A young couple making love on the beach are ambushed by a group of gun-toting men. They shoot the young man and bury him, still half-alive. As the killers walk away, the victim’s hand feebly emerges from the sand... Twenty years later, patriarch Uberto (Arthur Kennedy) brings his family for a weekend on the same isolated island. His daughter, Patrizia (Loretta Persichetti) is seemingly clairvoyant and raves about the blood and death that await them. Almost everyone in the family is having an adulterous affair. Eldest son Michele (Massimo Foschi) cheats on his frigid wife Carla (Sofia Dionisio) with his father’s sexy young wife Giulia (Caroline Laurence). The impotent Lorenzo (John Richardson) is painfully aware his slutty spouse Greta (Rita Silva) is sleeping with Patrizia’s husband, Walter (Venantino Venantini). Meanwhile mad aunt Elizabeth (Dana Ghia) still rants about the lover she supposedly saw murdered years ago. When a wetsuit clad killer murders the boatmen, the family discover they have been stranded. One by one, they fall victim to the mystery murderer as it appears Elizabeth’s lover has returned from the grave seeking vengeance.
Following in the footsteps of Mario Bava’s better known Five Dolls for an August Moon (1970), Nine Guests for a Crime is another racy giallo variation on Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians. Scripted by prolific Italian mystery writer Fabio Pitorru, the film belongs to a virtual subgenre of gialli inviting audiences to revel in the agonised deaths of selfish, contemptible rich folk. Every one of the characters are whiny and unappealing goons who bitch and snipe at each other all day until the killer puts them, and viewers, out of their misery. While there is a long tradition of horror films where disreputable protagonists get their just desserts, Nine Guests for a Crime hypocritically invites its audience to revel in the hedonistic glamour whilst condeming the characters’ licentious behaviour, making it a precursor to the conservative mentality of the Eighties slasher genre.
Better known for his run of spaghetti westerns with actor-screenwriter Tony Anthony and their inept 3-D Indiana Jones rip-off, Treasure of the Four Crowns (1982), director Ferdinando Baldi comes from the “see a hysterical woman get naked and die” school of leery Italian filmmaking. All the comely female cast members wander around in skimpy bikini briefs or see-through gowns, or take long outdoor showers so the camera can glide along their shapely bodies. Or simply lounge around naked. Alongside this admiration for the female form sits an ill-disguised contempt, although to be fair all the male characters are drawn as macho, misogynistic swine. Imported Hollywood star Arthur Kennedy heads a cast of Italian exploitation stalwarts. Respected Italian theatre actor Massimo Foschi is best known for his entrail-eating antics in the cannibal "classic" Last Cannibal World (1976). British-born John Richardson dodged dinosaurs with Raquel Welch in One Million Years B.C. (1966) and headlined Bava’s marvellous Black Sunday (1960) as well as the superior giallo Torso (1973). Venantino Venantini was a ubiquitous player on the Italian cinema scene while most of the actresses here have prolific sex film credits.
Although the cinematography by Sergio Rubini is excellent, Baldi stages the murders without much in the way of style or suspense. Even when one character is outrageously roped, shot and set alight, his camera simply records the event as if it were as mundane as a day at the beach. If the filmmakers don’t care about their characters, why should we? Characters react to the increasingly horrific events by getting sloppy drunk and ranting even louder at each other while the surprise twist is one most viewers will have seen coming a mile away. Features the classic line: “Now the puppy has grown up and secretly become a tiger!” Priceless.