Well, it’s one of those great yarns, and it’s just as simple as that. In fact, it’s what one might call about as miniscule a probable set-up for a whodunnit is humanly possible: ten strangers are brought together under one roof, and they mysteriously begin turning up dead. Naturally, the room is filled with folks growing increasingly paranoid – am I next, what did I do, who is doing this to us – and in most instances when I’ve seen it I think it’s worked to perfection. Granted, I may’ve had some quibbles with how the basic formula has evolved or been tweaked creatively over the years, but you can’t escape the fact that the founding premise – when done correctly – makes for excellent drama.
So having been familiar with a variety of produced interpretations – both official and a few unofficial ones – I was excited about the prospect of watching The Killer Reserved Nine Seats (1974). Yes, I’d heard about it, but a full sit-down with any version of it had simply escaped me over the years. With with the release of Arrow Video’s Giallo Essentials (Black Edition), I can finally rectify this oversight.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last few paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
“Eccentric nobleman Patrick Davenant invites an assortment of wealthy degenerates to tour the theatre attached to his ancestral home. Before long, however, the assembled pleasure-seekers find themselves locked inside along with a ruthless killer, who proceeds to pick them off one by one using a variety of brutal and creative methods.”
Putting as fine a point on my disappointment with The Killer Reserved Nine Seats as I can is a difficult prospect, mostly because I think the film underperforms in a surprising number of ways. Despite having a script filled to the brim with some vile and despicable characters, the viewer is never truly convinced to loathe them perhaps the way we should. Instead, we’re taken on a journey through their separate and collective demise, some deaths a bit bloodier than others. But because we most likely never cared about them in the beginning, then I’m left with the biggest question of all: “Why should I care that they’re gone?”
Therein lies the biggest problem: there’s no one in this mild potboiler worth really caring about.
When you’re expected to endure any mystery, the general idea is that you – as a viewer – grow to care about some in the cast, so much so that in the very least you’d hope this person would find a way to survive. But The Killer’s cast is an assort of back-stabbing ne’er-do-wells – a collection of swindlers who’ve both crossed and double-crossed one another so much – that I started rooting for the mysterious killer to simply finish this whole thing up so we can all go home. Well, those of us left breathing, that is.
Because the script as presented genuinely never crafts a good guy – an everyman or an anyone who’s merely circumstantially caught up in this bloody showdown – I couldn’t decide how much the director wanted to me invest in the tale. Without any attachment, is this all just for the sake of murdering these folks? None of these players truly seem to care about one another … so am I supposed to legitimately care about them? And why are they all stupid enough to wander off in a darkened theatre alone when they know someone’s out to kill them one-by-one? No wonder the killer is having a field day!
Yes, yes, yes. I get that it’s murder, and murder is wrong, no matter the degree or circumstance. But in life there’s also this little thing called karma, and karma always reminds us – in no uncertain terms – that just as good things happen to good people bad things befall the bad ones. Given that each of these players is kinda/sorta exposed as being a low-down dirty shame to begin with, am I to really miss them when they check out? If so, then isn’t all of this just a bit too gratuitous? Were that the case, then I’d be celebrating their demise, but most of this happens with fairly benign presentation … another bit of a surprise given the fact that this is advertised all over the place as being ‘giallo’ (which typically means a tad more blood).
Still, the pulse was just too weak … and we lost the picture.
The Killer Reserved Nine Seats (1974) was produced by Cinenove. DVD distribution (for this particular release) is being handled by the good people at Arrow Video. As for the technical specifications? Though I am no trained video expert, I thought this 2K restoration looks and sounds very good from start-to-finish. As for the special features? Besides the fact that this is a new restoration from the original camera negative, the disc boasts:
- An audio commentary by author and critic Kat Ellinger;
- An interview will actor Howard Ross;
- An interview with screenwriter Biagio Proietti;
- The theatrical trailer;
- An image gallery; and
- A collector’s booklet with production info and an essay by Peter Jilmstad.
(Only) Mildly Recommended.
1974’s The Killer Reserved Nine Seats is a giallo that I really wanted to like, mostly because I felt that the story represented an almost bare-bones, back-to-basics approach to a murder mystery form. While I’d concede that it had a few good performances – and an absolutely killer setting – it just failed to involve or excite me on any level. There’s no creation of suspense – nor any palpable sense of tension – in the inevitable middling affair. “Will anyone survive?” Well, you never made me care … so there’s that.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Arrow Video provided me with a complimentary copy of The Killer Reserved Nine Seats (1974) by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review; and their contribution to me in no way, shape, or form influenced my opinion of it.