The Killer Reserved Nine Seats Blu-ray Review
Blu-ray Release: July 26, 2022 (Giallo Essentials: Black Edition)
Audio: English and Italian LPCM 1.0 Mono
Subtitles: English, English SDH
Run Time: 103:01
Director: Giuseppe Bennati
Note: As of this writing, this Blu-ray is only available as part of Arrow’s Giallo Essentials: Black Edition three-movie set along with Silvio Amadio’s Smile Before Death (Italian: Il sorriso della Jena, 1972) and Francesco Mazzei’s The Weapon, the Hour, the Motive (Italian: L'arma, l'ora, il movente, 1972).
An assortment of wealthy degenerates answer the summons of an eccentric nobleman (Chris Avram) and assemble in the theater attached to his ancestral home, only to find themselves trapped in the decaying building while a savage killer picks them off. (From Arrow’s official synopsis)
By 1974, Italy’s giallo fad was already beginning to burn itself out, leading many finance-driven filmmakers to set their work apart with increases in sex and voilence, rather than innovations in technical direction or storytelling. Still, the Dario Argento template had faded, allowing creative types more room for experimentation. While some directors took a surrealistic or hallucinogenic approach, Giuseppe Bennati, along with co-writers Paolo Levi & Biagio Proietti, opted to take the genre back to its deepest roots in Gothic fiction and Agatha Christie murder mysteries. His first and only giallo (not to mention final film as a writer or director), The Killer Reserved Nine Seats (Italian: L'assassino ha riservato nove poltrone), is, essentially, Christie’s And Then There Were None (aka: Ten Little Indians, originally published 1939) meets Gaston Leroux’s Phantom of the Opera (French: Le Fantôme de l'Opéra, originally published 1909) filtered through a hip Italian thriller lens.
Like a Christie story, the first act is devoted to setting up the characters and, like a Christie ensemble, their interlocking dramas establish a myriad of motives. From Leroux, the film borrows the idea of the killer’s vengeance being tied to a local legend. Because it is a giallo, however, characters spend a lot more time escaping each other’s company in order to have illicit sex and try on clothes. You know, the usual. Bennati, who hadn’t specialized in any particular genre throughout his career, seems most comfortable staging dramatic reveals and exposition dumps, meaning that fans of Dario Argento, Sergio Martino, or Umberto Lenzi’s approaches to the genre should adjust their expectations to match the film’s drawing room mystery ambitions, at least until about halfway through, when the killer dons a truly chilling mask and begins stalking people (one such death, though largely implied beneath the frame, is particularly brutal). The Killer Reserved Nine Seats isn’t quite a postmodern genre piece on par with something like Wes Craven’s Scream (1996), but Bennati does actively contrast the conventions of two different eras in filmmaking. Its closest cousin is Mario Bava’s Baron Blood (Italian: Gli orrori del castello di Norimberga, 1972), which skirts the line between the director’s influential Gothic and giallo aesthetics, and is built on the subtext of the traditional rising from the dead to murder the contemporary*.
As in the case of Baron Blood, the characters regularly reference the fact that they’ve wandered into a horror film, commenting on the decor and cracking jokes about the stereotypical circumstances they find themselves in. It’s playful, but not quite what I’d consider satirical, aside from the cast’s dry wit. Speaking of the cast, it is small, but brimming with Italian exploitation all-stars. These include Chris Avram, also seen in Bava’s proto-slasher classic A Bay of Blood (Italian: Ecologia del delitto; aka: Twitch of the Death Nerve, 1971) and Silvio Amadio’s Smile Before Death (also available with Arrow’s Giallo Essentials: Black Edition set), German-born Eva Czemerys from Francesco Mazzei’s The Weapon, the Hour, the Motive fame (also part of the Arrow set) and Lucio Fulci’s The Psychic (Italian: Sette note in nero; aka: Seven Notes in Black, 1977), and spaghetti western regular Andrea Scotti of Luigi Bazzoni’s The Fifth Cord (Italian: Giornata nera per l'ariete, 1971) fame. The biggest name in giallo, though, is probably Howard Ross (aka: Renato Rossini), who appeared in Bava’s Five Dolls for an August Moon (Italian: 5 bambole per la luna d'agosto, 1970), Alfonso Brescia’s Naked Girl Killed in the Park (Italian: Ragazza tutta nuda assassinata nel parco, 1972), Stelvio Massi’s Five Women for the Killer (Italian: 5 donne per l'assassino, 1974), Flavio Mogherini’s The Pyjama Girl Case (Italian: La ragazza dal pigiama giallo, 1977), and Fulci’s The New York Ripper (Italian: Lo squartatore di New York, 1982).
