Two giallo-tinged Italian adaptations of Edgar Allan Poe's story "The Black Cat" hit Blu-ray/DVD combo from Arrow Video USA.
When American photographer Jill Trevers (Mimsy Farmer, AUTOPSY) comes to a quaint English village to photograph ruins, the discovery of a discarded microphone in an ancient tomb leads her to village eccentric Professor Miles (Patrick Magee, A CLOCKWORK ORANGE), a medium who has been conducting experiments with the dead. When a young girl (Daniela Doria, NEW YORK RIPPER) and her boyfriend go missing, Scotland Yard's Inspector Gorley (David Warbeck, THE BEYOND) is brought in to investigate but the girl's mother (Dagmar Lassander, HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY) goes to ex-lover Miles for psychic help to locate her. Miles is convinced that his black cat hates him, but it seems to approve of his experiments to the extent of supplying subjects from the local villagers by engineering freak accidents ("If he were a man, we'd hang him"); however, that cat also maliciously thwarts its master's attempts to form and maintain relationships with other human beings. Jill is suitably intrigued by the experiments but believes Miles' pet is "just a cat" until Gorley calls her in to photograph the body of a local villager (THE PSYCHIC's Bruno Corazzari) gruesomely impaled on a hay baler and notes tell-tale scratches and paw prints at another crime scene in which the culprit had to be tiny to get in and out of a sealed room. Despite his hatred of the superstitious villagers, Miles attempts to put an end to the cat's murderous ways, but he inadvertently frees it from its corporeal body and can no longer control the malevolent force.
Coming in between CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD and THE BEYOND, THE BLACK CAT has generally been regarded as lesser Fulci because of its restrained gore and quaint British atmosphere; but the film's death scenes are still gruesome and the village atmosphere is more effectively realized than CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD's arid Savannah standing in for New England. Neither Farmer or Warbeck have much to do since the crux of the film is the battle of wills between Magee and the cat; and the trained cats are very effectively employed throughout, looking genuinely malicious, and even triumphant slinking towards Magee in one the final shots of the film. Like THE PSYCHIC, THE BLACK CAT only draws from the Poe tale in its broad strokes and utilizes cribs the same finale (albeit to better effect). The end result is an imperfect supernatural thriller that is still quite admirable as a still quite gothic departure from the splatter of his gothic zombie trilogy. The Techniscope cinematography of Sergio Salvati feels more accomplished than his work on the earlier Fulci films, with the slicker crane shots and framing in depth seen in the later HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY. Fabio Frizzi sits out on scoring here but Pino Donaggio (DON'T LOOK NOW) provides lyrical accompaniment contrasting Herrmannesque suspense string cues contrasting with a sunny main title theme underscoring the cat's stroll across the village rooftops. Fulci regular Al Cliver (ZOMBIE) appears as a local police sergeant and Italian exploitation bit player/English-language dubbing artist Geoffrey Copleston appears as Gorley's superior.
Released theatrically by World Northal, THE BLACK CAT would then be discovered by most stateside viewers in a painfully cropped video transfer issued by Media Home Entertainment and reissued by Rhino Home Video. UK viewers got a widescreen VHS transfer courtesy of Redemption Films in 1995 while Americans would not get one until Anchor Bay's 2001 DVD (later reissued by Blue Underground). While the DVD was gorgeous for the time, finally allowing Fulci fans to appreciate Salvati's compositions, Arrow's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 2.35:1 widescreen transfer – from a 2K scan of the original camera negatives – gives viewers a welcome upgrade in detail with the brickwork, tile roofs, and cobblestones of the locations as intricately rendered as the close-ups of the titular fiend's cute little furry face. Besides the availability of Italian and English LPCM 1.0 mono audio tracks and English subtitle tracks (SDH for the English and a translation for the Italian), the film can also be viewed with either English or Italian opening and closing credits via branching (the Italian title is "BLACK CAT [Gatto Nero]"). The Italian track is intriguing in the ways it differs from the English dub. While the voices of the dead are only heard when Miles plays the tapes back, they are heard during the recordings on the Italian track. Miles' description of his relationship with the cat echoes through Jill's head in several scenes only on the Italian track.
The film is accompanied by an audio commentary by Fangoria's Chris Alexander, discussing the film and Fulci's other works from a fan's point of view (while also pointing out the influences Fulci and other Euro horror filmmakers had on his own film works) including some absorbing anecdotes about how he first became familiar with these pictures through late night television and in the theaters. He discusses how Fulci was dismissed as a working director during much of his career in Italy with French critics first taking note of him and other fantastique filmmakers, but he approaches the rest of the track in an informal manner not unlike the one he contributed to Arrow Video's UK DVD of PIECES. The track is worth a causal listen, but the Nucleus Films-produced "Poe Into Fulci" (25:37) with author Stephen Thrower (who penned the Fulci book BEYOND TERROR back in 1999) provides the production details and anecdotes missing from the commentary (including a cameo for Fulci that did not make the final cut and only seems to exist as an on-set still). He also describes the ways the film diverts from Poe's source while referencing the author's other works, and reveals that screenwriter Biaggio Proietti was a TV writer who had penned a series of Poe adaptations for Italian television in 1979. He also draws some comparisons between the Fulci film and Argento's half of TWO EVIL EYES (as well as THE BROOD in the way externalized rage takes a corporeal shape). Thrower and Nucleus return in "In the Paw-Prints of the Black Cat" (8:28) revisiting the British locations for the film and surprising the viewer with how little they have changed.
