Friday, July 30, 2021

The Black Cat (1989)

Anne Ravenna is an actress married to an ambitious director, who is plotting his next feature-A horror movie about the with Levana. Anne immediately begins having terrible nightmares, which get increasingly lifelike. She soon realises that Levana is very real, and is an age old evil that will be given physical form if this movie is completed...

There are certainly many treasures of Italian horror still hidden, but with God as my witness I did not know there was an unofficial third entry in the Three Mothers trilogy! Perhaps the fact that The Black Cat is such a common horror title, even in Italian cinema. Lucio Fulci made his own 'adaption' (and I do use that word loosely) of the famous Poe story, and I've seen that. Maybe I just got his film conflated with the other, so always passed it by. Not helping matters is its alternate title, Demons 6!

The Black Cat is an interesting and somewhat unique horror film. Whether it's any good is another thing, but I certainly don't fault it for ambition, nor for scope. It shows everything crazy that it sets up. Which is why we end up with several shots of floating fetuses in space. Like I said, this is an out there movie!

The Black Cat serves as an unofficial finale to the Three Mothers trilogy. It doesn't actually share a connection with Suspiria or Inferno, but hey, it's not like we'd get a real third entry for a while yet. The movie goes for a meta approach, where Marc and his buddy are keen to make the third entry in the series.

They talk about the source material, Levana and our Ladies of Sorrow, written by Charles Baudelaire (?). Marc says it's a goldmine of material, and they could get loads of films out of it. But then he turns right around and say two of the three Mothers have already been adapted, so there's no sense going back to them. Ok, first of all, the essay of Levana is only like 2 pages long. It's not a treasure trove of material. Secondly, contradictory much? I guess this one remaining mother must have a lot of applications!

Partway through the film the pair go to visit a witch to get her advice on the script. But when they mention what they're adapting, she expresses shock at how they could have learned about this. Um, maybe because it's a widely published book? With two previous movies? She constantly refer to it as a translation of earlier texts, and an arcane tome of witchcraft and evil. It's really not, it's a book of essays and poetry. This scene does address the movie's erroneous belief that Charles Baudelaire wrote Levana, but in a way that just had me scratching my head even more!

Considering the original text of the Three Mothers is not a horror story, nor are they evil in it, referring back to it really is the dumbest thing any adaption could do. I can suspend my disbelief enough to accept that a character named Mater Suspiriorum is evil, but when you actually bring up the text that says she's not, I draw the line.

You wanna know what my biggest complaint with the film is though? The Black Cat is a meta title, as it's also the name of the film Anne is the beginning. That's it! It's completely unrelated to the Levana film that dominates the picture, and never comes up, aside from a single conversation mentioning it (coming to the conclusion that black cats equal witches, therefore connected!).

Moving beyond all the bizarre touches and meta commentary The Black Cat offers and getting into the scares, how does it deliver? It's pretty good. Over-the-top for sure, but it gives us some good spooky setpieces.

The Black Cat also contains the biggest fake-out dream sequence imaginable! I was actually surprised at the movie for going through with what happens, until I realised "Wait, both Anne's husband AND herself are now dead...and there's still 33 minutes left! What gives?", and I groaned as I realised what was coming. And sure enough, it was all a dream!

As the movie goes on, the plot just gets looser and more nonsensical, all building up to a wacky reveal. It turns out this supernatural horror film is actually a science fiction, and Levana is the next stage in human evolution...but so is Anne, her only potential rival. The Black Cat starts out as an Italian horror, then turns into The X-Men! We get a big 'magical' confrontation, and then an amusingly happy ending that wraps not only the story but the whole earth in a nice neat bow. The film ends with your typical 'Is the evil really gone?' style ending, like any given Nightmare on Elm Street Film. And like with those, it makes no sense, and kinda spoils the triumph a little.

The gore effects in The Black Cat are fun, with some gooey deaths that verge on the ridiculous, but no less entertaining. It looks good too! They didn't skimp here. This production clearly had quite a bit of money behind it. Which makes it all the more baffling that no-one's ever heard of it!

The visuals I'm not so fond of. The 80s was a great decade with lots of great looks but that's not to say I liked all of it, especially the tail end. The Black Cat felt 80s-ish in an unappealing way. The colours felt garish, the fashion was terrible, and the whole attitude felt overly glossy.

Overall, the movie has a very fake feel to it. This might have been intentional, given the whole meta angle of cinema, but I'm still not sure it's a good thing when a spooky ethereal graveyard, for example, is quite obviously a set. It's an artificiality I didn't like. One neat thing to note is a Blood and Black Lace reference at the beginning!

The score is all good, and varied. There's ominous fantasy music, sinister music box melodies, and your typical jump scare tracks, which verge on the cheap! Also present is a rockin' 80s metal soundtrack! Not my favourite of tunes, but they're ok I guess, and they can't ruin the mood any more than everything else already has.

The acting is alright. Florence Guerin is a decent lead, although has moments of hilarious overacting (such as the baffling "LEONARDDDDDD!" moment), and her performance turns weirdly unnatural at the end. Urbano Barberini is decent enough, even if he doesn't get as much fun as in other movies. Caroline Munro is sexy and fun in her role, while the actress playing Levana is amusingly evil. Brett Halsey delivers an intensely agreeable performance as miserly film producer Leonard. Karina Huff is only 30 or so, yet looks strangely made-up, like she'd meant to be an old crone. Instead she looks like she's jaundiced or something. Does a decent job anyway. And lastly, young Giada Cozzi does a nice job. The dub is a little unnatural, but she's cute, and looks ethereal.

The Black Cat is one of the stranger examples of Italian horror, and I recommend checking it out for fans. You might not enjoy it as much as other films of its type, but I think it's at least worth checking out, flaws and all...

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