Edgar Allen Poe’s Black Cats
Directed by Sergio Martino/Lucio Fulci.
Starring Edwige Fenech, Anita Strindberg, Luigi Pistilli, David Warbeck, Ivan Rassimov, Patrick Magee, Mimsy Farmer, Al Cliver and Dagmar Lassander.
Box set containing two adaptations of Poe’s classic The Black Cat by directors Sergio Martino and Lucio Fulci.
Poe’s The Black Cat, like a lot of the writer’s stories, has been retold over and over in various different guises and adaptations, most notably in the 1934 Universal film starring Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi (and again by Universal in 1941 with Lugosi and Basil Rathbone), the middle section of Roger Corman’s 1962 anthology Tales of Terror and in 1990 with Dario Argento’s section of Two Evil Eyes. However, Argento wasn’t the only Italian director to have a go at it as Sergio Martino (Torso) and Lucio Fulci (Zombie Flesh Eaters) both tried their hands at adaptations, albeit with slightly different results.
At its core a tale of guilt, The Black Cat lends itself to interpretation and while both Martino and Fulci use Poe’s narrative of a murderer being revealed by the titular cat, both directors wrap this plot point up in very different ways. Martino’s 1972 version, snappily titled Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key, is the better of the two films in this set but is also the looser adaptation. In it, Oliviero Rouvigny (Luigi Pistilli) is a failed writer who lives in a large villa with his wife Irena (Anita Strindberg), whom he mistreats due to the recent loss of his mother and his alcoholism. Rouvigny becomes the chief suspect after a local girl is murdered, and after his servant girl is also murdered he hides her body behind a wall in his basement. When Rouvigny’s beautiful niece Floriana (Edwige Fenech) comes to stay things spiral out of control, culminating in Irena taking out her anger on Oliviero’s beloved cat Satan, and then the full mystery of what has been going on is revealed.
In Lucio Fulci’s 1981 film The Black Cat, the setting has changed to England where a medium named Robert Miles (Patrick Magee) has a psychic connection to his black cat, whom he orders to go out and kill for him. When photographer Jill Trevers (Mimsy Farmer) notices claw marks on several of the victims she begins to investigate with the help of the local police and Scotland Yard’s Inspector Gorley (David Warbeck), which Miles’ cat doesn’t like one little bit and so begins to control the mind of its master.
As previously stated it is Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key that offers up the most intrigue and entertainment value with its Giallo stylings and air of mystery. James Caan lookalike Luigi Pistilli gives an intense performance as Oliviero Rouvigny and is totally engaging as the alcoholic, womanising wife-beater, but it is the delightful Edwige Fenech as Floriana who gives the central performance, her character never fully going one way or the other in terms of her loyalty to either Oliviero or Irena, thus making her the most interesting person we see on-screen.
By contrast, The Black Cat doesn’t offer up anybody as captivating as Floriana or as pantomime villain-esque as Oliviero but Patrick Magee’s Miles is as close as it gets, the actor channelling Boris Karloff to give the film an air of menace but in a less sexually charged way than in Martino’s movie. Fulci uses all of his tricks when it comes to setting a mood, echoing his previous movie City of the Living Dead, but takes the mystery element out of the story and basically makes the main characters in the film stumble around for far too long trying to figure out what the audience already knows. Quite restrained by Fulci’s standards, The Black Cat does have a bit of gore and nudity but there is no central setpiece on the same level as Zombie Flesh Eaters or The Beyond, making it feel rather tame in comparison. Fulci did claim at the time that he only made the film as a favour for the producers and that lack of Fulci-ness is very noticeable, a sort of Fulci-lite if you will.
As is the case with Arrow Video releases there are some delicious extras included. Both films are well served with excellent 2K restorations and both English and Italian audio options, plus reversible sleeves featuring original and new artworks. Your Vice… features a new interview with director Sergio Martino, a retrospective on the film featuring Martino and star Edwige Fenech, a profile on Fenech, a visual essay about Sergio Martino presented by film historian Michael Mackenzie and an interview with celebrity fan Eli Roth, who claims that the film was a huge influence on Hostel II. Meanwhile, The Black Cat comes with an audio commentary by Fangoria editor Chris Alexander, a look at the film with author/film historian Stephen Thrower, a new interview with star Dagmar Lassander and an archive interview with star David Warbeck.
Quite a package and quite an evening’s entertainment if you so care to tackle both films together. If you do then it is probably best to watch The Black Cat first as it is the lesser of the two and it’s always best to end a movie marathon on a high. Even so, The Black Cat is still fun and a bit mad but not quite as fun and mad as you would expect considering the films that Fulci made either side of this one (City of the Living Dead & The Beyond) but the real jewel of this set is Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key, which draws you in from the bizarre and uncomfortable opening scene of naked hippies singing and dancing while Oliviero Rouvigny abuses his wife right up until the final reveal of who the murderer is. It’s a gorgeous looking film with plenty of atmosphere, helped by a stunning Bruno Nicolai score, some amusingly lairy gore and plenty of softcore nudity that puts it right up there amongst the best Gialli films of the era and is as potent and masterful as anything by Bava or Argento. A worthy purchase for Giallo and horror fans alike.
Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key – Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★/ Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
The Black Cat – Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★/ Movie: ★ ★ ★