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Review: The Black Cat (1980)

92 min. / Directed by Lucio Fulci / Anchor Bay, Arrow Video

 A small English village is overrun by an evil force. People are having bad accidents and dying for no apparent reason. Car crashes. Fires. Asphyxiation. At the heart of these mysterious doings is the eccentric professor Miles (Patric Macnee), who likes to snoop around the graves of the newly-dead and attempt to tape record their spirit voices. Accompanying him is a solitary black cat who appears to be endowed with very strange powers. A young american photographer (Mimsy Farmer) befriends Miles in an attempt to gain insight into the man’s odd habits.

Things begin to heat up when an investigator from Scotland Yard (David Warbeck) comes on the scene and begins to investigate these bizarre occurances, chief among them the bizarre deaths of two young people who suffocated to death in a locked storage room. It looks as if someone took the key out of the room and left them for dead…someone who could fit through a tiny hole in the ventilation shaft….someone with small cat-like footprints…

The Black Cat comes in the middle of a string of hits from gorey Fulci epics like The Beyond and Zombie to City of the Living Dead and House by the Cemetery. This film gives us a fine example of a more subdued Fulci, operating in a more gothic mode. Helping Fulci along this time is long-time cinematographer Sergio Salvati who turns in some of his finest work. The cat’s interesting POV is wonderfully rendered as well as numerous carefully-planned crane shots, a rarity in the cost-conscious cinematic world which Fulci inhabitated. Accompanying the stunning image is an inspired score from Pino Donaggio, probably the best soundtrack of Fulci’s entire filmography.

Macnee, probably more well-known for his small role in Clockwork Orange, perfectly sets the stage as the intense, bug-eyed Miles. Half the shots of him in the movie seem to be extreme close-ups of that penetrating stare, wild eyebrows and all, a wet dream for such an eye-obsessed director as Fulci. The concept of Miles recording conversations with the dead is based loosely on real-life studies known as Electronic Voice Phenomenon, or EVP, where strange voices seem to appear through the white noise implanted on audio cassettes. It’s a fascinating concept but in this film it’s mere window dressing for Macnee’s main conflict with the cat itself, who turns out to Mile’s avenging id. It’s an interesting spin on the classic Poe tale which it’s all based. There are numerous Poe touches throughout, from walling people up to the often estranged, psychotic characters running about. The film succedes in generating immense feelings of doom and chaos, emotions which pervade Poe’s work.

Originally released by Europe’s EC Entertainment, Anchor Bay took the US rights and produced a wonderful dvd in 2001 which has fewer extras (EC’s disc has a long-ish interview with Fulci) but a far superior transfer. The anamorphic widescreen image is crystal-clear and shines throughout, with only a few areas of print damage where vertical black lines run down the right side of the screen at times. The mono track is a little less exciting but it’s still a strong and solid representation of the film’s audio. 

Even though Fulci never seemed to enjoy this film I thoroughly love it; it ranks up their as one of my favorite cinematic “adaptions” of Poe material.

“Even in Italy it was not a success…Did you know we had five cats in that film?…each had a different job…one for rolling, one for jumping, another that only opened the door! … When we told the producer how much it (steadicam) would cost, he told us to forget it. So Franco Bruno, my wonderful cameraman, and I had to invent our own. We hung a cmaera over a piece of angled wood and ran with it. This is how we simulated the cat’s perception. Bussing around the location with this contraption!”

– Cinematographer Sergio Salvati
Fangoria #165.

“…The Black Cat is a picture I’m not Proud of.”

-Lucio Fulci
The Bloody Best of Fangoria Vol. 9

2020 Update: The Black Cat was re-released by Arrow Video in a special edition which includes a lengthy interview with David Warbeck.

From Italy’s own Godfather of Gore Lucio Fulci (ZombieThe Gates of Hell) comes The Black Cat – a gruesome reimagining of the classic Edgar Allan Poe tale starring Patrick Magee (A Clockwork Orange) and Mimsy Farmer (The Perfume of the Lady in Black).

When a young couple goes missing in a sleepy English village, Scotland Yard Inspector Gorley (David Warbeck, The Beyond) is brought in to assist on the case. But what starts off as routine investigation turns into a murder inquiry when the couple are found dead in mysterious circumstances.

Fusing a classically gothic atmosphere with the decidedly more visceral elements that are the hallmark of Fulci’s films, The Black Cat is a too-often overlooked and underrated entry in the Italian master filmmaker’s canon.

  • Brand new 2K restoration of the film from the original camera negative
  • Original Italian and English soundtracks in DTS-HD mono audio
  • Newly translated English subtitles for the Italian soundtrack
  • Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing for the English soundtrack
  • Brand new audio commentary by filmmaker and Fangoria editor Chris Alexander
  • From Poe into Fulci: The Spirit of Perverseness – film historian Stephen Thrower on Fulci’s Poe-tinged classic
  • In the Paw-Prints of The Black Cat – a look at the original Black Cat locations
  • Frightened Dagmar – a brand new career interview with actress Dagmar Lassander
  • At Home with David Warbeck – an archive interview with the Black Cat star
  • Original Theatrical Trailer
  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Matthew Griffin

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