directed by Lucio Fulci, Sergio Martino
starring Patrick Magee, Mimsy Farmer , David Warbeck Al Cliver; Edwige Fenech, Anita Strindberg , Luigi Pistilli
Since the ’30s horror filmmakers have found inspiration in the short stories of Edgar Allan Poe. Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, and Vincent Price starred in adaptations of the writer’s work, and if the movies weren’t always faithful to the stories, you could count on them to get enough of the macabre details right to be entertaining.
The Italian film industry, which never met a trend it couldn’t exploit on the cheap, must have noticed the success Roger Corman had with his Poe adaptations, and decided to get in the Poe game.
In Black Cats Arrow Films has collected two Italian horror masters versions of Poe’s short story The Black Catand combined them into a stylish double Blu-ray set. Lucio Fulci’s The Black Cat and Sergio Martino’s Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key have been cleaned up, loaded with extras, and show how different filmmakers approach the same underlying story.
Gore master Lucio Fulci’s version of The Black Cat was sandwiched between his classics Zombi 2, City of the Living Dead and The Beyond, and thus somewhat overshadowed. This is a shame, because while The Black Cat might not have a zombie fighting a shark, it does rely on a sense of atmosphere and dread, as well as some fairly shocking gore effects.
Hewing a bit closer to Poe’s short story, The Black Cat plays more like a gothic Hammer studios film than the gore drenched films Fulci is known for. An inspector is trying to solve the murders that keep occurring in a small English town, some of which show cat scratches. A curmudgeonly old medium/hypnotist might have something to do with the murders, but the black cat who feeds off his master’s evil and hatred seems much more likely.
Playing at times like a gothic horror, other times like a proto-slasher film, The Black Cat succeeds as a slowly paced mystery with some stylish point of view shots and gore. Victims are suffocated, burnt alive, and impaled, in shots that would be shocking in other movies, but are somewhat tame for Fulci. Fulci’s shots of cats and close-ups of character’s eyes add style to the film.
Sergio Martino’s Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key is a good example of the Italian giallo, a blend of thriller and horror movies usually featuring stylized color and focusing on a series of murders committed by a masked or hooded assailant. This genre was a huge influence on the slasher films of the ’80s.
In Vice a mother-obsessed failed writer is holed up in his decaying villa with his alcoholic wife and his mother’s cat, Satan. While he hasn’t written anything in years, he has kept his chops up by humiliating his wife and drinking. Several murders occur, and it is clear that the writer is linked to them in some way.
An interesting aspect of Viceis that the murders are solved about halfway through the movie, with the remainder taking on aspects of Poe’s tale, almost as if Martino had an existing story and blended into his version of The Black Cat. Martino displays excellent camera work; scenes of bright primary colors are contrasted with mysterious darkness, and scenes are interspersed with clips of one-eyed cats, or a foreshadowing billboard which is cut into a driving scene.
Anyone looking for a primer on Italian genre films, or looking to complete their cinematic Poe collection will find Black Cats to be a satisfying collection. Both are stylized films with gore, nudity, and unpleasant people trapped in a cycle of hate and evil black cats. Students studying Poe and needing a summary of the short story, however, should probably look elsewhere.