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Edgar Allan Poe's Black Cats: Two Adaptations By Sergio Martino & Lucio Fulci
Arrow Video team up two vintage Italian horror films each inspired by the writing of Edgar Allan Poe for this Black Cats Blu-ray collection. Here's what is included:
The Black Cat (1981):
Based on the classic horror story by Edgar Allan Poe, The Black Cat may not be a high point in Lucio Fulci's career but it is a film that has its moments and that contains a pretty decent cast of performers. Patrick Magee plays a psychic named Professor Robert Miles who can telepathically communicate with the dead. If that weren't weird enough, Miles can also control his pet cat's mind and once he masters this technique, he uses the poor kitty to take down his foes.
An American photographer named Jill Trevers (Mimsy Farmer) is nosing around town and notices that there are lot of cat scratches on some of the corpses that have been popping up in the area as of late. Initially the local cops, Gorley (David Warbeck) and Wilson (Al Cliver), thought that these were accidental deaths but Trevers' might just be on to something and so the three of them start working together to try and sort out just what exactly is happening here. When Trevers confronts Miles about his possible involvement, he proves to her just how right she was all along...
The Black Cat is pretty goofy stuff, but that doesn't mean you can't have fun watching it. Patrick Magee does a fine job of overacting to the point where his performance approaches high comedy at times. He definitely has the right look for the part, with his eyes bulging out of his head half the time, and his manic mannerisms are certainly inspired. Farmer doesn't fare much better in this department, also overdoing it fairly often, and the pair make a quirky contrast to the under-acting of the almost always wooden (but somehow always likeable) Al Cliver. The only one in the cast who is really any good is David Warbeck, though really, he's phoning this one in and coasting on his screen presence and natural charm rather than trying to create any sort of interesting character.
To Fulci's credit, he does manage to create some decent atmosphere in the film. There are some great shots where the camera follows the controlled cat who is out to kill, and some interesting camera angles create an appropriately off kilter mood for the movie. An odd score from composer Pino Donaggio also helps quite a bit. Despite the inadequacies of a few of the performances, the movie looks and sounds good on a technical level and it is very nicely shot making good use of some genuinely atmospheric locations. A couple of decent gore scenes give a few key moments some welcome impact but it's all undone by a rather ridiculous premise and Magee's overzealous turn as the lead protagonist (this would be his last leading role).
Fulci tried with this one, and from a directorial and technical stand point he didn't do a bad job (despite an incessant reliance on ocular close ups), but it's just too hard to take this one seriously enough for it to work as well as it could have. Having said that, you can certainly have plenty of fun with it and appreciate its oddball charm as well as the few gore scenes if offers up. Just keep your expectations in check. Don't expect a bloody gothic horror masterpiece on the level of City Of The Living Dead or The Beyond, you won't get it but this is definitely a fun watch.
Your Vice Is A Locked Room And Only I Have The Key (1972):
Directed by Sergio Martino in 1972, Your Vice Is A Locked Room And Only I Have The Key is a pretty solid follow up (though not a sequel) to the earlier The Strange Vice Of Mrs. Wardh (also known as Blade Of The Ripper, a film Martino made a year before also starring Edwige Fenech and Ivan Rassmivo in prominent roles (the title of this film is actually taken from that earlier movie).
Alternately known as Gently Before She Dies, the story revolves around a drunken writer named Oliviero Rouvigny (Luigi Pistilli), who lives in a massive mansion with his beautiful wife Irina (Anita Strindberg). Their marriage is far from ideal. Oliverio is cruel to his wife and he frequently mistreats her when he's not hosting lavish and decadent parties at their home. Quite understandably, Irina has grown to resent her husband. You can't really blame her when you figure he cares more for their cat, appropriately named Satan, than for his bride. The fact that he's screwing around on her behind her back certainly doesn't help matters much.
