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The Black Cat (1981) October 6th, 2020

There’s no shortage of horror films about cats. There’s Cat People, the sequel The Curse of the Cat People, and the Malcolm McDowell remake. The nautical cat-in-cat movie The Uninvited that’s a horror both in genre and in viewing experience. Stephen King alone is responsible for Sleepwalkers, Cat’s Eye, and two Pet Semetary films. Lucio Fulci’s 1981 giallo film is one of countless movies inspired by Edgar Allen Poe’s short story The Black Cat, but if I was forced to watch a cat themed horror movie I wouldn’t choose The Black Cat.

Let’s talk positives. On the plus side we have the fear of cats. If you’re afraid of your flesh being cut to ribbons by the knives cats hide in their paws then The Black Cat is gonna make you squirm. If you enjoy feeling like Patrick Magee is moments away from drugging you with tainted wine, then The Black Cat is gonna make you sweat. If you like movies where 50% of the shots are extreme close ups of eyes, especially Patrick Magee’s prodigious Pai May esq eyebrows, then The Black Cat is gonna make you swoon.

Let’s talk negatives. Detracting from the film is the style. Fantasy-mystery-thrillers aren’t really my thing, which kind of means giallo isn’t my thing. I think I want every giallo film to be like Susperia or All the Colors of the Dark but instead they’re like 2 hour episodes of Law & Order: SVU from the 70s. The jury is still out on giallo, there’s another handful or so I want to see before deciding it’s not for me but The Black Cat certainly wasn’t.

Then there’s the story itself. It’s basically the story of a young American photographer helping a small town English police force solve a series of unexplained murders. She meets an eccentric mentalist who confides in her that he believes his cat is responsible for the killing spree. Can she convince the police her wild theory is correct before they run out of luck and The Black Cat strikes again?

If memory serves, there’s a scene in Poe’s The Black Cat right out of The Cask of Amontillado wherein a cat is bricked up behind a wall and meows like The Tell-Tale Heart until the bad guy’s caught. At least I’m pretty sure I’m remembering one Poe story and not mixing up the elements of two separate works and insisting it’s a new standalone premise. We’re talking about Edgar Allen Poe here, not Stephen King.

The high volume of tight eye shots aren’t the only standout aspect of the cinematography. There’s also the eerie cat POV shots throughout where the camera becomes subjective and it’s extremely wide angle lens and nearness to the ground give you the distinct sense that you’re a cat stalking your next victim.

The last thing I’ve got to mention are the subtitles. We watched The Black Cat courtesy of Arrow Video’s Blu-Ray release. The movie looks as good as I expect it will ever look and aside from some characters being hard to hear it’s a fine transfer. Arrow Video allows you to watch the movie with either English or Italian audio and subtitles. We like to watch movies in their native language so we started watching the movie in Italian with English subtitles, but early on we noticed the characters lips were matching some of the words in the subtitles. We tested the theory by switching to English audio with English subtitles and were met with what seems to be a movie shot with on-set English dialogue.

But see, we never turned off the English subtitles. That’s how we learned the English subtitles only match the English dialogue 50% of the time. If you watch The Black Cat in Italian I’m betting you’re hearing a different story. Not entirely different, but different. Early on there’s a moment where the lead character is referred to as American in the English audio but in the subtitles it’s implied that she’s from London. There’s a scene in a graveyard where I couldn’t hear anything but the subtitles suggested someone in the graves was speaking to Patrick Magee.  ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ My uneducated guess is the English subtitles were translated from the Italian subtitles which probably derived from the Italian dub which was most likely translated from the on-set English audio instead of just transcribing the English on set audio. Who knows?

The Black Cat isn’t for everyone, heck I don’t think it’s for me. It slowly meanders through a pretty boring investigation plot with poorly contrived death scenes. In the end I’m glad I watched it, with any luck I won’t cross its path again.

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