A man is driving down a peaceful road when he is startled by a cat in the back seat, the man can't seem to stop looking at the cat and crashes his car into another vehicle, and his body smashes through the windscreen. We then see the cat move over some roof tops, and it enters the home of Robert Miles, a medium who claims he can speak with the dead. After a young couple go missing, Inspector Gorley is brought in to investigate. When the mother of the missing girl goes to see Miles, he tells her the location of the kids. The Inspector and his officers make a gruesome discovery, the couple have been locked into a room and died, but the door was locked from the inside with the key being found outside. With no one in town to take photographs of the corpses, the Inspector has to ask an American photographer who is staying in the quaint English village to take the pictures. As more people end up dead, the inspector and photographer find that all the evidence leads back to Robert Miles and his black cat.
The acting is of a high standard in this film, Patrick Magee is the star of the show as he puts in a wonderfully over the top performance as the creepy medium Miles. He really is a joy to watch, and his crazy eyes and bushy eyebrows are perfect for the lingering close ups. Fulci originally wanted Peter Cushing to play the role of Robert Miles, Cushing turned down the role knowing Fulci's reputation for making "gory" horror films. I am a Peter Cushing fan, but I love Magee in this film and simply can't picture Cushing in the role. Mimsy Farmer is good as Jill Trevers, the inquisitive photographer whose questions lead her to Miles and his strange relationship with his cat. David Warbeck does a pretty good job as Gorley, and along with Al Cliver playing Sgt. Wilson, the two are very enjoyable to watch as they try to figure out how and why people are dying.
The Black Cat was shot in 1981 in England and Italy, and directed by the Italian "Godfather of gore" Lucio Fulci. This film was made right at the peak of what was Fulci's most successful period, two years earlier he had directed the excellent Zombie Flesh Eaters (Zombi 2), a very loose and unofficial sequel to George A. Romero's masterpiece Dawn Of The Dead. Most of Fulci's best known films were made between 1979 and 1982, Zombie Flesh Eaters 1979, City Of The Living Dead 1980, The Beyond and House By The Cemetery 1981, New York Ripper 1982. The Black Cat was made in what was a prolific and great year for Fulci, but sadly this film was massively overshadowed by The Beyond and House By The Cemetery. Fulci has often been accused of being a hack, a director that overloaded his films with gore and violence with no redeeming features. I couldn't disagree more. His two most famous Giallo's Don't Torture A Duckling and Lizard In A Woman's Skin are both fine pieces of film making, and I absolutely adore his later zombie films, and that's for many different reasons than just onscreen violence and gore. The Black Cat was very different to the other films he made between 79 and 82, the gore and violence, although present, was toned down in favour of atmosphere and tension. For the most part it really works, especially when you consider it's a film about a killer cat. There's one scene in particular that is very tension filled and creepy, when the cat stalks a drunken man through the village. Fulci is my favourite Italian director along with Dario Argento, Argento is held in much higher regard than Fulci, but I honestly feel that during Fulci's prime, he was more than a match for Argento. Sadly Fulci passed away in 1996, himself and Argento were talking about working together on a version of House Of Wax, but Fulci died before the project could be done. For a fan of Italian horror, that would have been a dream come true.
The Black Cat is based on the famous Edgar Allen Poe story, but Fulci's version deviates quite a lot from Poe's version. It's very interesting that this version has the cat being controlled by Patrick Magee's Robert Miles, only for the cat to become stronger than him and turn the tables on it's previous master. The gore is toned down dramatically from Fulci's other work of the time, but what is here is all done well. There's the man who crashes through his windscreen, the rotting corpses of the couple who get locked in the room, a man gets skewered on some metal rods, and a close up of a woman's face as it burns and melts when her house catches fire. I really enjoyed how Fulci used constant close ups of his actors to convey emotions, several times we see Magee and the cat looking at each other, and by simply showing just the eyes it adds menace and tension to the scenes. The disc released by Shameless has really good picture quality for the most part, purple horizontal lines down the right hand side of the screen appear on several occasions, but i'm inclined to believe that's a fault on the original print and not a fault of an otherwise excellent transfer. The dvd comes with a trailer for the film, along with trailers for other cult films released by Shameless but nothing else. I would love Shameless to start releasing these great obscure movies with some extras, but it's wonderful that they are releasing these previously hard to find films in good transfers in the first place, so the lack of any meaningful extras can be forgiven.
The Black Cat is not one of Fulci's best movies, his best are the more famous Zombie Flesh Eaters, The Beyond, City Of The Living Dead and House By The Cemetery. This is a very atmospheric, fast paced, exciting movie that differs greatly from those other films mentioned. If you're a fan of his gore soaked zombie films, I'd recommend The Black Cat if you want to see something a little different from one of the finest Italian horror/giallo directors of all time.