All of this bourgeoisie dysfunction sets the stage for things to come and before long, the couple is disturbed to find that someone has broken into the home and murdered their poor maid. As they try to figure out what's behind the death, the arrival of Floriana (Edwige Fenech), Oliviero's promiscuous young niece, throws things even further into disarray. The cops at first figure Oliviero is the murderer but soon various parties start to figure that a strange man named Walter (Ivan Rassimov) is the killer. Of course, it's not so simple as that and as truth behind the maid's murder is revealed, other beautiful young woman start to turn up dead.
The Poe connection isn't as strong here as it is in the Fulci film (in fact it has more in common with Clouzot's Diabolique) but there are still elements of his story that work their way into Martino's narrative quite skillfully. This is a tense, sexy and exciting thriller with a few bloody murders to satisfy horror fans and no shortage of suspense and tension. The story moves at a good pace and if it seems unnecessarily confusing in its first hour, what with all of the red herrings, it manages to tie things up quite effectively in its final hour. Martino keeps steady control over the pacing and exposition here, while the score from Bruno Nicolai does a great job of helping to build both tension and suspense and to heighten the film's sexuality too. Cinematographer Giancarlo Ferrando shoots all of this with plenty of shadowy style, resulting in a beautiful looking film.
As slick and stylish as it is, the cast help bring this one up a further notch. Pistilli is very good as the hard drinking and lecherous Oliviero, a womanizing bastard of a man who treats his poor wife horribly. Pistilli just has a shifty look about his appearance that suits the character well and he plays the part perfectly. The beautiful Anita Strindberg is also good here. We feel for her at first, struggling to understand why she's stay with someone as despicable as he, while Ivan Rassimov is well cast as the stranger who is spotted about town, likely up to no good (Ivan Rassimov was almost always up to no good it would seem). Of course, the gorgeous Edwige Fenech, cast here as a ‘bad girl' type, steals many of the scenes that she's in. Sporting a bob style cut that really accentuates just how beautiful she was, she's got grace and charm to spare but her performance is just as important as her looks. We know once we see her out at the motorcycle races she spends so much time at that she's looking to take advantage of whatever man may come her way, and she vamps it up perfectly.The Blu-ray:
The Black Cat is framed at 1.85.1 widescreen and Your Vice Is A Locked Room And Only I Have The Key at 2.35.1 widescreen. Both transfers are presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition from new 2k scans of the original 35mm negatives. Both films are presented on their own 50GB Blu-ray disc and they look excellent, with detail easily surpassing previous DVD releases in pretty much every way that you would hope for. There's very little print damage evident on either picture, each film looks crisp and very clean here. At the same time there isn't any obvious noise reduction nor is there any obvious edge enhancement. The end result is that both movies look nice and film-like but at the same time take advantage of the format with improved clarity, detail, texture and color reproduction. Skin tones and black levels are also spot on here and there are no problems with any compression artifacts or crush, even in the darker scenes.Audio:
Both films are offered up in English and Italian language options in LPCM Mono with removable subtitles provided in English only. Audio clarity is very strong here, and for single channel mixes there's quite a bit of depth, particularly as it pertains to the way that music is used in both of these movies. Dialogue is clean, clear and nicely balanced and there are no problems to note with any hiss or distortion. English SDH is provided for the English tracks while proper subtitles are provided for the Italian tracks (and they are subtitles, not dubtitles as there are some differences in the two tracks for both movies).
Note that if you opt to watch the English version of either movie you will get the English credits and title cards and if you choose the Italian version of either movie you will get the Italian credits and title cards. A small detail, but a nice touch worth mentioning.Extras:
The extras are spread across the two discs in the set and are ‘movie specific.' They are laid out as follows:
The Black Cat:
First up is a brand new audio commentary by filmmaker and former Fangoria editor Chris Alexander. Alexander's enthusiasm for Fulci is admirable and obvious as he talks here about the influence of Poe on the film, the different actors and actresses that worked alongside the director for this particular entry in his filmography as well as the film's visual style. He also shares some interesting observations and details about Pino Donaggio's score for the film, offers some critical analysis as to what works in the film and what doesn't and a fair bit more.
