Saturday, December 31, 2016

#247: The Black Cat (Lucio Fulci, 1981)

The Black Cat, a very loose Edgar Allan Poe adaptation, is a bit subdued by Lucio Fulci's standards, especially compared to the films on either side of it (The Beyond and Gates of Hell aka City of the Living Dead). This is a guy who included a scene of a zombie fighting a shark in Zombie. Still, it's got plenty of inspired lunacy and narrative incoherence, a pretty sick black cat with supernatural powers, and Patrick Magee and his incredible eyebrows and patented Patrick Magee intensity. It's pretty minor Fulci, but I had a good time watching it, and so did one of my cats.
The Black Cat takes place in a small village in England, but a lot of the interior scenes were shot in Italy. The cast includes veteran theater actor and supporting player in Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange and Barry Lyndon Patrick Magee in one of his last roles before his death in 1982, Mimsy Farmer, and Fulci regular David Warbeck. Magee plays retired professor Robert Miles, the town eccentric who keeps trying to communicate with the dead and who has an antagonistic relationship with his pet black cat. Farmer plays Jill Trevers, an American photographer taking pictures in the village who develops a fascination with Miles. When a young couple mysteriously disappears, the town police sergeant Wilson (Al Cliver) sends for help from Scotland Yard, which arrives in the delightfully campy form of Inspector Gorley (Warbeck).
Gorley stays on when the couple turns up dead under bizarre circumstances, the second and third victims in what soon becomes a string of freak accidental deaths. They were preceded in death by a man who drove his car at full speed into a parked car, and the body count just keeps increasing. Miles and Trevers both know the deaths aren't accidents but instead the work of Miles' black cat, which may be acting under the influence of psychic human impulses. But why is the cat causing these deaths, and how is it capable of human intent?  And how can Trevers convince the detectives without sounding insane?
Meanwhile, Miles is clearly hiding something, and the antagonistic relationship between him and his cat culminates in a hilariously nutty scene where he actually hangs the cat from a tree with a tiny kitty noose. Too bad for him this cat is unkillable, baby! Shortly afterwards, Trevers experiences a poltergeist-style window explosion in her bedroom for reasons never explained. In the next scene taking place in her room, the damage appears to have been repaired completely. I don't understand, but I love it.
This is all pretty silly stuff, but Fulci commits completely. I especially loved the closeups of Magee and his amazing eyebrows as he makes deadly serious pronouncements like, "Cats take orders from no one!" Ain't that the truth, buddy. There are lots of cool shots of the cat scratching the ever-loving hell out of people, some pretty sweet cat's-eye-view camera movements, and lots of atmospheric fog. Warbeck is also pretty funny as the frequently drunk and campily macho Scotland Yard inspector. (I also got to say things like, "Now he's the inspector from Scotland Hard" when he kisses Trevers and "Now he's the inspector from Clawtland Yard" when the cat scratches him. I have good times.) The Black Cat isn't a lost gem or one of Fulci's best, but it's a solidly enjoyable, delightfully goofy, and unusual horror film.
By the way, my tortoiseshell cat Fern went apeshit over the film's first 15 minutes. She was completely riveted by the scenes of the black cat scampering across the village's rooftops, and I was momentarily worried she would try to attack the screen, but she held it together. My wife and I watched the cat documentary The Lion in Your Living Room last weekend, and Fern's response was similar. We've unwittingly set a precedent for supplying her with cat-based entertainment every Friday night. Happy New Year, everyone. If we survive what is certain to be the destructive and incompetent presidency of the orange-sociopath-in-chief, I will continue to write these posts. Thanks for reading.  

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