Tuesday, October 27, 2015

EDGAR ALLEN POE'S BLACK CATS: TWO ADAPTATIONS BY SERGIO MARTINO & LUCIO FULCI (BLU-RAY REVIEW)


EDGAR ALLEN POE'S BLACK CATS: TWO ADAPTATIONS BY SERGIO MARTINO AND LUCIO FULCI 

THE BLACK CAT (1981) 

Label: Arrow Video
Region Code: Region Free
Rating: Unrated
Duration: 91 Minutes
Audio: Uncompressed LPCM Mono English, LPCM Mono Italian with Optional English SDH Subtitles
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (2.35:1)
Director: Lucio Fulci
Cast: David Warbeck, Patrick Magee, Mimsy Farmer, Dagmar Lassander, Al Cliver

Director Lucio Fulci takes a step back from the graphic gore of City of the Living Dead (1980) for The Black Cat, his variation on the Edgar Allen Poe short story of the same name. The movie begins with a man driving through a quiet English village when an ominous black cat appears in the backseat of his car, the man stares into the cat's eyes and falls into a trance, before veering into a parked car and erupting into flames. A short time later a pair of young lovers are making out in a boat on the river, looking for a more private place they make their way to a nearby boathouse where they lock themselves into a airtight storage room. The mysterious black cat again appears, supernaturally causing the A/C to shut down before making off with the only key to the door, the young lovers are trapped inside and suffocate to death, their whereabouts remain unknown for some days. 


It turns out that the ominous black cat belongs the aged Professor Robert Miles (Patrick Magee, A Clockwork Orange), a mean-spirited old cuss who spends his free time making audio recordings at the nearby graveyard, hoping to record the voices of the newly dead. It is implied that the professor possesses some form of hypnotic power, and might possibly be using his abilities to guide the black cat on it's murderous spree. The mother of one of the missing lovers from the boathouse, Lillian Gayson (Dagmar Lassander, The House by the Cemetery), worries about her daughter, notifying local constable Sergeant Wilson (Al Cliver, Zombi) who in turn places a call to Scotland Yard, Inspector Gorley (David Warbeck, The Beyond). Gorley arrives on motorcycle, in one of Warbecks more proactive and bad ass roles in Italian cinema, tearing into town on a the motorbike is a memorable entrance. After his arrival more death follow the appearance of the malicious cat with  suspicion beginning to fall on Professor Miles, Patrick Magee is just brings a lot of creepy menace and gravitas to the role, a strange character for sure. 


The story is only weakly linked to the Poe origins, basically we have the black cat and a victim bricked-up behind a wall at the finale, the latter of which Fulci has already explored with his movie The Psychic (1977), a superior movie with a similar tone. Fulci's Black Cat is a sort of montage of disparate elements, with Poe's story being just one component alongside other Poe-centic ideas, with a strong reference to David Cronenberg's The Brood (1977) and a shoe-horned nod to The Exorcist (1973), all wrapped up in the Gothic trappings of a rural English village with  loads of atmospheric touches including eerie fog shrouded woodland and cemetery scenes. 


Here Fulci relies more on a slow-building atmosphere than gruesome gore, there's no eye-trauma on display, just a few vicious cat scratches when the venomous feline draws blood, plus a mild scene of decomposing, rat-gnawn bodies, but for the duration of the film Fulci keeps it firmly in the Gothic horror vein, more akin to a Fulci/Hammer horror than a gruesome gore-soaked nightmare. It's worth noting Fulci made quite a few atmospheric whodunits before he came around to the favored gore entries in the early to mid-eighties, and this is a nice return to his roots, more along the lines of Don't Torture a Ducking or the aforementioned The Psychic. 


Audio/Video: Arrow Video bring Lucio Fulci's Gothic shocker to Blu-ray, sourcing the brand new 2K transfer straight from the original camera negative. The result are fantastic, well advancing over previous releases in all areas with improved clarity, depth and he overall crispness of the image. Colors are reproduced faithfully with natural looking skin tones, this is top-notch HD upgrade all around. Audio comes by way of  an uncompressed  LPCM Mono English or Italian with optional  English SDH subtitles. The evocative score from Pino Donaggio is nicely balanced with the dialogue and effects, nothing is overpowered, everything is crisp and free of distortion. 


Arrow blows away previous releases with not just a gorgeous brand-new 2K transfer, but with a variety of informative value-added extras, beginning with an audio commentary from former Fangoria editor, and movie maker in his own right, Chris Alexander. he comes across as a huge fan of Eurocult and Fulci in particular, maybe not the most insightful commentary in an academic sense, but fun, breezy and he comes off as a well-informed super-fan. Not to trash the commentary but I would have preferred a commentary with author and horror historian Stephen Thrower. 


No worries, Stephen Thrower is well represented with two new features, the 20-minute overview of the movie 'Poe into Fulci: The Spirit of Perverseness', and the 8-minute 'In the Paw-Prints of the Black Cat', the latter with Thrower touring the original Black Cat filming locations, even recreating a few of the iconic tracking shots. Thrower is always a wealth of knowledge, mixing anecdotal asides with his own wry views and well-versed horror history, these are the best of the extras on the set in my opinion. There's also have a 20-minute interview with actress Dagmar Lassander who goes into some great detail about her storied career in Italian cinema. David Warbeck, who dies in 1997, is featured in a 70-minute video interview conducted by Thrower, the interview covers most of Warbeck's body of  Italian cinema. Lastly we have a HD trailer for the movie. 