The disc also includes a few featurettes, the first of which is Poe Into Fulci: The Spirit Of Perverseness in which film historian and Fulci biographer Stephen Thrower talks about the late director's take on Poe's story. This runs twenty-five minutes and it's well worth your time as Thrower offers up a pretty astute analysis of the film as well as some welcome historical insight into its production. In the eight minute long In The Paw-Prints Of The Black Cat we get an interesting piece that gives us a look at the original locations on which the film was shot. Frightened Dagmar is an all new interview with actress Dagmar Lassander that runs about twenty minutes in length. She covers her work on The Black Cat but also discusses her career in cinema in general, from how she got into the business to some of the projects she was involved with both before and after this particular film. At Home With David Warbeck is an archival interview with the film's late leading man. Here he talks for just over seventy-minutes with Stephen Thrower about his film career, the film he spent working on Italian films in general, and of course what it was like working with Lucio Fulci on The Black Cat and The Beyond.
Outside of that we get an original theatrical trailer for the feature, animated menus and chapter selection.
Your Vice Is A Locked Room And Only I Have The Key:
The extras for this feature start out with Through The Keyhole a new interview with director Sergio Martino. Chiming in at thirty-four minutes, this piece sees Martino talking about the significance of the title, the influence of Poe on the story, various films and real life news items that inspired the picture and what it was like working with the different cast members assembled for this picture. Up next is the twenty-three minute Unveiling The Vice which is a featurette that looks back on the making of the movie and which is comprised of interviews with Martino, leading lady Edwige Fenech and screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi. Each interviewee is able to offer up some interesting insight into the history and making of the film in this well edited and produced piece. This was originally included on the past DVD release that came out in North America via now defunct No Shame Films. Dolls Of Flesh And Blood: The Gialli Of Sergio Martino is a half hour long visual essay by Michael Mackenzie that does quite a fine job of exploring and explaining the importance of Martino's giallo run. Also very much worth checking out is The Strange Vices Of Ms. Fenech which is another half hour long visual essay style featurette wherein film historian Justin Harries discusses Fenech's career not only as it pertains to this film and other gialli but also her early days, how she got into acting, some of the sex comedy films that she later became famous for and more. This is oddly assembled in that Harries appears in front of a ‘green screen' of some sort while clips and images of Fenech pertaining to what he's talking about playo out behind him, but there's a lot of great information in here as well as a ton of fantastic archival material displayed. Eli Roth On Your Vice is, as it sounds, a talk with the director about the influence and importance of this particular film and others that Sergio Martino directed. Animated menus and chapter selection round out this disc.
It's also worth mentioning the packaging for this set, as Arrow have really gone the extra mile in this department. Both Blu-ray's are presented in their own clear case (with reversible cover artwork) that also holds a DVD version of each film with extras identical to those found on the Blu-ray. Both cases fit inside a slick looking and very sturdy cardboard slipcover that also houses an eighty page full color book. Inside the book are cast and crew information for each of the two films. Additionally we get a few essays, the first of which is Ernesto Gastaldi's Perversions of Poe by Christopher Alexander followed by The Production Of Your Vice Is A Locked Room by Andreas Ehrenreich, followed by 9 Lives Of The Black Cat by Mikel Koven, and last but not least, Lucio Fulci: The Final Interview which was conducted by Howard S. Berger. Also included in the book is Poe's original short story, The Black Cat and some technical notes about the presentation for each film in the set.Final Thoughts:
Arrow's Black Cats collection brings two Poe inspired Italian horror pictures to Blu-ray in grand style indeed. Each film looks fantastic here, the new transfers blowing away past DVD editions in a big way, and there are a plethora of top notch supplements including each feature. Everything, from the packaging to the presentation to the accompanying book, has been done with a lot of care and a lot of attention to detail making this one that fans of Italian genre cinema will not want to miss. Highly recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.