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THE BLACK CAT

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Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Patrick Magee, Mimsy Farmer, David Warbeck, Al Cliver
Director:  Lucio Fulci
Audio:  Dolby Digital Mono
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio:  Anchor Bay
Features:  Theatrical Trailer, Lucio Fulci Bio
Length:  92 Minutes
Release Date:  June 12, 2001

Film ***

I appreciate truth in advertising, so I was more than a little amused when the opening credits of The Black Cat proclaimed the film was “freely adapted” from the story by Edgar Allan Poe.  One or two key elements from Poe’s story is intact here, but that’s about it.  The rest is pure Fulci.

With this picture, Fulci departs a little bit from his normal atmospheric strangeness and instead makes a more mainstream type of horror movie.  What it lacks in mood, it more than makes up for with fun.

A Scotland Yard inspector (Warbeck) and a young photographer (Farmer) are working together to solve a series of strange deaths in a small English village.  These deaths, we see, are actually caused by one little black cat with a taste for blood and a generally poor attitude.

 In true Fulci fashion, some of the demises are a little gruesome.  One victim tries to get away by carefully walking a high plank.   He looks down long enough to show us some convenient upward pointing spikes far below…gee, what do you think happens next?  (This kind of deliberate telegraphing is indicative of the sense of fun Fulci incorporates into the film.)  Another one is a particularly grisly burning death.  In most fatal house fires, the victims die of smoke inhalation and not burns…but not in a Fulci film.

Earlier in the film, we witness a strange encounter between the photographer and a reclusive medium (Magee, of Clockwork Orange and Barry Lyndon fame).  He’s a fellow who records conversations with the dead, seems to have the ability to control minds, and lives in fear of the hellish cat.  “One of these days, he will kill me,” he confesses.  “There’s nothing I can do about it.”

As the clues behind the killings point more and more to a black cat, the woman begins to suspect there may be something to the old man’s paranoia.  But is he using his mind control to direct the actions of the cat…or is the cat controlling him?

Part of the appeal of Fulci for me is his terrific camerawork.  In The Black Cat, he takes his cinematography to another level.  Most impressive is his feline POV shots, which keep the camera low to the ground, moving quickly, and with a warped lens that causes distortions of perception.  An eye motif is also repeated.  Fulci fills the screen with eyes, both human and animal, and uses these shots in clever ways for transition and for indicating scene directions.  These shots are a little discomforting because of their extreme…and I have to add, without widescreen presentation, their effect would be totally lost.

Equally impressive is Fulci’s handling of the cat.  He coaxes a good performance out of his animal star, making a simple housecat seem indeed menacing and capable of intelligent thought.  One rather astounding scene shows the cat leaping up and removing the bar off of a locked door.  If I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes, I don’t think I would have believed it could be done.  Whoever was in charge of training the cat for this picture, his or her paycheck was definitely well earned.

The straightforward narrative and simplicity make this a film that will appeal to a wider horror film fan base, and not just the admirers of Fulci.  Even if it doesn’t measure up to pictures like The Beyond, it’s still a good hour and a half of cheesy, chilling fun.  You may never look at your cat the same way again.

Video ***

Once again, Anchor Bay comes through for horror fans.  The Black Cat needs to be seen in widescreen format, and with this anamorphic 2.35:1 ratio transfer, you can.  This is another remarkable looking presentation from the Lucio Fulci Collection that should please…heck, thrill the director’s fans.  Images are sharp and clean throughout, and coloring is natural and very well rendered.  No undue grain or compression artifacts mar the image; in fact, only a few minor stretches of film where the print shows some age in the form of little scratches or a tiny bit of flicker make this transfer rate slightly lower.  Suffice to say, this is the best looking home video presentation ever offered for this film.

Audio ***

Though only presented in its original mono, the soundtrack is still quite good…very clean, very dynamic, and very effective, especially with the use of animal sounds as harbingers of doom.  Dialogue is clear throughout, and the musical score, particularly the opening theme, are very well rendered.

Features *1/2

Only a trailer and a bio for Fulci.

Summary:

If you’re a horror fan and The Black Cat crosses your path on DVD, don’t fear…it’s simply another Lucio Fulci classic presented with another top notch anamorphic transfer from Anchor Bay.   Fun feline ferocity…enjoy.