Black Cats Blu-ray Review

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Magnificent, moody and menacing through and through

by Chris McEneany Oct 19, 2015 at 6:13 PM

  • Movies review


    Black Cats Blu-ray Review
    SRP: £34.99

    Film Reviews

    Arrow releases a barnstorming double-whammy of stylish Euro horror in the form of their Black Cats collection.

    Coupling Sergio Martino’s giallo stepping stone Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key (1972) with Lucio Fulci’s The Black Cat (1981), the tone is set for a sensational blend of proto stalk ‘n’ slash and supernatural mystery. Both films use Edgar Allan Poe’s celebrated short story as a springboard from which to mount their own blood-spattered prowlings into dark worlds of madness and the macabre.

    Long considered a misstep on his otherwise staggeringly gruesome path of signature zombie gut-munchers, Fulci’s oddball adaptation of feline-fuelled comeuppance is neither boring, nor tame. Placid only when compared to his infamous offal-flingers, this is a wonderfully atmospheric and deliciously wacky tale of deadly goings-on in a beautiful Buckinghamshire hamlet in which a hapless American woman becomes embroiled in a floundering murder hunt whose only connection appears to be a menacing moggy. The dead talk, the ghastly incidents pile up and the trademark splatter, whilst reined-in, paints the quaint English village red with a decidedly 80’s Italian flourish.

    Martino’s manipulative whodunit boasts the luminous beauty of cult-babe Edwige Fenech as well as the sleazy intensity of Luigi Pistilli in a luridly erotic yarn in which the entire cast seem to have some devilish secret up their sleeve. Another black cat weaves its hypnotic spell over the proceedings as a rundown chateau plays host to murderous desires.

    Picture Quality

    The Black Cat Picture Quality
    Warped visuals and stylishly lensed set-pieces are in full-effect with these two Spaghetti interpretations of Poe’s classic, and Arrow’s transfers do them justice.

    Both films have undergone 2K restorations from the original camera negatives.

    Fulci’s The Black Cat is presented 2.35:1 and is revealed, after decades of scrappy prints on tear-away home video, to be a tremendous visual feast that far too many fans have simply dismissed or just plain ignored. Whereas the movie may not be up to the ferocious standards of the director’s offerings that came either side of it – he slotted this one in very quickly between City of the Living Dead and The Beyond – it proudly unveils impressively redolent photography from Sergio Salvati and incredible mis-en-scene from Fulci that utilises the genuine English enclave of Hambledon with majestically spooky distinction. That lustrous widescreen plays host to mist-enshrouded streets as various characters traipse off to meet their fate. Inventive camerawork delivers a cat’s-eye POV of potential victims that really brings the film to life courtesy of a transfer that is clear, clean and fluid, and holds fast-action and sweeping pans and tracking shots with smoothness and clarity. Fulci and Salvati craft some splendid compositions, placing characters deep within the frame and playing with unusual angles. All of this is brought keenly to our appreciation with a picture that has depth and fine black levels to embolden the frequent shadows.

    Dimensionality in what many would, possibly, have considered a flat, bland TV-style movie is actually very good indeed. There are very many visual standouts that make the image a joy for the eyes to rove around. There are the aforementioned jaunts through the village, to which you can add discoveries in the subterranean tunnels of cobwebbed, skeleton-filled crypts (actually the vaults of the original Hellfire Club) and midnight meanderings through misty graveyards. There is also the terrific sequence in which then-mature genre damsel, Dagmar Lassander, battles her way through a genuinely dangerous inferno, the flames all around her and providing exciting pockets of blazing colour about the frame.

    Now whilst the overall palette looks sort of faded, the transfer can swiftly deliver the claret with aplomb when it counts. Thus, primaries can actually be very strong at times. There is a certain look that Italian movies, especially Fulci’s, seem to have during this period – a sickly, almost jaundiced pallor. The image seen here retains this somewhat unhealthy and vaguely dusty appearance, though this is surely as accurate as can be. Don’t be misled, however. There are still plenty of hues and shades on offer, and the film can often look bright and painterly – the vivid flesh-scratching by the cat, those intense flames in the house-blaze. And, almost enhancing this sickly quality, close-ups of the great Patrick Magee can be, ahem, quite repulsive. This transfer allows you incredibly revealing and unpleasantly colourful examinations of his rheumy eyes, replete with the sallow, pus-stippled skin around them. I detected no smearing and I have absolutely no doubt that the timing is faithful.

