CAT IN THE BRAIN (1990) Blu-ray
Director: Lucio Fulci
Grindhouse Releasing

One of the undeniable masters of Italian horror, the late Lucio Fulci has an extraordinary filmography which includes several excellent early 1970s giallos (DON’T TORTURE A DUCKLING, A LIZARD IN A WOMAN’S SKIN) as well as his notorious and the now-classic early 1980s gorefests (ZOMBIE, CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD, THE BEYOND) which no doubt garnished the high accolades he still receives in the U.S. and abroad. While not his final film, 1990’s CAT IN THE BRAIN (aka NIGHTMARE CONCERT) is an oddball slice of insanity, which comes off like Fulci’s swan song, a culmination of a filmmaker who in all likelihood shot more violent death scenes in his career than any other. Grindhouse Releasing now upgrades their 2009 DVD with this three-disc (two Blu-rays and one CD soundtrack) set that definitely delivers the shocking goods.

In CAT IN THE BRAIN, Fulci plays himself, a writer and director of grotesque horror films. During the opening, we see Fulci typing away at his desk, accompanied by shots of a puppet cat nibbling at some bloody brains – later on, Fulci explains to a friend that he feels as if a cat was eating at his brain, hence the title. Anyway, after Fulci goes to a restaurant and is repulsed at the thought of steak tartare, he can’t seem to get the gruesome visions of his films out of his psyche, and he can’t distinguish his art from reality, believing he may be committing murders he’s not conscious of. Fulci visits a neighborhood psychiatrist (David L. Thompson) who watches all of Fulci's films (on VHS) and reads all his scripts as some sort of research into why the director is so mentally agitated. But the psychiatrist hypnotizes Fulci and sees the situation as a channel to exercise his own murderous behavior, with the hopes that his disturbed patient will take the blame for a series of brutal killings.

Some see CAT IN THE BRAIN as a Fulci masterpiece about art imitating life, while others see it as a poorly conceived patchwork utilizing clips from previous films. Using the goriest bits from films which Fulci either directed or supervised (including his GHOSTS OF SODOM and A TOUCH OF DEATH), the outcome is an outlandish film-within-a-film-within-a-brain with a very malicious, misogynistic nature. It could very well be a cynical commentary on violence in cinema and how it affects the viewer, or Fulci’s satirical side illustrating how some of his fans might perceive him. At any rate, it’s doubtful that Fulci was taking any of this too seriously, and apparently he had a lot of fun making it.

It’s easy to see why splatter lovers have embraced CAT IN THE BRAIN over the years. Even with all its compiled recycling, it manages to embody every possible graphic atrocity imaginable. Victims are graphically strangled, decapitated, hit over the head with hammers, filleted, chainsawed, and there’s even a head sizzling in a microwave oven. Lots of nudity and a bit where an excited Fulci directs a Nazi orgy sequence adds to the depravity. Most of the gore effects are pretty shoddy, but they're so over-the-top that they tend to nauseate regardless (naturally, the film was banned in the U.K. for a number of years). The acting (especially when watching the English language version) is mostly laughable, though Fulci is fascinating to watch as himself in a series of ambiguous routines. It’s quite funny seeing Fulci garbed in a plaid hunter’s cap and jacket looking like a bearded Elmer Fudd, venerably greeted by the locals (some who call him "Dr. Fulci"). Even more amusing is the appearance of the psychiatrist in murder mode, who with a hood over his head and weapon in hand, looks like Foster Brooks doing a Cash Flagg impersonation.

Grindhouse Releasing presents CAT IN THE BRAIN on Blu-ray in a fine 1.66:1 1080p High Definition transfer. It’s hard to imagine the film looking any better than it does here, as detail is excellent and colors are bold. The source element does exhibit some grainy parts and occasional picture softness, but the transfer is clean and pleasing overall. English (the language most of the actors appear to be speaking) and Italian tracks (DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0) are included, both coming off clear without any noticeable distortion or hiss. Easy-to-read removable English subtitles are provided for the Italian language version. The first disc includes the feature as well as Italian and English trailers for the film.

The second Blu-ray includes all the main extras from the 2009 DVD as well as some new supplements. There’s a lengthy 1995 interview (in Italian with English subtitles) with Fulci presented in two segments: “Genre Terrorist” (40:18) and “The Television Years” (40:53). Fulci is a fascinating interview subject, and with the way he robustly discusses his work and different aspects of cinema, it’s hard to believe he would only have a short time to live after this was conducted. First, he conveys his strong feelings against psychiatry (the proof found within the plot of CAT IN THE BRAIN), and then goes into the “Italian School of Horror Films” mentioning his various colleagues as well as some of the actresses he worked with, and he boasts that he got on well with all of them. The second part of the interview concentrates on Fulci’s early work in newsreels and documentaries, as well as some of the “musical” pictures he directed. “Brett Halsey - Living La Dolce Vita” is 45+ minute career interview with the American actor who starred in CAT IN THE BRAIN, via clips from A TOUCH OF DEATH. Halsey discusses his beginnings in Hollywood, early starring roles like RETURN OF THE FLY, and working in Italy and his films with Fulci (he had no idea his scenes ended up in CAT until well after the fact). “Memories Of Lucio” (5:00) features comments about the man from CAT stars Jeoffrey Kennedy, Sacha Maria Darwin and the beautiful Malisa Longo. “Lucio Fulci At Fangoria's Weekend Of Horrors - NYC 1996” is over 22 minutes of Fulci speaking at a convention, with the aid of a translator, in front of an enthusiastic Manhattan audience. Shot not long before his untimely death, he seems to be having a great time and his sense of humor is in always in check (this option is preceded by a CAT IN A BRAIN still gallery).

New to this disc are four interviews: "Have a Nice Vacation, Doctor Fulci!" (27:13) with screenwriter Antonio Tentori, "A Nightmare in the Brain" (27:55) with cinematographer Sandro Grossi and "Frizzi & Fulci" (30:31) with frequent Fulci composer Fabio Frizzi. All three extended featurettes give great insight as to what it was like working with Fulci on CAT IN THE BRAIN, as well as other films for the director, and Frizzi is seen performing on keyboards with a full band recently in Hollywood (7:35) during a 2015 North American tour. The fourth new interview, “Painter of Nightmares” (17:53), features poster artist Enzo Sciotti discussing his craft and showcasing some of the other terrific movie art he’s created over the years. There’s a radio interview with Fulci from 1987 (16:25), bios and filmographies of Fulci and Halsey (with trailers and extra interview footage) and Grindhouse Releasing trailers for THE BEYOND, PIECES, PIGS, CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, CANNIBAL FEROX, THE TOUGH ONES, MASSACRE MAFIA STYLE, GONE WITH THE POPE, SCUM OF THE EARTH, AN AMERICAN HIPPIE IN ISRAEL, CORRUPTION, THE SWIMMER, THE BIG GUNDOWN and I DRINK YOUR BLOOD. A nice glossy booklet insert includes notes from daughter Antonella Fulci, horror novelist David J. Schow, and film director Eli Roth, and the Blu-ray’s slipcover glows in the dark. Also included in the packaging, along with the bonus soundtrack CD, is a color postcard-size portrait of Fulci, rounding out another incredible package from the folks at Grindhouse. (George R. Reis)