The dead want to be left in peace: Lucio’s Fulci’s moody Euro-Gothic cult hit “The Black Cat”

By on October 29, 2017

We’re sad to see that October, Night Flight’s favorite month, is coming to an end in just a few days, but happy to announce that the eclectic b-movie, cult and strange films we’ve recently added to celebrate Horror Month on Night Flight Plus will continue to be available all year ’round.

One of those titles is Lucio Fulci’s atmospheric 1981 Euro-Gothic cult hit The Black Cat (Italian: Gato nero) — theatrically released in Italy on April 4, 1981, and in early 1984 in the U.S. — and it’s also one of two Arrow Video releases we have based on “The Black Cat” by Edgar Allan Poe (the other is Sergio Martino’s Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key).

You’ll note that we’ve said Fulci’s The Black Cat was “based on” Poe’s story, because the director himself admits in his film’s opening credits that he loosely adapted Poe’s memorable short story from 1843, which was less than ten pages long to begin with (“liberamente tratto dal racconto” or “freely drawn from the story”).

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Fulci’s The Black Cat begins with three bizarre, violent “accidental” deaths — a car goes out of control and bursts into flames; two teenagers die mysteriously in a small boathouse; and, a man is brutally clawed to death after leaving a local pub — which leads a Scotland Yard Inspector named Gorley (David Warbeck, from Fulci’s The Beyond) to go to the sleepy English hamlet outside London where all of these seemingly-unrelated murders have taken place.

The cat in the title belongs to Professor Robert Miles, a former college professor of the supernatural who now just happens to be a psychic (or medium, if you prefer).

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Miles — this was notably one of the great Patrick Magee’s last film performances, and he looks visibly frail onscreen — spends a lot of his free time in the village’s cemeteries, where he makes audio tape recordings at the tombs of the recently deceased.

He records the conversations he has with the dead, learning from them that there’s a deranged murderer on the loose.

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As it turns out, the jut-jawed Miles can also control the mind of his demonic black cat.

As it says on the back of one the film’s VHS home videotape releases, “Finding the cat is hard enough — but killing an animal with nine lives is a deadly impossibility.”

Poe liked to give the reader a first-person glimpse into the mind of a psychotic killer, just as he did with The Tell-Tale Heart, and Magee’s character is as close as we get to having a narrator like the one Poe’s story.

Fulci’s film, however, mostly dispenses with the idea, giving us a mad psycho instead whose black cat does the killing for him.

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Mimsy Farmer — the blonde Sixties American teen star who appeared in Riot on Sunset Strip (1967), and Barbet Schroeder’s More (1969), and thereafter did most of her film acting in Europe, working on giallos with Italian director Dario Argento, among her many roles — plays a golden helmet-haired American photographer named Jill Trevers.

A local police constable, Sergeant Wilson (Al Cliver), warns her to stay away from the crypt, where she’s been taking photos, telling her: The dead want to be left in peace. They’re grumpy.”

Read more about Lucio Fulci’s The Black Cat and the misunderstood mystery surrounding black cats below.

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In the 1843 short story “The Black Cat,” Poe describes his title character as being,

“… a remarkably large and beautiful animal, entirely black, and sagacious to an astonishing degree. In speaking of his intelligence, my wife, who at heart was not a little tinctured with superstition, made frequent allusion to the ancient popular notion, which regarded all black cats as witches in disguise.”

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Black cats have long been associated with Halloween, and historically have often been thought to have magical powers.

The ancient Egyptians believed that cats were sacred to the cat-headed wild goddess they worshiped, named Bast (or Bastet).

They believed that Bast granted those who were in her favor with great blessings, and she was sometimes listed as one their god Ra’s avenging deities, used to punish the sinful and Egypt’s enemies.

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You may have heard that crossing a black cat’s path brings you bad luck, and you may have seen our earlier Night Flight post where we told you how black cats were to be avoided, especially on Friday the 13th.

Fulci’s film accentuates the idea of that simply seeing a black cat will give off bad vibes, which he mainly does with extreme close-ups, often focusing on the eyes of the characters, and on Professor Miles in particular.

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Overall, the tone of Fulci’s stylishly atmospheric film — lensed in Rome and England, with a strong cast of several notable British character actors — is much tamer her than some of his gory later efforts, like Zombie and Gates of Hell.

The mood here is full of tension and suspense, and archly Gothic, and highlighted by Pino Donaggio’s lush orchestral score which goes a long way towards enhancing the spooky aesthetic.

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If you didn’t find the time this month to check out our newly-added Arrow Video horror titles, or Night Flight’s 1986 Halloween Special — we previewed multiple cult films released that year, including Trick of Treat, and then provided viewers with an hour-long historical look at the use of horror in films — or our special Halloween-themed “New Wave Theatre” episode, which was “ghost hosted” by Elvira, Mistress of the Dark,… well, don’t worry, you’ll be able to watch them anytime, even if it’s no longer Halloween.

Watch The Black Cat over on Night Flight Plus!

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, assistant editor for the When You Awake blog, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.