Friday, January 29, 2010

Double Review - The Black Cat (1981) and The Cat in the Brain (1991)


The Black Cat (1981) Directed by Lucio Fulci

When Fulci is at his best he creates surreal, artistic, carefully shot horror films that lead us through bizarre events in a string of nightmare logic. His death scenes are some of the most notorious in film history, and are often extended sequences that linger casually over their subjects, daring us to keep staring. Fulci films have a tendency to keep you guessing, simply because it's impossible to predict what will be thrown at you, or when.

Unfortunately, The Black Cat is not Fulci at his best.

The Black Cat meanders on for an hour and a half with only a tiny shred of a plot. As is par for the course with Fulci, the details of the story are somewhat murky. There's a psychic, a reporter/investigator and a female sidekick, as well as a cat murdering people... This was supposedly based on an Edgar Allen Poe story, but I'm pretty sure enormous liberties were taken with the source material. Normally Fulci's visuals and aesthetics make up for the lack of story, but there's nothing here to enjoy. I just couldn't make myself care.

There are certain scenes that show signs of promise, but they all seem to end the same way: with an extreme close-up of a fake cat paw scratching away at someone's face. Speaking of close-ups, I can't count how many times they're used in this film. The extreme close-up eye shot has always been one of Fulci's idiosyncracies, but it's so over-used in this film that it almost becomes a mockery of itself.

Anyone thinking of touching this film without first seeing The Beyond, Zombi, House by the Cemetary, or Fulci's old giallos should stay far away. This one is for the completists only.

3 / 10

Pros: Occasionally a bit of the Fulci style pops up.
Cons: Boring plot, uninteresting characters, bad effects.

The Cat in the Brain (1990) Directed by Lucio Fulci

There's another cat as the villian in this film, but only metaphorically speaking. As the title suggests, this cat resides inside the minid of Lucio Fulci - the director and here, protagonist of his own movie. This film was the last that Fulci made before his death, and it only really makes sense in the context of the rest of his oeuvre.

The film opens with a troubled Lucio writing down a list of details about grisly deaths and murders - if I did this I'd probably be institutionalized, but then, I'm not a horror film director. It's clear that Fulci's distressed though, and we soon find out that he's being haunted by the scenes of his past films and is unable to rid them from his mind. (Sort of like a cat gnawing at his brain, I suppose.)

The concept is interesting at first - is Fulci really calling into question all the gruesome films he's created over the years? It's similar to a question that I (and I'm sure many horror fans) ask sometimes: why do I watch this stuff? Is there any value in it, or is it just trash? As the creator, Fulci's question is a bit deeper - has he produced anything of worth in his life, or is he just a purveyor of filth? Is he even mentally sound, or does it take a madman to conjure up death after death and put them to film? Plagued by hallucinations in which scenes from his films replay themselves in real life, he decides to see a psychiatrist.

This is where things fall apart. The psychiatrist is actually a murderer, and hypontizes Fulci to believe that he is actually the killer of the psycho-doctor's victims. The narrative completely disintigrates halfway through the film, and we're just left to watch Fulci wander around, seeing death after death everywhere he goes while the eerily grinning doctor ambushes and murders innocents in public, in full daylight.

There might be more redeeming value in the film if it was completely original, but at least 75% of the footage is spliced in from other films Fulci directed or produced. By the end, we're watching nothing but death scenes from other films with Lucio's face popping up between them. Any atmosphere that the film manages to produce comes directly from the films that footage was copied from and is destroyed by the editing. It's impossible for there to be any natural flow in this film because it's a patchwork job.

The concept of Fulci calling his career into question is interesting, but it isn't followed through to any conclusions. If Fulci really had doubts about the content of his films, then why on earth did he make this one? This film is easily his most gratuitous, and isn't ashamed to replay deaths over and over just in case you missed them the first (or second, or fourth) time. I can only surmise that Fulci intended to give one final middle finger to the censors who had plagued him throughout his career by pulling a bait and switch with this film. There's no possible way this film could be censored - there would be no film left if it was.

As a stand-alone film, The Cat in the Brain would be baffling. Viewed in the context of Fulci's full body of work, it raises some interesting questions, but fails to answer them. Apparently Fulci was content to end his career just as he began it: as one of exploitation cinema's masters of gore.

4 / 10

Pros: Interesting premise...
Cons: ...that doesn't follow through to any real conclusions.

No comments: