Arrow Heads #87: THE CAT O’ NINE TAILS 4K

Dario Argento’s sophomore feature is a bloody Giallo beautifully restored in vivid HDR

Arrow Heads — UK-based Arrow Films has quickly become one of the most exciting and dependable names in home video curation and distribution, creating gorgeous Blu-ray releases with high quality artwork and packaging, and bursting with supplemental content, often of their own creation. From cult and genre fare to artful cinema, this column is devoted to their weird and wonderful output.

Fresh off of the success of his debut murder-mystery The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, writer-director Dario Argento was commissioned to make a Giallo successor on a fittingly larger scale. The result of his efforts, The Cat O’ Nine Tails, exceeds and overwhelms expectations one could have for a Crystal Plumage followup, amping up a narrative that’s even more twisted and bloody as its predecessor. The film follows blind crossword puzzle creator Franco “Cookie” Arno (Karl Malden) and crime beat reporter Carlo Giordani (James Franciscus) as they sleuth out the culprit behind a rising body count at a secretive pharmaceutical company. With Carlo acting as Cookie’s eyes and Cookie as Carlo’s quick deductive wit, the pair evade close attempts on their lives as they break into labs, steal documents, and even rob graves to uncover a grim conspiracy rife with additional genetics, blackmail, corruption, and gruesome displays of death. When his young niece is kidnapped by the killer, Cookie will stop at nothing to exact his own form of blind, bloody justice and tie the film’s myriad plots to a bitter end.

As someone far more familiar with Argento’s more supernatural-rooted outings, seeing a film like The Cat O’ Nine Tails was a fascinating and thrilling affair. While the film is more of a noir suspense thriller like more traditional Giallo films rather than a horror movie, there’s still an unshakable sense of fear and dread throughout. Very much in the vein of Hitchcock, Argento teases out the terror facing his characters before meeting their bloody ends, often with a gleefully perverse sense of humor. And, like his later films, Argento pulls no punches in depicting the sensationally brutal nature of the characters’ nefarious deeds. The most unexpected of which is a train accident that’s cut together with seconds-long clips of grisly close-ups in both wide-angle and close-up, evocative of Sam Peckinpah or Arthur Penn. However, with no veneer of ghosts, goblins, or witches to lend an omniscient sense of horror or detachment from these sadistic sequences, the actions of The Cat O’ Nine Tails are instead rooted in the characters’ own creepy calculated nature. The crimes are rooted instead rooted in the everyday–giving both this film and Argento’s preceding effort a far more sinister quality that also makes it a pulpy guilty pleasure.

While The Cat O’ Nine Tails has received criticism about the indulgent overcomplexity of its plot (including from Argento himself), Argento and his crew still manage to guide us through the film’s left-field twists and turns through The Cat O’ Nine Tails’ inventive and engaging visual flair. When the camera’s not bobbing and weaving in the characters’ voyeuristic POVs, there’s texture-driven closeups of hands on stone, blood on sheer tile, or poisoned milk inching closer to an actress’ unaware lips. If the camera’s still, there are wild pops of primary colors amidst layered, color-muted surfaces. No matter the circumstance, every frame and sequence pops with kinetic tension and suspense–action is either brimming under the surface or exploding outward in a geyser of viscera.

Karl Malden and James Franciscus root the insanity of the film in relatable and magnetic performances, delivering the most ridiculous of plot twists with dedicated rationality. Franciscus–looking his most Charlton Heston–is the classic intrepid reporter eager to break a case, sneaking his way past police barricades or secret locked doors with an unbelievable amount of charm. Malden, in contrast, plays his material with an infectious glee–at one point he exclaims “I love shouting puzzles” in connection to the film’s twists and turns–and carries the audience through a bizarre character transformation from a seemingly kindly crossword puzzle maker to a cane-knife-wielding vengeful killer. I honestly couldn’t believe this was the same guy from On the Waterfront and A Streetcar Named Desire–and was one of The Cat O’ Nine Tails most effective and enjoyable surprises.

With a vivid new 4K UHD restoration, Arrow’s new limited collectors’ edition of The Cat O’ Nine Tails is a must for any die-hard fan of Argento — or any cinephile with a penchant for well-shot, blood-soaked capers.


Arrow presents The Cat O’ Nine Tails in 4K HDR in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio sourced from a 4K restoration of the original camera negative conducted by L’Immagine Ritrovata, alongside a restoration of the original mono sound mix. Both Italian and English-language prints and audio are presented with the film, both considered equal versions of the film due to the nature of post-production dubbing for Italian films of the time.

Continuing their unerring efforts to present Argento and other Giallo films in the highest quality possible, Arrow’s 4K HDR presentation of The Cat O’ Nine Tails is technically superb. Argento’s trademark wide-ranging color palette thrives with the expanded capabilities of HDR, with primary colors of blue cars, yellow ambient light, and especially crimson blood notably vivid throughout. The various textures of the film’s production design–the sterile, bright genetics labs, the gritty asphalt in city alleys, and 70’s wood paneling aplenty–are all well-represented without any fuzzy degradation of image quality in enhancing the film’s original negative. Despite being recorded wholly in post-production, sound quality is also excellent for the film’s dubbed dialogue and foley work.


  • Audio Commentary by critics Alan Jones and Kim Newman
  • Nine Lives: An interview with writer/director Dario Argento
  • The Writer O’ Many Tales: An interview with co-writer Dardano Sacchetti
  • Child Star: An interview with actress Cinzia De Carolis
  • Giallo in Turin: An interview with production manager Angelo Iacono
  • Script Pages for the lost original ending, translated into English
  • Trailers from the film’s Italian, United States, and International releases

Collector’s Edition Exclusives:

  • Illustrated Booklet featuring an original essay on the film by Dario Argento and writing by critics Barry Forshaw on the film’s merits and context within Argento’s filmography, Troy Howarth on the film’s origins, production, and legacy, and Howard Hughes on composer Ennio Morricone’s iconic collaborations with vocalist Edda Dell’Orso
  • Double-Sided Poster featuring new artwork by Obviously Creative and original theatrical art
  • Six Lobby Cards reproduced from the film’s theatrical release
  • Limited Edition Packaging and Reversible Cover Art

The Cat O’ Nine Tails is now available in a Limited 4K UHD Collector’s Edition courtesy of Arrow.

Get it at Amazon: If you enjoy reading Cinapse, purchasing items through our affiliate links can tip us with a small commission at no additional cost to you.

Previous post NO MAN OF GOD is a Riveting Look at the Dark Side of Man
Next post The Archivist #136: GUYVER: DARK HERO & the Brilliance of Filmmaker Steve Wang