*/**** Image C+ Sound B
starring Patrick Magee, Mimsy Farmer, David Warbeck, Al Cliver
screenplay by Lucio Fulci, Biagio Proietti, Sergio Salvati
directed by Lucio Fulci
by Walter Chaw Ostensibly based on Edgar Allan Poe's short story of the same name, Lucio Fulci's The Black Cat is actually more akin to John Wyndham's The Midwich Cuckoos (brought to film twice under the name Village of the Damned), with the titular feline taking the place of the telepathic tykes of Wyndham's apocalyptic fable. Like the children of Wyndham's tale, the evil cat is a physical by-product of the Freudian id, in this case a creature/familiar that, predictably, runs amuck. Fans of the "Godfather of Gore," Lucio Fulci, and the Italian horror genre (and specifically the giallo sub-genre of the same) will doubtless be disappointed in what amounts to be a staid amalgam of lurid Hammer Studios plots and settings. Patrick Magee's performance as the human counterpart to the evil pussycat constitutes the best reason to see an otherwise lifeless gothic horror film. A role Vincent Price or Christopher Plummer would have played once, Magee is appropriately fervent and pitched to campy perfection.
Drawn by a series of mysterious deaths, Inspector Gorley (David Warbeck) of Scotland Yard rides into a small English village. Comparing notes with the plucky heroine, an intrepid American photographer named Jill Trevers (Mimsy Farmer), the two soon discover that the deaths and disappearances might have something to do with a mysterious spirit medium (Magee) and his black cat. The main problem with this type of film (see also George Romero's Monkey Shines and Oliver Stone's The Hand) is that there is always an acute difficulty with conveying menace when your non-venomous monster can be dropkicked across the room. There is also a problem when all the evil housecat ever really does is only what housecats do: slink around looking suspicious, scratch people unexpectedly, disappear for long stretches, yowl balefully, and do the opposite of what they're told. Fulci tries to address this problem by having the cat acquire the powers of teleportation, immortality, and cleverness (it steals a key and breaks an "air conditioner" in a hopelessly convoluted murder scheme), but, like the cuddly German Shepard of Richard Crenna's made-for-TV shocker Devil Dog: The Hound of Hell, attempts at making a clearly domesticated animal feral and diabolical only serve to highlight the ridiculousness of the concept. It's one thing to have your child turn out to be a bad seed, another altogether to have a discipline problem with a recalcitrant kitty.
The gore effects that generally constitute the best reason to watch Fulci's forays into the horror genre are exceptionally anti-climactic and tame, especially when one considers that Paolo Ricci, the man behind Ruggero Deodato's Jungle Holocaust and Sergio Martino's Mountain of the Cannibal God, is in charge of the nastiness. The Black Cat, in today's permissive environment, would probably merit a PG-13 rating, and that for nudity. A woman is burned alive (though her attempts at extinguishing a raging inferno with a throw pillow cools our sympathy for her), a man dies in a bloody, but indistinct, car wreck, and an unfortunate fellow finds himself skewered by some rebar. The rotting corpse of a young lover (Daniela Doria, who briefly made it a career to appear topless in Fulci films) is sort of disgusting, though one spends more time pondering how the young lovers could have suffocated in a room that not only has a grate leading directly outside, but is perforated enough to allow a small herd of tame rats to snack on the remains.
Devoid of much in the way of tension and redolent with Fulci's trademark overreliance on meaningless extreme-close-up reaction shots, The Black Cat is predictable, absurd, and deeply dissatisfying. The gore is almost nonexistent and the film loses its way badly in trying to present a rather tepid version of not only Forbidden Planet's "Creatures of the Id" trope, but also the Hammer Studios' invariably superior melodramatic grotesqueries. Save Magee's vein-swelling performance, The Black Cat is ultimately an ordinary foray into mild supernatural horror--all the more so given Fulci's track record for envelope pushing unpleasantness.
One of three recent Anchor Bay additions to their laudable Lucio Fulci Collection, The Black Cat features a video transfer that solves some of the colour dullness and off flesh tones of the prior EC release, however it still suffers from an uneven source print. Vertical lines mar the image for several seconds at various points, the worst coming during a cemetery scene just following the death of the young lovers, and there is a good deal of grain throughout. On the other hand, the image is sharp and nicely saturated, in the manner of old Disney live-action fantasy features or the Hammer releases the film so clearly emulates. To its credit, Anchor Bay has solved the obvious edge-enhancement of previous releases with its admirably film-like 2.35:1 widescreen anamorphic transfer. The well-framed picture is probably as good as could be expected, given the aged condition of the negative. The Dolby 2.0 Mono track is serviceable if unremarkable. The dialogue is clear, there is no distortion, and the screeching cat effect is appropriately jarring.
Unfortunately free of commentary and a surplus of extras, the disc's highlight comes in a wry and informative 21-page career overview written by Anchor Bay's Tracy Taylor, accompanied by original poster art and a snapshot of the director in the last years of his life. An Italian trailer, like most Italian trailers, manages to give away every one of the modest gore sequences along with a quick glimpse of Doria's omnipresent breasts. Originally published: August 6, 2001.
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