    Grain is evident and doesn’t look manipulated to me. I did see some haloing going on though. Some shots of Mimsy Farmer appear to have been sharpened, though never to the point of being distracting. And I was looking for it in the first place. There is some print damage to The Black Cat in the form of a single vertical line that appears over to the extreme right of the frame. This occurs a couple of times and is definitely noticeable, but I did not find it at all irritating.

    Both films have undergone 2K restorations from the original camera negatives.

    Martino’s Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key (phew ... what a bizarre slog of a title) is presented 1.85:1 and carries another finely rendered image of believable dimensionality and depth, fine close-up detail and a credibly film-like appearance. We have grain, we have splashes of vivid colour, and we have shadows that are satisfyingly deep, even if the blacks may not be the best around and a couple of nocturnal stalkings can obscure lurking figures a little too much.

    This is a film lavishly saturated with incredibly gorgeous women ... and, to this end, is hard not to admire on a purely primal level. Thankfully, the transfer brings such beauties to startling and radiant life. Skin-tones are consistent and clarity sublime. The ravishing flesh on show from Fenech and Anita Strindberg, especially the intoxicating and hypnotic eyes in both cases, serves to contrast with Pistilli’s much more ravaged, harsh and lived-in countenance. Detail is superb with regards to bodies and the stylish costumes that adorn them. This clarity, sadly, also highlights the mediocrity of the gore effects which, despite lots of hackings and slashings, don’t convince in the slightest.

    The restoration sports a clean image, mostly un-affected by wear and tear. On the digital front, I noticed occasions when sideways panning shots that should have been smooth and gliding actually became quite irritating with shimmering blurriness. The film has a few lush exterior sequences in which the town plaza and a hill-side motocross race make this apparent.

    Overall, both films look great, really benefitting from the work that has gone into restoring them. Whilst Vice has always been respected and thus obviously fan-pleasing, the real joy comes with The Black Cat, which now gains such value as a visual experience that it transcends much of its ignorant critique.

    Sound Quality

    The Black Cat Sound Quality
    Both films come with the option of either Italian or English language tracks. I stuck with the English.

    The PR for my check discs cited that the audio for both films was uncompressed PCM, but my equipment identified this as DTS-HD MA mono.

    In both cases, the films are heftily dubbed. You know this going in, so you obviously have to make considerable allowances for the bugaboo displacement and delivery of dialogue.

    In The Black Cat, both David Warbeck and Patrick Magee are dubbing over their own voices. It would have been a cruel blow to the film to have used anyone else to cover Magee’s rich, throaty Welsh warble, but the funny thing is that Warbeck actually sounds as though Fulci blackmailed Roger Moore to come in and dub his lines. Thus, he actually sounds funnier than the always awesome Italian stalwart Al Cliver, whose regular vocal replacement of Nick Alexander determinedly tries to emulate a rural English twang as the village bobby!

    The audio mixes for both films are serviceable and satisfying.

    In Vice, nobody is speaking with their own voice but this never once becomes painful.

    Dialogue in both films is always nice and clear, although I did notice one or two occasions in Vice when voices seemed to drop in volume for a few seconds.

    The effects are typically boosted and outlandish, rendering both films a heightened aura of theatricality, yet elements such as footsteps, car-doors banging, engines revving and motorcycles roaring about (both films boast such high-octane scenes) are crisply delivered. There is plentiful screaming across the two films and vicious bodily impacts, as you would hope. Again, do not expect realism. Such histrionics are brightly doled-out and the audio mixes in either case deal very capably with them within the limitations of their vintage soundmix.

    Both films also feature lush orchestral scores that are typically somewhat alien to the situations they illustrate. Pino Donnagio, a renowned composer who rarely hits the mark with me (far too overblown and romantic for the many horror and thriller productions he has worked on, as I have discussed many times before) scores The Black Cat with melodic whimsy. There are, promisingly, some fine and eerie passages too. His music comes across very well indeed on this track, with presence and warmth. For Vice, we have the organic and sinuous work of Bruno Nicolai that, once again, emphasises the lush eroticism of the story. This also is presented with warmth and albeit limited clarity and presence.

