Remember the time of the double bill at the cinema? Well Arrow no doubt do and have released this in a two film package along with Sergio Martino’s Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key (which I am reviewing separately). Both films are linked as being variations on Edgar Allen Poe’s tales of terror and prove that black cats are far from lucky when they cross your path. Horror aficionados should be well versed in the actual story itself and Poe’s works which are no strangers to being adapted in the movie world. No doubt many fear fans will remember in particular the pairing up of George Romero and Dario Argento with two Evil Eyes (1990) where the directors paid their own tribute to the author. There are stacks of others adaptations of his work out there too, The Black Cat itself venturing out through the cat-flap in both 1934 and 1941 for a start.
Lucio Fulci’s ‘Gatto Nero’ was made in 1981 and has had a good release history in the UK getting original treatment as far back as 1982 via VTC and then cropping up again on video much later via Redemption, who also brought it out on DVD as did Shameless films much more recently. Why should you upgrade? Well put simply the 2k Blu Ray transfer (the first on this format) absolutely sparkles and jumps off the screen at you. From the opening shot of a quaint English village just about to be torn asunder by a malevolent moggy, you can instantly see that the quality here is the best you are ever going to see the film in. Fulci directed City Of The Living Dead just before this and The Beyond and The House By The Cemetery straight after so The Black Cat may well have been somewhat overshadowed by his triptych of terror to a large extent but it is a film that should not be overlooked. Filmed on location in a very gorgeous looking Hambleden Bucks, things start going very wrong for many of the people there who seem to be involved in cataclysmic catastrophes under the watchful gaze of a yowling filthy feline. We witness car crashes, shambling drunks led down warehouse holes full of spikes and an amorous teenage couple finding themselves locked in an airtight room literally getting the life sucked right out of them. Luckily the police are quickly on the case and despite Sgt Wilson (Al Cliver) being at his wits end help is on hand with the arrival of Inspector Gorley (David Warbeck) and American photographer Jill (Mimsy Farmer) who finds herself inadvertently embroiled in the mystery too. Also among the villagers we have the very strange professor Miles (played by a totally over the top eccentric Patrick Magee) who is involved with experimentations of mind control and speaking to the dead. He also is the owner of a cat who attacks him at the slightest opportunity, could this be the catalyst (sorry) for all that ills the quaint little village? Perhaps poisoning and hanging it might be a good idea but we all know what happened when the priest in City Of The Living Dead hung himself, hell was unleashed – oops!
There are really three things going on in The Black Cat, first it attempts and to a large extent succeeds in being a supernatural horror film but Fulci cannot leave it at that and ties it up perhaps slightly less successfully with Giallo conventions. Then he also has the task of keeping things relatively true to Poe’s original story and in my opinion he largely succeeds on most counts here. The film is well paced, has an excellent cast (it should be mentioned Dagmar Lassander is another victim) that should all be loved by the euro horror cineaste and a powerful Pino Donaggio score to heighten the thrills and spills. They also must have had a very good animal wrangler as the cat can act and seems to be in the wrong place at the right time continuously. There are many things that will be noticed by Fulci regulars such as the massive emphasis of shots looming straight into the eyeballs of their characters and some great shots taken from the cat’s point of view. Of course this is not the last time that Fulci would bring pussy to the screen and would revisit things with one of his later films Cat In The Brain almost twenty years later. Naturally I should not have to point out that no animals were harmed in any way during the shooting of the film but plenty of actors looked like they were; this time it’s the cat who most definitely gets the last laugh.
This time around the cat has had some kittens in the form of extras and first up we have Stephen Thrower talking about Fulci’s adaptation and its literary source on ‘Poe into Fulci: The Spirit of Perverseness.’ Apart from explaining the differences between the script here and how the original source material deviated from Fulci’s vision he also makes some interesting observations of similarities to Cronenberg’s The Brood (1979) something I certainly had not considered. Other homages / rip offs at the behest of the producer we are told are a lot more obvious though as will be the fact that it is not just Poe’s Black Cat that is used as inspiration here but other common elements within his stories. Engaging and authoritative throughout this is a really well considered insight into the film that makes many points I mentioned in the review but also quite a few things that I had not realised including a near director cameo, a few shots in the trailer that did not make the actual film and the state of that aforementioned VTC video release. Next up is a look back at the locations in the film something that I was particularly interested in having pondered some scenes that looked familiar but actually being forced to seek out the information and being quite off the beaten track. Thrower takes us on a guided tour of Hambleden and West Wycombe and again literally unearths some interesting things. There’s a stack of features been shot utilising the unchanged locale of Hambleden in particular from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, to 101 Dalmatians, The Witches and Band Of Brothers. It looks well worth a day trip to check it all out too.
Moving onto some interviews the first is more of a career retrospective with Prague born Dagmar Lassander. Would have needed some serious padding out if it had just been this film she was talking about due to her early fiery departure one that by the sounds of it contravened all manner of health and safety rules. Actress in well over 50 features she talks about her early days on obscure features such as ‘Andrea’ and ‘Skin To Skin’ in the late 60’s but it’s probably the likes of giallos ‘The Frightened Woman’ (1969) ‘Hatchet For A Honeymoon’ (1970) ‘Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion’ (1970) and the still needing a UK release ‘The Iguana with the Tongue of Fire’ (1971) that she first probably got any serious attention through. She has much more time for these films but the feature is far too short at 20 minutes to get really into more than cursory details and anecdotes. There’s no mention of Werewolf Woman or Black Emanuelle 2 unfortunately. Luckily the late and great David Warbeck gets a full 70 minute conversation to talk about his career in much greater detail. The actor who very sadly died far too young at 55 in 1997 is one of my favourites and unlike many of his contemporaries never seemed to belittle the films he starred in continuing to work on low budget and independent pictures such as Darren Ward’s blood busting Sudden Fury (1997) and Jake Wests great and underappreciated vampire flick Razor Blade Smile (1998). Filmed at his home in Highgate London 1995 it’s a pleasure to listen to him talk about his career and memories of the Italian film industry, much of it centred on The Black cat itself . Don’t go expecting hi-def viewing here, it’s shot on video camera but obviously there is no way of entering The Beyond to reshoot it again. Luckily the sound is good and easy to follow and Thrower knows the subject well and asks the questions the fans will want to hear answers to. It’s a cool inclusion to have here and a nice tribute to the actor who almost ended up being the next James Bond before Roger Moore landed the part.