, a bit o’ bloodletting, ghosts, and a goofy clear mask-wearing killer. The Italians have always been kitchen sink susceptible with their exploitation, and The Killer Reserved Nine Seats leaves nothing behind but the pipes.
Successful in its homeland, the film certainly has the tech specs afforded bigger productions; well shot by Giuseppe Aquari (Frankenstein: Italian Style), it features a large and attractive cast put through a Ten Little Indians scenario in an abandoned manor. If it already sounds very Italian, that’s because the influence of Mario Bava’s Twitch of the Death Nerve (‘71) looms large - a group of greedy sycophants being knocked off was nothing particularly new even at the time. But The Killer Reserved Nine Seats utilizes the full palette afforded director Giuseppe Bennati (The Mine). And by full palette I mean a proclivity towards juggling multiple characters in a scoreboard-needed screenplay by Bennati, Paolo Levi (OK Connery), and Biagio Proietti (The Black Cat). This thing is busy and expects you to follow along (at your own peril, of course).
To wit: Patrick Davenant (Chris Avram - speaking of Twitch) brings a group of friends and family to his ancestral villa, where a massacre occurred one hundred years previous; once everyone is inside, the doors lock with Patrick and his guests trapped with not only a masked murderer intent on trimming the fat, but the ghost of Patrick’s relative as well. Sprinkle liberally with female flesh. Serves six.
Look, The Killer Made A Reservation For Nine will receive no more of a plot summary from me than is necessary, partly because it would inhale most of the piece, and mostly because for the life of me I don’t know who is who.
I know who the people are, but their relationships to each other are as complicated as a dozen arcs on a soap opera: Patrick’s ex-wife is there, as is his daughter, her girlfriend, an ex of the daughter’s, an ex of the exes, and possibly the family orthodontist. Is it the fault of the film or my encroaching senility?
Columns A and B take a bow; the film handicaps itself by offering up 10 characters all at once, and leaving it to the viewer to take in every drop of moving exposition along the way. Perhaps super keen attentiveness is required, or at the very least a spreadsheet apropos of the time.
But the charming thing is The Killer Mixed Up The Reservation And Made It For Six People At Nine believes it is a dignified reading in an Agatha Christie setting; certainly the aristocracy (to be mocked, of course) is trotted out, the elite getting their just desserts for all that avarice. The addition of the spectral guest takes the film in a decidedly supernatural direction, while fulfilling its giallo duties via knife and nails. Not only doesn’t it hurt the flow of the film, it fills out any lulls lurking around a cobwebbed corner.
In between the slashings and spooks lie several incidents of convenient hysteria, and acerbic bon mots flung amongst the lovers and their myriad of exes; in fact the dialogue is quite enjoyable in parts, at least when they exchange catty remarks. The Killer Was Accommodated By The Restaurant, Who Fixed The Reservation is aided immeasurably by the manor, which houses a self contained theatre put to good use. The story itself should not be so closely scrutinized. Because if the viewer does, they’re going to find an arbitrary reveal of the only person who should have been the sole suspect all along; no, one is best to focus on the mystery’s peripheral to find the truly enjoyable stuff.
Our killer’s outfit is a strange mix of trad giallo materials (all black, no gloves no loves) and translucent half mask, with red hair resembling nothing so much as a rejected Ralph the Mouth Halloween headpiece. And yet, it works - when Bennati isn’t forcing the killer into the lighted hallways (which is often). But while the violence overall is fairly tame (other than a semi-crucifixion), Bennati is very liberal with the disrobing of almost every female cast member. (Perhaps all - mammary exhaustion does occur at some point. It’s real; don’t look it up.)
So, The Killer Had Reservations For Nine, At Six isn’t a first rate giallo, nor a top shelf supernatural one; but simply having those elements entwined with the amusing melodrama is enough to make it a groovy ‘70s artifact with a solid set of pipes.
The Killer Reserved Nine Seats is available to stream on Amazon Prime.Next: Drive-In Dust Offs: MANSION OF THE DOOMED (1976)