    The audio mixes for both films are serviceable and satisfying.


    The Black Cat Extras
    Cats have nine lives ... and Arrow ensures that Black Cats also have lots of bonus features.

    This limited edition set contains both BD and DVD versions of the two movies.

    Through the Keyhole – a brand new interview with director Sergio Martino.
    Unveiling the Vice – making-of retrospective featuring interviews with Martino, star Edwige Fenech and screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi. Good stuff all-round and, man, is Fenech gorgeous!
    Dolls of Flesh and Blood: The Gialli of Sergio Martino – a visual essay by Michael Mackenzie exploring the director’s unique contributions to the giallo genre.
    The Strange Vices of Ms. Fenech – film historian Justin Harries on the Your Vice actress’ prolific career. WOW ... what a woman!!!!
    Eli Roth on Your Vice and the genius of Martino – I believe that Roth is ridiculously over-praised as a filmmaker and has yet to deliver anything other than a snooze-fest, but I also happen to like the guy immensely and love listening to him and his opinions on genre fare. This, then, is a little treat that is funny, informative, passionate and even anecdotal.
    Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Matthew Griffin.

    Brand new audio commentary by filmmaker and Fangoria editor Chris Alexander that is a meandering fan-based mess (in a good way) that actually had me laughing out loud on a couple of occasions. Hardly the usual type of scholarly discourse and certainly not PC. But fun.
    Poe into Fulci: The Spirit of Perverseness – film historian Stephen Thrower on Fulci’s Poe-tinged classic. Good, solid piece.
    In the Paw-Prints of the Black Cat – a look at the original Black Cat locations. This is nice addition reminding just how quaint and gorgeous the setting was that Fulci took over and bedecked with fog machines, screaming women, roaming moggies and mad-eyed Patrick Magee!
    Frightened Dagmar – a brand new career interview with actress Dagmar Lassander.
    At Home with David Warbeck – an archive interview with The Black Cat star. Sit back and relax because this vintage session goes on for a long time. Fine reminiscences though ... and he definitely sounds like Roger Moore!
    Original Theatrical Trailer
    Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Matthew Griffin.

    With the full retail release there is also a Limited Edition 80-page booklet containing new articles on the films, Lucio Fulci’s last ever interview and a reprint of Poe’s original story

    Overall, this is an entertaining and informative selection of supplements that really add to the enjoyment of the two films

    Blu-ray Verdict

    The Black Cat Blu-ray Verdict
    This is an excellent box set, folks. Vintage Euro-horror looking gloriously resplendent in new transfers, and bolstered with interesting and enjoyable extras.

    Although clearly Martino’s film is the better constructed and written of the two, and certainly the most important with regards to the genre, paving the way, as it did, for the even more brutal and compelling Torso, I actually had the most fun with Fulci’s feline fantasy. Erroneously neglected and too-frequently shunted-aside, The Black Cat rattles along with scant regard for continuity, flirts with surrealism and concocts a fabulously morbid mood of unearthly happenings in the sort of place that Miss Marple would have retired to. True, it tones down the gore and one dummy effect is painfully obvious, but it is relentlessly seedy and creepy and any film with Patrick Magee mugging insanely at the camera and both David Warbeck and Al Cliver portraying English coppers in the thralls of a supernatural murder-mystery is a winner in my book.

    This limited edition set is handsomely packaged and gains bonus points for simply existing in the first place.

    I, along with legions of other gorehounds who cut their teeth on Video Nasties at the very time the phenomenon was splashing intestinal vitriol across the tabloids, was disappointed with Fulci’s leafy English pot-boiler and rarely entertained thoughts of sitting through it again. But now, with this release, and its largely terrific new transfer, I have become smitten. Fulci, God bless the little Italian ogre, was indeed a maestro and a hack at the same time, but his films have his wicked hallmark gloriously stamped all the way through them and are visually sumptuous. The Black Cat is compelling proof that even when straying from the path he could fashion something roguishly glorious out of haphazard material and talent.

    Very definitely recommended for fans of Euro-Horror.

    You can buy Black Cats on Blu-ray here

    Suggested retail price when reviewed: £34.99

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