Friday, June 30, 2017

The Fluffy Little Murderer

Why do so many filmmakers think they know how to do Edgar Allan Poe better than Edgar Allan Poe? One of the more spectacular blunders in this department is 1981's The Black Cat (Gatto nero), loosely (to put it mildly) based on my favourite Edgar Allan Poe story, "The Black Cat". Rather than a disturbingly insightful rendering of a man's mind descending into sadism the filmmakers chose instead to make a movie about a cat who's a serial killer. What could go wrong with this idea? Just about everything you could imagine going wrong.

We can start with the basic problem that the movie's monster is tiny, adorable, and clearly has no idea he's in a horror movie and doesn't care. That's not necessarily a problem for many movies that involve a cat but when you want the audience to be uncomfortable you have to be aware of anything in the scene that might distract them and make it easy for them to think of something more pleasant. I just wanted to cuddle this little fiend.

This problem never goes away and scenes of people fleeing the critter in terror bring to mind the deadly bunny in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

The film has other problems. It seems to choose as protagonist an American photographer named Jill Travers (Mimsy Farmer) who's visiting the English village where the film takes place to take pictures of an old crypt. She's brought in to photograph crime scenes as the only photographer available in the small town and she starts taking an interest in the case. Unfortunately, the filmmakers apparently decided this role was too big for a woman so a smug inspector from Scotland Yard named Gorley (David Warbeck) is introduced to solve problems and make out with her. The local law enforcement is represented by a Sergeant Wilson (Al Cliver) who has a distractingly asymmetrical moustache.

The only bright spot in the movie is Patrick Magee as Professor Miles, who gives exactly the thoroughly over the top performance this movie needs and deserves and almost makes up for the fact that his character's motives make absolutely no sense. He's the owner of the murderous cat and when Jill observes the animal badly scratching him she naturally asks him why he keeps it. He tells her that the two of them need each other, something that doesn't make sense at first blush and then makes less and less sense as the plot unfolds. Partly this seems due to one or two elements from Poe's story actually introduced into the film that don't really support the film's otherwise completely different plot in a satisfying way.

It would be nice to see Magee in a really good giallo film. This one doesn't even compare well with the remake of Cat People released the following year, which is not a bad film though I don't think it's half as good as the 1942 version.

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Medallion knives reveal too much to speak.
With knuckles bare, the boxer finds the field.
Twixt passing ships the line conveyed the leak.
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A time in passing clocked a speeding arm.
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As trading thoughts of cats incurs no harm.
We found a plate depicting fallen roofs.
The fortune teller's dog synthetic woofs.

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