Black Cat
Director: Serge Rodnunsky

(GATO NERO) 1981
Director: Lucio Fulci

Director: Trevor Latta

Reviewed by Paghat the Ratgirl

Inspired by the classic short story by Edgar Allan Poe, The Black Cat (2004) is a cheapy-cheezy direct-to-video psychological &/or supernatural murder mystery consisting mainly of talking heads, speaking their poorly written lines in monotones with occasional outbursts of inadvertently comical panic or emotion.

Black CatThe poor cinematography & rotten acting makes it hard to trust the script, which seems to be chaotic, self-contradictory, a confusing mess full of loopholes. But if you can stick it out the end you'll discover the script actually does make a dreamlike iota of sense, though it's not much of a boast if the best thing about a film is the promise that it won't turn out to be as nonsensical as it seems throughout.

With sloppy editing & flashbacks & imaginary sequences, you'll not know what's real & what isn't, & it'll be more annoying than mysterious. A wife & daughter have gone missing, & the husband Jack has a morbid fear of the family's cat. Eleanor (Shawna Erikson), a policewoman at the scene, rather likes the cat & while petting it has a dreamlike very personal encounter with the missing wife.

Keeping the husband in an interview room seemingly for days on end with no chance to eat or pee, interviewing him periodically, the policewoman continues to merge with Jack's reality, or with his imagination. She discovers that the cat was killed so if Eleanor had been petting it, she must've petted a ghost-cat. But probably she was hallucinating within Jack's schizophrenic attempts to understand what has happened to himself, his son, & his wife.

The policewoman also continues to experience the husband's relationship with the missing wife in flashbacks, to the point of lesbian sexual encounters to give an otherwise dull film more of an exploitation bite. The Black Cat can however be categorized dead-center as a lesbian horror mystery.

It gets increasingly convoluted & impossible to follow as it goes along, & then there's a brief stretch of unravelling the "surprise!" ending.

Only about half to two-thirds of the preceding chaos makes sense with the "suprise!" so there's a second filip which implies a degree of merging of identity with the cat itself & a final message that "none of this is real." It's essentially the worst of all story-devices, a variant of "it was all a dream," used in this case to dismiss the script's sundry irrationalities.

Although the pair of endings explain a lot that seemed impossible to rationalize, the overall experience of the film remains surreal & without linearity & not particularly satisfying.

Had it been a well-made film from the start, the fact that it never quite makes sense might've been okay. If a slick film like Jacob's Ladder (1990) could get away with the "it was all a dream" anti-climax in lieu of plot resolution, so might've Black Cat, for the hallucinatory nature of the story could make a few loose ends acceptible. But as the climax to all that poor editing, bad acting, terrible dialogue, & sub-par photography, Black Cat just cannot be a winner.

The Black CatExcellent widescreen cinematography right away makes the low budget The Black Cat (Gato nero, 1981) look like a bigger film than it is, lifting one's hope of a successful horror experience inspired by the Poe story. Despite the director, it's not really giallo as it isn't gorey. It's more in the mode of a Hammer film though lowkey even for that.

The first sequence however very unconvincingly indicates that a black cat may have caused a deadly car accidence out of pure malice. This is followed, behind the opening credits, with some lovely photography of the cat exploring the neighborhood & crossing shingled roofs. The "this is suspenseful!" musical cues completely fail to contradict the fact that the kitty is merely cute.

We're introduced to the female lead, Jill (Mimsy Farmer), as an out of town photographer who sets her camera gear aside before entering an underground crypt to find pleasantly arranged human bones. She finds a broken microphone in the dust & the music & camera angle insists "This is something!" though it's not, as she tucks it secretly inside her pocket then pointedly refuses to tell the policeman (Al Cliver) about it later.

She soon meets the town's outcast sorcerer or medium (Patrick Magee), who seems merely to be posing as a scary bastard because it's expected of him, though as the film progresses he'll turn out to be legitimately a bad guy.

The microphone was his, as he records graveyard conversations exuding from gravestones by night, then listens to them all day long. This element of the film was potentially quite interesting but never develops into anything, & never made any particularly sense.

Our sorcerer Miles has an ongoing battle of wills with his familiar, the black cat, which he believes wants to kill him. The cat manages to lock a young horny couple up in an improbably air-tight boathouse & they suffocate to death foaming at the mouth. When the sorcerer realizes his familiar kills people, he hangs the cat by the neck until dead & buries it, but it comes back in a couple of days & is even less controlable than previously.

The cat gets together with some other cats who mainly watch & tries to kill the Scotland Yard investigator (David Warbeck) in one of the lamest pretences of a threatening monster ever committed to film.

The cat begins to exert mesmeric control over the sorcerer forcing him to do the kitty's will, which includes attempting to kill our heroine Jill, but never fear, Scotland Yard is near.

The bad looping & dubbing for this UK/Italian production doesn't help, but the main problem is the scary bits are not internally convincing. even if a kitty were a psycho killer, I wasn't convinced it could cause greater mayhem than cat-scratch fever, just like I wasn't convinced that boathouses are built to be airtight. The Black Cat was ultimately very, very stupid.

I can't help myself, but have to mention at least in passing a short comedy version of Poe's tale. It was scripted very close to the original story & titled The Gray Cat (2006), a silent film with music score & text cards. The post-through-the-girl's-head gore-gag is the funniest bit. You can follow the link to watch it at You Tube; if the link provided ever stops working, I hope someone will let me know.

copyright by Paghat the Ratgirl

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