Blu-Ray Review: Edgar Allan Poe’s Black Cats

EAP_Black Cats_AV024What’s black and red and giallo all over? Ha. If you’re still reading this, you’ve just survived a pun to the head without any ill effects. Anyway, arriving just in time for Halloween, Arrow Video’s Edgar Allan Poe’s Black Cats: Two Adaptations By Sergio Martino & Lucio Fulci makes for another fine Blu Ray/DVD set to add to your collection.

The two films, Sergio Martino’s sexy/scary Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key (1972), and Lucio Fulci’s flat-out weird The Black Cat (1981) are two more variations of Poe’s popular horror tale that’s been the subject of a number of horror films and anthologies. The interesting thing about all the Black Cat films throughtout cinematic history is how different they all are and how each director takes the parts of the story they (or the screenwriters) felt worked for what they were attempting.

(thanks, horrormovies.gr!) 

In the case of the two films here, it’s a beautiful and somewhat blood-spattered case of hits and misses. Of the two films, Martino’s Your Vice Is A Locked Room… is the better effort from it’s unwieldy but amazing title to the expected levels of gore in a decent giallo. The film also twists the genre around a bit with a few surprises you probably won’t see coming and even if you do, it’s just a great time seeing the cast here dive into the material. Luigi Pistilli plays Oliviero Rouvigny, a somewhat sleazy writer/teacher living the happy hedonist lifestyle with a miserable wife (Anita Strindberg) who he treats pretty damn poorly. Oliviero becomes a murder suspect when a student he was having an affair with winds up dead and shortly thereafter he decides to hide another body in a manner lifted from Poe’s story. He’s clearly not a nice innocent man what with his trysts, constantly berating his wife and other more than irritating nonsense.

You’d think this was an open and shut case, but nope. the film ends up introducing a few characters that make him look like a saint (well, in a giallo kind of manner). As bad as Oliviero is (and Pistilli has a blast creeping it up), it’s when his gorgeous niece arrives that things take a wilder turn. She’s played by the drop dead gorgeous Edwige Fenech, who deserves (and gets on the same disc) her own documentary (more on that in a bit). Let’s just say the film benefits greatly from Fenech’s presence, but some of the plot post-Edwidge’s intro may seem a tad familiar to fans of Georges Cluzot’s Les Diaboliques. That said, Martino revels in his stylish murders and even more stylish camera work and the film is a feast for the eyes when you’re not covering them up. That blood may be a bit too brightly colored by today’s standards, but this one’s got a story that will hook you in and keep you glued to your seat.

(thanks, FulciLives!) 

Fulci has less gore and success with the script in his film The Black Cat, but that doesn’t mean the body count is low. In fact, by making the murderous feline somewhat human in its approach to murder, you get to see some hapless driver die in a car wreck, an amorous nude couple suffocated in an airless boathouse, a woman set afire at home and for some crazy reason, a levitating bed emulates a scene from The Exorcist. Actually, in the latter case, that was a directive to Fulci from one of the producers and he followed it to the letter with baffling results. Some of the best parts of the film are Fulci’s shots of the cat who thanks to some deft camera work and better editing, seems to be “acting” its way across some rooftops in the title sequence and a few other areas as the film progresses

The film itself stars the great Patrick Magee as the owner of the titular feline and in a spin around from the book, it’s the cat who’s possessed by the evil that makes it attack not only all those innocent people, but its poor owner who says his fate is tied to the cat who intends to kill him as well. Mimsy Farmer stars as a flimsy photographer on holiday who somehow has the ONLY camera in the sleepy English village she ends up in where the murders are taking place. Which is weird as hell because Magee’s character happens to have the bizarre hobby of recording “voices” of the dead with what looks like some VERY expensive audio equipment. Anyway, Farmer’s basic tasks here seem to be carrying the plot (and her camera) from place to place, fending off the advances of a leering London detective and looking scared as hell on command.

In addition to fine 2K restorations and he choice of English or Italian language options, both films get some fantastic special features newly recorded just for this collection. Your Vice… has a great piece on Edwidge Fenech that only suffers from the weird lens used to film the guy narrating it. While he’s chock full of information on the beautiful actress and her career path, it looks as if he’s talking to you from a peephole because you won’t let his overly enthusiastic ass into your house. The new interviews with Sergio Martino and retrospective on his gialli are both excellent and even Eli Roth shows up to gush about Martino’s work and how his adoration for Fenech got him to hire her out of retirement for a brief part Hostel II (and yes, she still looks stunning).

As for The Black Cat, there are also some nice bonuses including a fine dissection of the film that points out it’s assorted good and less than good points but manages to omit the fact that it’s probably Fulci’s most accessible film for newbies to his work. His more graphic films such as Zombi 2 and The Beyond certainly aren’t the first ones to whip out on someone squeamish, but at least the kills here are both absurd and amusing with some being drawn out for a bit for added shock value. Both films work wonderfully well together as a double feature and if your interest is piqued by the other gialli mentioned in the assorted features, well guess what? You now have a new genre to explore. Hopefully Arrow will see fit to get more of these films out at some point, tawdry content and copious ichor intact.

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