"Frightened Dagmar" (20:12) is a career overview of Lassander's career which she started on a whim and was noticed by prolific German producer Artur Brauner, with ANDREA THE NYMPHO getting her noticed in Italy. She speaks affectionately of Bava on HATCHET FOR THE HONEYMOON and suggests that Fulci was a bit of a sadist on HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY (in which she was more concerned with his treatment of another actress than of her own splattery death scene), but she regards Piero Schivazappa's THE FRIGHTENED WOMAN as her best film. "At Home with David Warbeck" (70:19) is a 1995 interview with the actor discussing how he got into the Italian horror and action films of his eighties period through Fulci producer Fabrizio de Angelis, reflects on the speed of Italian low-budget filmmaking as well as the time crunches, working with Magee and not getting on with Farmer on THE BLACK CAT (as well as the many stunt cats), and the delights of working with Catriona MacColl (THE BEYOND) and Janet Agren (RATMAN) with more amusing shooting anecdotes. The film's theatrical trailer (3:00), which includes a more indulgent view of Doria's decomposing corpse make-up than seen in the feature, is also included.
YOUR VICE IS A LOCKED ROOM AND ONLY I HAVE THE KEY takes its title from one of the missives sent to Fenech by her stalker/lover played by Ivan Rassimov (who skulks around the periphery here) in director Sergio Martino's earlier THE STRANGE VICE OF SIGNORA WARDH. Oliviero Rouvigny (Luigi Pistilli, BAY OF BLOOD) is an intellectual brought down low by alcohol and writer's block since the death of his actress mother who had a lot in common with her greatest role: murderess and martyr Mary Stuart. Fearing sexual impotence, Oliviero brutalizes his wife Irina (Anita Strindberg, A LIZARD IN A WOMAN'S SKIN) who has her own passive aggressive ways of tormenting him back, verbally abuses his black maid Brenda (Angela La Vorgna), and fending off the advances of shopgirl Fausta (Daniela Giordano, THE GIRL IN ROOM 2A), with whom he had an affair while teaching at the local high school years before, under the guise of disinterest. Oliviero's only friend is his mother's black cat Satan who is also Irina's other mortal enemy. When Fausta is murdered during a midnight rendezvous she scheduled with Oliviero, he becomes the main suspect for the police (Franco Nebbia, THE DOUBLE GAME) and even though he swears that he broke the date. Although Irina provides a false alibi for him, it is obvious to Oliviero that she too suspects him. When Brenda is brutally murdered within the villa during one of Oliviero's stupors, however, even he thinks he might have done it and implores Irina to help him hide the body which they wall up in the wine cellar. When the killer is seemingly killed himself in the act of claiming another victim (Enrica Bonaccorti, LOVE AND ANARCHY), Oliviero goes back to his old ways. When his ball-breaking twenty-year old niece Floriana (Edwige Fenech, THE STRANGE VICE OF SIGNORA WARDH) arrives on short notice, she sets about alternately teasing and deriding Oliviero and posits herself as Irina's ally as she grows increasingly fragile under the torment of her husband and Satan the cat. Floriana seduces both of them, planting the seeds of murder in Irina's mind and reviving Oliviero's libido to the point where he wants to keep her and announces his plans to get rid of Irina where she can overhear them. Since this too is a loose adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe's "The Black Cat", it is safe to say that one of them is going to end up behind that wall with Brenda and the cat…
Also known as GENTLY BEFORE SHE DIES and EXCITE ME, YOUR VICE is a giallo-tinged melodrama that eschews the more lavish jet set parties, globe-trotting, and sporty activities of Sergio Martino's earlier gialli THE STRANGE VICE OF SIGNORA WARDH (released here as NEXT! and on tape as THE NEXT VICTIM and BLADE OF THE RIPPER) and THE CASE OF THE SCORPION'S TAIL in favor of a scenario even more claustrophobic than the paranoia-driven ROSEMARY'S BABY-esque ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK (released here as THEY'RE COMING TO GET YOU and on video as DAY OF THE MANIAC). With Pistilli moving up to lead and no George Hilton in sight, Strindberg looking frazzled and careworn, and Fenech in full-on "bad girl" mode, the film fully embodies its paranoid worldview rather than confining it to the perspective of his vulnerable heroines. The characters are intentionally vile, with the racist remarks spouted by various characters to Brenda being reflective of the Italian bourgeoisie rather than setting these characters apart, and plot developments throughout reveal even uglier layers. Besides the "cat in the wall" ending cribbed from the Poe story, the film has a handful of other twists in store that seems like screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi (THE HORRIBLE DR. HICHCOCK) is making it up as he goes along while making sense in retrospect of certain plot strands. Bruno Nicolai (THE ANTICHRIST) largely eschews his usual dissonant and psychedelic giallo instrumentations in favor of more romantic themes dominated by clarinet and harpsichord (to the point that the suspense cues during the murder scenes almost stick out like library tracks). The supporting cast includes Riccardo Salvino (EMANUELLE IN AMERICA) as delivery man/motocross racer Dario and an uncredited Dalila Di Lazzaro (PHENOMENA) as a hippie who does a striptease. The villa location had been used four years earlier by Elio Petri as the setting for A QUIET PLACE IN THE COUNTRY.
