Hello folks and welcome to week three of Mental Health Awareness Month. This week’s post is special to me not only because I once again get to revisit one of my favorite directors, but today is my 200th film review. I am very happy to have reached this milestone, and I hope to be here posting reviews for a long time to come. Some may say that kind of devotion is insane or that I’ve gone round the bend. It’s just something in me that I’ve got to get out like a….
Cat In The Brain (1990) [Italian: Un gatto nel cervello] [a.k.a Nightmare Concert] starring Lucio Fulci, David L. Thompson, Jeoffrey Thompson, and Malisa Longo. Directed by Lucio Fulci.
After filming a particularly brutal scene in his new film, director Lucio Fulci finds himself troubled by visions of blood and gore wherever he goes. Seeking the help of a psychologist, Professor Egon Schwartz (Thompson), Fulci undergoes hypnosis to rid himself of his nightmarish hallucinations. Unfortunately, Professor Schwartz is an aspiring killer himself. He implants a trigger to worsen Fulci’s visions and soon the director begins to believe that the Professor’s victims are his own.
The Bugg Speaks
I had long awaited seeing this film, and after tiring of the dreaded Netflix “short wait”, I went out and purchased the shiny new 2 disk edition recently released by Grindhouse Releasing. This film had long been out of print, and for starters, I’d like to say that Grindhouse did a bang up job on this one. It’s a gorgeous transfer, contains both the Italian and American trailers, interviews with Fulci, and a neat little book inside with pieces by Fulci’s daughter, Antonella, and the horror community’s favorite punching bag, Eli Roth. All in all, a wonderful package, and I only wish I had pre-ordered this flick so I could have gotten the limited edition holographic cover. But I digress; after all, I’m not here to review the set itself.
What I really want to talk about is the film, and what a film it is. Serving as a more meta (and decidedly more gory) version on Fellini’s 8 ½, Cat in the Brain is at once a film about the man Fulci and more importantly the myth. Surprisingly, Fulci, who had a habit, a la Hitchcock, of making cameos in his films, proves himself to be a surprisingly agile actor, and his decent into madness is both believable and highly entertaining. When it comes down to brass tacks, this film is a two person affair, and both Fulci and first time actor David L. Thompson do wonderful jobs and their performances are what really sell this film.
Throughout the film we are shown scenes of the different films that the fictional Fulci has directed. While a few of the scenes were culled from the recent Fulci flicks, 1989’s Touch of Deathand 1988’s Ghosts of Sodom, many of the scenes are pulled from films that the Godfather of Gore did not direct. Scenes from Andrea Bianchi’s Massacre (1989), Leondro Lucchetti’s Bloody Psycho (1989), and Giovanni Simonelli’s Hansel e Gretel all make appearances. I think this mixture of Fulci’s own work and the work of his contemporaries not only adds to the gore quotient (and it does), but it allows the fictional Fulci to becomes something of a representative of all horror movie directors. In spoofing the reputation that directors of gory goodness get, that they are sick, disturbed individuals, Fulci was poking fun at all the rumors and suppositions that dog men in his line of work. It comes are no surprise that when Fulci is confronted with a photojournalist in the film, the man appears to him to be a Nazi in full regalia. Sensationalizing the aspects of the horror director character and exploiting it to full effect gives the film an edge of dark humor that I really liked.
Adding another layer of enjoyment to the film is the score by frequent collaborator Fabio Frizzi. This time Frizzi partially departs from the dark synthy sonics of his Zombi 2 or City of the Living Dead work and puts forth a soundtrack that features some jazzier numbers. One of them in particular had the feeling of a New Orleans jazz combo that I really liked. Another interesting musical cue comes via Edvard Grieg’s composition “In the Hall of the Mountain King”. Many film fans will recognize this as the tune whistled by Peter Lorre in the Fritz Lang classic M when he was stalking his prey. The tune accompanies many of the film’s murders and adds something extra to the feeling of the movie reality within the film.
Speaking of the movie world this film exists in, I think it might be one of Cat in the Brain’s greatest strengths and one of the things that will put some people off the movie quite quickly. As the film begins, we are greeted with an overhead shot of Fulci as he rattles off a laundry list of horrors. The camera moves in close to the bald pate of his head and then cuts to a very fake looking cat ripping away at some pretty unconvincing brain matter. This scene alone is laughable, but I think that’s the point. Throughout the film, the effects often look cheap and, in some cases, just plain bad. By utilizing effects that are not up to the usual graphic awesomeness of Fulci’s other work, he creates a world that feels more like the reality of a film set, something a director would know very much about. That Fulci’s character’s hallucinations share these characteristics is a stroke of genius, and I applaud him for taking the chance.
My favorite scene in the film has to be the nod to Hitchcock’s Psycho. The infamous shower scene is recreated, and while it is nearly matched up shot to shot, Fulci adds his own twist, Replacing the chocolate syrup down the drain and Janet Leigh’s near nudity, we instead get tons of blood and full frontal nudity from the young lady. This scene encapsulates the essence of Fulci, a reverence for the masters, but with the need to take it one step beyond decorum.
I loves me some Fulci, and I loves me some dark comedy. With Cat in the Brain, you get the best of both worlds. While there are inconsistencies and plot holes a plenty, they are easily overlooked. After all, there has to be some gore or Fulci in a sweater vest right around the corner, and the ending to the film is both deeply satisfying and laugh out loud funny. If you’re not versed in at least some of Lucio’s earlier work, the joke may be lost on you, but for fans of his work, this is an invaluable film.