* In their book, Giallo & Thrilling All'italiana (Glittering Images, 2010), authors Stefano Piselli & Antonio Bruschini note that Bennati’s film anticipates Michele Soavi’s definitively postmodern giallo/slasher combo, StageFright (aka: Deliria, and Aquarius, 1987). Both films revolve around a killer picking people off in an isolated stage play setting.
Despite having a stellar reputation among giallo aficionados, The Killer Reserved Nine Seats doesn’t seem to have ever been released on North American VHS or DVD. The only options to view it appear to have been a Greek VHS rip, a PAL DVD from Spain, DVDr versions from shifty websites, or, more recently, Amazon Prime rental/purchase in standard definition. It was first released on Blu-ray via German company Camera Obscura in 2014, followed by this new US/UK disc from Arrow, which features an exclusive 2K remaster of the original film negative. Cinematographer Giuseppe Aquari’s photography is dark, moody, and doesn’t have any of the bright modern colors seen in other giali from the era, all of which make this a particularly delicate transfer. Fortunately, this remaster threads the needle between preserving the original look and cleaning up all major artifacts. Details are tight without being oversharpened, which would’ve created major haloes around the hard black shapes and shadows, and said blacks aren’t so deep that they crush or absorb important textures. Hues are consistent and shading is clean enough to create a decent sense of depth. Grain texture is slightly on the spongy side, but not overly smoothed.
The Killer Reserved Nine Seats includes both the original English and Italian dubs in uncompressed LPCM 1.0 mono. As per usual, most Italian films from this era were shot without sound, often with international cast members speaking different languages on set, so all audio versions are dubbed and there isn’t really an official language option. Sound-wise, the two tracks are almost identical, at least where musical/effects quality, layering, and overall compression/distortion is concerned. Carlo Savina’s score matches Bennati’s visual themes in that it mixes hip, modern motifs with horror bits that sound like they’re from a ‘60s Gothic horror film. It could do with a slight volume boost on both tracks, but I doubt it sounded any different when initially released. Most of the cast is speaking Italian, so the lip-sync isn’t great, but the English dub dialogue does have a slight edge in terms of ‘roundness.’ The Italian dub is just a bit flatter. If you do opt for English, be aware that some scenes were not dubbed for international release, so the track will flip to Italian and subtitles will pop up.
Commentary with critic/expert Kat Ellinger – The author of Devil’s Advocate: Daughters of Darkness (Auteur Publishing/Liverpool University Press, 2018) and co-host of the Daughters of Darkness podcast (with Samm Deighan) returns to offer her perspective on yet another relatively underseen European thriller. Ellinger compares/contrasts The Killer Reserved Nine Seats with other mid-‘70s gialli, discusses its Gothic sensibilities, and provides some valuable behind-the-scenes anecdotes, all while explaining why this particular film appeals so much to her.
Hanging with Howard (8:23, HD) – This interview with actor Howard Ross is the first of two extras that were borrowed from the Camera Obscura Blu-ray. In it, Ross talks about the making of the film and comradery with the cast & crew.
Writing with Biagio (28:38, HD) – The second of the two Camera Obscura interviews features co-writer Biagio Proietti, who recalls his greater career as writer and occasional assistant director, breaks down a number of movies, putting the most emphasis on The Killer Reserved Nine Seats, its use of the paranormal, and producer demands for sex scenes. He also remembers meeting Bava and regretting never working with the director.
Italian and English trailers
The images on this page are taken from the BD and sized for the page. Larger versions can be viewed by clicking the images. Note that there will be some JPG compression.