YOUR VICE was one of the harder Martino films for American viewers to see outside of foreign subtitled boots (and a passable unauthorized Luminous and Video Wurks DVD) until NoShame put out their negative-sourced DVD release in 2005. While most of the other Martino films of the period were lensed in Techniscope, YOUR VICE was lensed by regular cinematographer Giancarlo Ferrando (TORSO) in 1.85:1 and it suits the film as much as his scope lensing does the other films. The new 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC widescreen encode from a 2K scan of the original camera negative is gorgeous throughout, ably handling the bright whites of the exteriors, the strong highlights of Ferrando's lighting, and the varied textures of the villa architecture and set dressing (not to mention Pistilli's sweating, weathered face in intense close-ups). The LPCM 1.0 English and Italian tracks are clean and crisp (the hippie sing-along in the opening scene is in English on both tracks), and optional English subtitles are included for both tracks. The Blu-ray and DVD menus include the option to play the film with Italian or English credits through branching (the latter with the title card GENTLY BEFORE SHE DIES).
In "Through the Keyhole" (34:42), Martino reveals that the audiences were so taken with the line "Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key" during a screening of THE STRANGE VICE OF SIGNORA WARDH that he and Gastaldi decided to use it as the title for another film. He reflects on the differences between the film and his other gialli, including the provincial setting, the Palladian villas and Veneto setting, and the film's additional debt to LES DIABOLIQUES. He fondly recollects his collaborations with Pistilli and composer Nicolai, and speaks warmly of Strindberg (who he cast in THE CASE OF THE SCORPION'S TAIL in place of a pregnant Fenech) and Fenech. He regards TORSO as his favorite of the giallo films, and notes the similarities between it and YOUR VICE. "Unveiling the Vice" (23:07) is the now somewhat redundant featurette from the NoShame release featuring some of the same comments from Martino while also featuring contributions from Fenech – who notes that Quentin Tarentino pointed out to her that YOUR VICE was the first of her "bad girl" roles and then expands upon the ways the character differed from her previous giallo heroines – and Gastaldi who reflects on the necessity of pushing the envelope with each film, especially when writing as many gialli as he was during this period in the early seventies.
In "The Strange Vice of Ms. Fenech" (29:42), film historian Justin Harries – green screened in front of clips from Fenech's films – muses almost primarily on the Algerian actress' "gamin grace of Audrey Hepbern and the robust carnality of Sophia Loren" and secondarily on her film career. "Dolls of Flesh and Blood" (29:04) is a visual essay from Michael Mackenzie that takes its title from the killer's rant during the climax of TORSO. It is an overview of Martino's giallo credits starting with THE SWEET BODY OF DEBORAH (on which he served as production manager) all the way through TORSO, looking at the trajectory of giallo films from the jet set melodramas to the more violent police procedurals, as well as the differences between giallo films with female protagonists and those with males. Although the essay tries to shoehorn ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK into the jet set phase of Martino's gialli, it leaves out altogether Umberto Lenzi's SO SWEET, SO PERVERSE (on which Martino was also production manager), Martino's giallo/poliziotteschi hybrid THE SUSPCIOUS DEATH OF A MINOR, as well as THE SCORPION WITH TWO TAILS (which plays with both giallo and horror elements). "Eli Roth on YOUR VICE" (9:17) features the HOSTEL filmmaker waxing on his love of the film and (like Martino himself) the way it feels like a dry run for TORSO. He also discusses the influence of the film's visuals on HOSTEL PART II (in which he cast Fenech in a cameo), and how he discovered on a promotional trip to Italy that the Italian girl he went to film school with was Martino's daughter. The limited edition features an 80-page booklet containing new articles on the films, Lucio Fulci’s last ever interview, and a reprint of Poe’s original story as well as reversible covers for both films; but these have not been supplied for review. (Eric Cotenas)
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