There have been well over 300 films based on the stories of Edgar Allan Poe - that’s more than three times the number of tales he actually penned. That means filmmakers and television producers have been dipping into the well of Poe over and over again. That’s not bad for a guy who died before moving pictures were even invented. Even more astounding is the fact that most of Poe’s stories are relatively short (he only published one novel in his life) and his style is more concerned with mood than plot. Which is perhaps why so many films based upon the same Poe story are wildly different from each other.
By my count there are at least 11 cinematic versions of “The Black Cat.” Two of these are gathered in Arrow Video’s set, Black Cats. Directed by two Italian horror masters, Sergio Martino and Lucio Fulci, the films have little in common other than the Poe inspiration, a couple of similar set pieces, and the titular dark cats roaming about.
Made in 1972, Martino’s ridiculously titled Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key (it comes from a line spoken by a character in Martino’s The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh - better known as Blade of the Ripper) stars Luigi Pistilli as Oliviero, a writer who is fond of the drink, the maid (and the hippie girls from the local commune, and his own niece, and anything else that moves), and abusing Irina his wife (Anita Strindberg). One of his lovers winds up dead and the police suspect Luigi. So does his wife for that matter. Especially after the maid shows up sliced down the middle in the hall just outside her bedroom. They brick the maid up in the cellar (ah, there’s the Poe influence) just in time for the over-sexed niece Floriana (Edwige Fenech) to show up. Floriana sleeps with everyone (including Oliviero and Irina - though separately it should be noted) and plots with Irina, (more Diabolique like than Poe) to kill the bitter husband. After more sex and violence, the film comes to its twisty, and mostly satisfying ending.
The cat in this one, appropriately named Satan, terrorizes Irina, gets its eye gouged out (more Poe influence), and screeches like a banshee when needed. Cats are almost always terrible characters in horror movies as they never look particularly terrifying and more than often just look cute, but little Satan does an admirable job of bringing his A-game here.
Like most giallos, Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key is a bit ridiculous in the plot department, and a bit lacking in the acting, but the violence is good and bloody, the sex is a-plenty, and Martino does an excellent job of painting interesting images with his camera. What it lacks in substance it more than makes up for in style.
The Black Cat is a bit of an oddity for Lucio Fulci. He made it in 1981, sandwiched in between his better known (and better all around if we get down to it) films City of the Living Dead and The Beyond. Its gore factor is minuscule compared to those two films (which is likely why it is not as well loved) and relies more heavily on atmosphere.
In this one, Patrick Magee plays Robert Miles, a psychic that can communicate with the dead and control a black cat to take revenge on his enemies. As the bodies pile up, Inspector Gorley (David Warbeck) from Scotland Yard begins to investigate. Alongside him is Jill Travers (Mimsy Farmer), an American tourist in town to photograph the local ruins. Absurdly, she’s asked to photograph one of the corpses for the police and notices that its been scratched by a cat. (As were the other bodies!) Eventually two and two are put together and we wind up with another body being walled into another basement (beyond the cat, this seems to be the thing every film preserves).
Fulci maintains a creepy mood throughout the film, but the plot is so uniformly terrible and the acting awful that it's hard to keep from laughing. In interviews, the director has admitted as much, stating that he made this film as a favor to a producer. It certainly shows. It's not terrible, and as mentioned the atmosphere he creates is quite nice, but I’d recommend it only to Italian horror or Fulci aficionados.
Arrow has restored both films quite nicely, giving them a 1080p high definition upgrade from 2k scans. Each film looks crisp and clean, with very little print damage noticeable. They are both a bit grainy throughout, especially in the darker scenes, but this is to be expected from such film. Overall, you couldn’t ask for a better picture. The audio tracks likewise are quite nice. Both films come with both English and Italian tracks.
As with most Arrow releases these films are packed with extras. The Black Cat comes with a new audio commentary by Fangoria editor Chris Alexander, who gives a lively talk on the film the Poe influences and Fulci’s career as a whole. Also included on the disk are several features of interviews with the film's two main actors, the making of the film, and the film’s various locations. Pretty much all of them are lengthy and interesting and not at all the sort of fluff, EPK junk one typically gets.
Likewise, Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key is loaded with extras. There is a new interview with director Sergio Martino, a couple of features on the making of the film with interviews of Edwige Feneche and screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi, and another on the long career of Ms. Feneche. Eli Roth manages to sound intelligent in a 15-minute interview covering the film, the director’s career, and Giallo as a genre.
The films each come in their own plastic cases with reversible covers all of which sit neatly inside a sturdy box. A big book is included with some nice essays on the films, an interview with Lucio Fulci and the complete The Black Cat story from Edgar Allan Poe.
The films inside The Black Cats are by no means masterpieces. There not even great horror films, but they do make a strangely compelling black cat double feature. They’ve got great style and hold enough interest for horror fans and Giallo nerds to make this set well worth picking up. Arrow Video has done a remarkable job assembling them together with enough features and extras to make experts of us all.