Tuesday, 8 March 2011

AFED #67: Gatto Nero [The Black Cat] (Italy, 1981); Dir. Lucio Fulci


Welcome to the sleepy English village of Unspecific, a veritable Babel of different dialects where apparently there are some "ruins", the local policeman's face is adorned with a prodigious caterpillar, and a worrying number of people have been dying violently and inexplicably.

Patrick Magee is also a resident, which is never a good sign. Given his rapacious scenery chewing it's probably wise that the locals keep their distance, but they're naturally suspicious why he spends so much time lurking around the cemetery. Magee plays Dr Robert Miles, a medium obsessed by communicating with spirits who resides in a grand gothic pile in the company of an aggressive black cat with whom he has a strange love/hate relationship. The cat may or may not embody the spirit of Magee's dead son, but either way it has an uncanny habit of being in the vicinity when anything nasty takes place.

Very loosely adapted from Poe's classic short story, Fulci's entertaining yarn is everything you'd expect, and possibly more, from a giallo of this vintage. People are dispatched in a variety of gruesome ways, there's a pervasion of kooky camera angles and close-ups of cats eyes, and a notional detective story in which American photographer Jill (Mimsy Farmer) and Scotland Yard detective Inspector Gorley (David Warbeck) attempt to get to the heart of the matter.

The magnificent Magee steals the show with characteristic excess. He was, alongside Jack MacGowran, one of the definitive absurdist actors, and although difficult to cast in more conventional cinema found the perfect outlet for his talents in horror. Sadly this was one of his last major roles before dying of a heart attack that same year, but it's a fitting end to a colourful career.

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