Special Features: 
- Brand new audio commentary by filmmaker and Fangoria editor Chris Alexander
- Poe into Fulci: The Spirit of Perverseness – film historian Stephen Thrower on Fulci’s Poe-tinged classic(26 Mins) HD 
- In the Paw-Prints of the Black Cat – a look at the original Black Cat locations (8 Mins) HD 
- Frightened Dagmar – a brand new career interview with actress Dagmar Lassander (20 Mins) HD 
- At Home with David Warbeck – an archive interview with The Black Cat star (70 Mins) HD
- Original Theatrical Trailer (3 Mins) 
- Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Matthew Griffin

Lucio Fulci's The Black Cat (1981) is a sorely under appreciated entry from the Italian master of phantasmagorical gore, maybe because it relies more on tone and atmosphere and strays from the more typical fantasy-based gore he was known for at the time, having been bookended by City of the Living dead and The Beyond, I can see how this Gothic chiller might get lost between to iconic slices of Italian cinema, but I highly recommend you check out this overlooked gem of Gothic cinema, a movie with great performances from the venerable Patrick Magee and Eurocult regular David Warbeck. 


YOUR VICE IS A LOCKED ROOM AND ONLY I HAVE THE KEY (1972) 

Label: Arrow Video 
Region Code: Region Free
Rating: Unrated
Duration: 96 Minutes 
Audio: Uncompressed LPCM Mono English, LPCM Mono Italian with Optional  English SDH Subtitles 
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.85:1) 
Director: Sergio Martino
Cast: Edwige Fenech, Anita Strindberg, Luigi Pistilli, Ivan Rassimov, Franco Nebbia 

The second half of Arrow's Poe adaptation double feature is a classic Italian whodunit from noted director Sergio Martino, Your vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key, which is a title that references his previous whodunnut The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh, also starring Eurocult icon Edwige Fenech. This lurid slice of Italian cinema begins with waning novel writer Oliviero Rouvigny (Luigi Pistilli, A Bay of Blood), the sadistic husband of Irina (Anita Strindberg, The Case of the Scorpion's Tale). Oliviero is obsessed with his dead mother, a quirk which emerges when he becomes a bit too turned on when his wife and various lovers dress in her vintage gowns. His strange sexual proclivities make him the subject of a murder investigation, when his former student and current lover turns up dead. After being questioned by the police the already wrecked man begins to spiral out of control, pushed even further when his maid turns up dead in his home, worried that he will be blamed for her death both he and his wife hide the body in the home and create a story about having to fire her. 

Soon after they receive word that Irina's niece will be visiting, a sex kitten named Floriana (Edwige Fenech, Blade of the Ripper), a manipulative nymph who seduces not only Oliviero but her own aunt, the red-haired Irina, whom as played by Strindberg is still quite a blossom, even when compared to Fenech. The stylish whodunit sets itself apart from many of it's contemporaries by eschewing many of the whodunit norms, there's no black-gloved killer for starters, but there's plenty of paranoia and no shortage of suspects, which makes it hard to get your footing at times. 

Fenech's turn as a villainous woman is fun, usually cast as the victim, and while she suffers at the hands of her abusive husband she's not angel, nope. As this is part of the Black Cat double-feature from Arrow there must be a connection to Edgar Allen Poe's short story, again we have black cat, named Satan which belonged to Oliviero's now dead mother, Irina cannot stand the cat and goes after ti several times with knife. Additionally theres the bricked-up wall which reveals a secret when the wailing cat draws suspicion from the police at the last moment, again, a tenuous link to the Poe story to be sure, but it's there. Italian cult-cinema fans will be pleased to see Eurocult staple Ivan Rassimov (Spasmo) who appears as, what else, a nefarious character who may or may not be complicit in the crimes.

Audio/Video: Like Fulci's The Black Cat this new 2K HD transfer was sourced from the original camera negative, but lacks the depth and clarity of Fulci's entry, there's some grit to it, it lacks the crispness and fine detail of the former, but looks significantly better that any version I have viewed before, it's a definite upgrade.  Audio again come by way of a crisp and clean uncompressed LPCM Mono English or Italian with optional  English SDH subtitles. 


Onto the bonus content we have a brand new interview with Sergio Martino himself in Italian with English subtitles as the director looks back upon his career and the influence of Edgar Allen Poe. Carried over from the No shame DVD from a few years back is a 23-minute making of retrospective featuring Martino, Edwige Fenech and screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi. Michael Mackenzie offers up a half-hour visual essay covering all of Martinos whodunits, film historian Justin Harries waxes poetic over Fenech for the half-hour career retrospective, and director Eli Roth offers a 9-minute appreciation of the movie and of the director, citing Martino as a direct influence on Hostel II, in addition to casting Fenech in the movie as well.

Special Features: 
- Through the Keyhole – a brand new interview with director Sergio Martino (35 Mins) HD
- Unveiling the Vice – making-of retrospective featuring interviews with Martino, star Edwige Fenech and screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi (23 Mins)
- 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 (29 Mins) HD
- The Strange Vices of Ms. Fenech – film historian Justin Harries on the Your Vice actress’ prolific career (30 Mins) 
-  Eli Roth on Your Vice and the genius of Martino (9 Mins) HD
- Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Matthew Griffin
- Limited Edition 80-page booklet containing new articles on the films, Lucio Fulci’s last ever interview and a reprint of Edgar Allen Poe’s original story.

Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key gets a nice upgrade from Arrow with a sweet array of newly produced supplemental material. of the pair of movies I liked it less than I did the Fulci entry but I have always favored Fulci, maybe to a fault. Martino's entry is solid, a deeply psycho-sexual whodunit ripe with sadism, misogyny and multi-faceted betrayal, while not may favorite of the Martino whodunits this is still a high recommend. Arrow's Edgar Allan Poe’s Black Cats: Two Adaptations by Sergio Martino and  Lucio Fulci is a classy release, the new HD transfers are the best either movies have ever appeared on home video, and the value-added extras make this one of my favorite releases of the year. 

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