The Black Cat (1981)
Starz / Anchor Bay // R // $29.98 // June 12, 2001
Review by Adam Tyner | posted June 2, 2001
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A small village is rocked by a series of deaths and disappearances: a man driving on a straight, dry road collides head-on with a parked van, and a pair of young lovebirds vanish without saying a word to anyone. Even after an inspector from Scotland Yard (the much-loved David Warbeck) arrives to investigate, the local townsfolk continue to suffer from a seemingly-endless number of unfortunate accidents. An American photographer intrigued by a local medium's attempts to contact the netherworld pins the blame on his black cat, but come on -- it's just a cat. Right? (cue audio sting)

I'm not sure if I'd consider myself much a fan of Fulci's, only having seen "Don't Torture A Duckling" and "The Beyond" before popping this disc in my player. It's surprising that a film as excellent on so many levels as "The Beyond" would be the follow-up to a movie as comparatively timid as "The Black Cat". "The Beyond" and, to a lesser extent, "Don't Torture A Duckling", both have the elements that have endeared Fulci to so many horror enthusiasts -- unflinching camera work, graphic violence, and a very distinctive directing style. Those films had such memorable visuals as the recently-murdered dissolving in lime, tarantulas munching on lips, and a witch whose skin splits open as she's beaten to death with chains; "The Black Cat" has a cat scratching people. When the cat's done scratching one hapless victim, twenty minutes later, he scratches someone else. The body count is on the low side, and of those deaths, there's no real gore at all. Some brief nudity aside, "The Black Cat" would hardly have to be cut at all to air on basic cable, if that's any indication. "The Black Cat" isn't an unwatchable, terrible film; although I wasn't enthralled, my interest didn't really die off until the last half-hour. Although the run time is the usual hour-and-a-half, the somewhat-dull "The Black Cat" seems far longer than that. No doubt Fulci devotees have heard all of this before, and those who have seen and enjoyed "The Black Cat" previously will be likely pleased with Anchor Bay's wonderful presentation on this DVD release. I wouldn't recommend "The Black Cat" to Fulci neophytes, but then, I don't think that was the audience Anchor Bay was aiming for with this release anyway.

Video: Like most everything from Fulci, "The Black Cat" was shot at 2.35:1, and as is to be expected from any recent release with the Anchor Bay logo in the corner, this disc is enhanced for widescreen televisions. Some occasional light film grain rears its head from time to time, but the amount of grain is very reasonable given the movie's age and Fulci's notorious film-conserving techniques. The text on the case mentions that Anchor Bay restored the original negative to produce this disc, and the crisp, detailed result is absolutely spectacular. Although not as impressive as the release of "The Beyond", "The Black Cat" sports some vibrant, beautiful colors, with blacks as deep as one would hope for a movie with such a title. Dust and assorted specks are scarce, and when they are present, they're so tiny that I probably wouldn't have noticed if I weren't intentionally keeping an eye out for them. The most notable and distracting print flaw is a series of vertical stripes that pop up throughout. In some of the early scenes in Miles' home, these lines look like thin, translucent red tape placed over a very small portion of the right hand of the frame. These appear in various forms and colors, though mostly near the beginning and in the film's finalé, where the stripe moves to the center of the frame. These lines are rather odd and very noticeable, but they're not distracting to the point where they greatly detract from the viewing experience as a whole. Another minor annoyance is some slight flicker in a handful of scenes, where it looks as if every fifth frame were tinted a light blue. Again, this isn't a particularly big deal. It might sound as if I'm really tearing into the quality of the video presentation here, but I'm just trying to be thorough. "The Black Cat" looks very impressive, especially considering the extremely low budget involved. I'd go so far as to say that "The Black Cat", though a few years more recent, sports an overall better looking transfer than the also-just-released "Close Encounters of the Third Kind", and I think it goes without saying that "The Black Cat" didn't gross hundreds of millions of dollars at the box office. It's not without its flaws, but this is unquestionably the best "The Black Cat" has ever looked (I say that having no point of reference, of course), and it's clear that a lot of effort was put into making this film look great on DVD, despite its obscurity.

Audio: There's not much to say about the robust mono soundtrack aside from echoing the "free of hiss and distortion..." line I seem to use in far too many reviews. Dialogue is always discernable, though it has that slightly-hollow sort of studio-dub sound so typical in Italian horror from this time period, and it's never buried in the mix by the rich and very well-preserved score.

Supplements: "The Black Cat" features an anamorphic trailer that somehow manages to look even better than the feature itself, along with an excellent Fulci bio/filmography.

Conclusion: "The Black Cat" is far from the best starting point for a budding Fulci enthusiast, but those who know and love the director's work ought to be pleased with Anchor Bay's extraordinary work here. Completists will buy it sight-unseen, but for more casual fans, "The Black Cat" is probably better suited towards a rental, if you're fortunate enough to know of such a horror-savvy shop in your area. Rent it.

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