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

Published on January 7th, 2016 in: Blu-Ray, DVD/Blu-Ray Reviews, Horror, Movie Reviews, Movies, Reissues, Retrovirus, Reviews |

By Jeffery X Martin

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“The Black Cat” isn’t usually the first story that comes to mind when people think of Edgar Allan Poe. It tends to get overshadowed by his poem, “The Raven,” or his story, “The Tell-tale Heart,” which actually shares a lot of plot devices with “The Black Cat,” but that’s not important right now. What is important is that Poe’s work is public domain. No one owns it. That makes his work ripe for the gutting by film producers and writers. Slap Poe’s name on it somewhere and you’ve got a built-in audience of horror fans and American Literature majors.

Roger Corman certainly made his nut making quickie Poe flicks, but that’s not important right now, either. What is important is what happened to “The Black Cat” in the hands of two stylistically different Italian directors, horror maestro Lucio Fulci and giallo king Sergio Martino. Their two versions of Poe’s old tale can be found in one beautiful box set from Arrow Video.

Fulci, one of the grand innovators of violence against the human eyeball on film, actually has the calmer of the two selections. The Black Cat stars Mimsy Farmer and Patrick Magee, B-listers who excel in movies like this, which are gorgeously photographed yet barely coherent.

Yeah, this movie is full of people doing stupid things, such as locking themselves in an airtight boathouse so they can screw. Do they lose the key and slowly suffocate? Why, of course they do, bloody idiots. The one witness to this soft suicide is a black cat. The cat is not just a witness; it is also a killer. It dispatches one victim, who is hanging from a beam inside a disused barn, by scratching his hands until he falls.

There is also a weird subplot about hypnotism involving the cat and Magee, whose eyebrows threaten to take over the screen with their bushiness.

It’s a mess, but it’s a gory, entertaining mess. Fulci fans will be pleased, especially to see the star of Zombi, Al Cliver, in a meaty supporting role. But there’s no sense in kidding ourselves. The Black Cat is not a good movie. Luckily, it doesn’t have to be good to be enjoyed.

The other movie in this set has the longest and, therefore, best title in the world. Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key is Sergio Martino’s fourth gialli, and although it was made in 1972, it still retains the power to shock and offend.

In the first ten minutes, during a dinner party scene, the viewer is presented with abusive language, overt racism, sexual assault, marital rape, a protest song, naked dancing, and a black cat named Satan. If you’re still in after all that, you may as well buckle in for the long haul, for there is much weirdness to follow.

A series of brutal murders centers around an alcoholic writer with an Oedipal complex, his long-suffering wife, and his niece. Oh, and the cat, of course, who even when believed to be dead, comes back the very next day. This leads to a tangled plot involving motorcycle racing, incest, and a small treasure of jewels. I’m not going to try to explain it. There’s really no point.

Martino directed some of the sleaziest films of that era in Italian history. This one slides right into that description as nudity, sex, and violence collide in the moistest possible ways. Even 44 years later, Your Vice… is still not one for the kiddies. It’s an effective thriller though, because of all the horrible things on screen, not despite them. Know your personal sex and violence boundaries before you slap this one into the Blu-Ray player.

How do both of these films both count as an adaptation of Poe’s original story? Good question. I don’t have an answer for that. Both films do feature a black cat and the endings are similar, but that’s really about it. These films beg for a back-to-back, compare and contrast double feature evening. Good thing they’re in a box set, eh?

And an excellent box set it is, complete with the always beautiful packaging we expect from Arrow Video. There are also special features galore, including an excellent short documentary about the Queen of the Giallo, Edwige Fenech.

It’s a niche market, to be sure, but if you enjoy cats (and this age of the Internet, who doesn’t?), this may be the box set for you. Well, I suppose you should really enjoy nudity, sharp objects, violent behavior, terrible special effects, and cats.

Poe purists need not apply.

But that’s not important right now.

Edgar Allen Poe’s Black Cats was released by Arrow Video on October 13, 2015 and is available to purchase on Amazon.

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