Inside we’ve posted our latest review from this season’s Masters of Horror (all reviews), which airs every Friday on Showtime. Inside you’ll find Tex Massacre’s review of “The Black Cat”, which was directed by Stuart Gordon. In episode 2.11, author Edgar Allan Poe (Jeffrey Combs) is out of ideas and short of cash while being tormented by a black cat that will either destroy his life or inspire him to write one of his most famous stories.
The Black Cat (MoH 2.11)
Reviewed By: Tex Massacre
8/10 or 4 skulls
Director Stuart Gordon has made quite a career out of adapting the macabre and phantasmagorical tales of great H.P. Lovecraft–including last season’s episode DREAMS IN THE WITCH HOUSE. But for my money one of the director’s better works is an edition of Poe’s classic THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM shot in 1990 for Charles Band’s Full Moon Studios. This week Gordon and his screenwriting partner Dennis Paoli have teamed up once again to bring the mysterious imagination of Edgar Allen Poe to life–only this time with a twist.
THE BLACK CAT sees Poe (Jeffrey Combs) down on his luck, drunk and poor, passing off poems to his editors just to raise a few measly cents for more liquor, while at home Poe’s wife Virginia (Elyse Levesque) is dying of consumption. Plagued by his inability to cope with his wife’s condition and desperate to complete his latest story, Poe’s sanity slowly begins to deteriorate as his black cat Pluto begins to terrorize the haggard author.
What Gordon and Paoli manage with the film is not so much a linear vision of Poe’s tale as it is a SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE-styled delineation of how the man might have composed one of his greater works. While ostensibly retelling the tale of The Black Cat, the film itself also manages to interlink a barrage of peripheral Poe creations including Annabel Lee, The Tell-Tale Heart, The Raven and The Cask of Amontillado. What glues the film together is entirely the work of Jeffrey Combs. Rendered nearly unrecognizable, the KNB effects crew has utterly transformed the actor into the physical embodiment of the legendary author. However, it is Combs intense and personal interpretation of Poe’s suffering that leads the viewer to accept the portrayal as nothing short of fact.
Indeed, fact and fiction are twirled about with equal measure in the script, drawing scenes in the film directly from Poe’s life and interspersing them with wild surrealist visions that soon begin to melt the fantasy and reality of story into one seemingly endless nightmare. For all intents and purposes, Gordon has managed to blend the film so perfectly that the viewer is often lost in what is actually occurring in the certainty of the story with what are simply the delusions of a drunken madman. It’s masterful storytelling and easily the best episode of the season thus far.
Elyse Levesque’s performance of the tragic Virginia is delicate and affecting, even if the amount of blood she expectorates in the film borders on overkill. That Poe’s wife actually died of consumption (tuberculosis) brings immediacy to Combs performance.
It’s often been stated that Virginia’s death greatly increased the morbidity of Poe’s work. That may be open for any kind of interpretation that one wishes, but certainly Gordon takes full advantage of the situation in several key scenes in the film–particularly in the Cask of Amontillado reference. But once again, no matter how far over the top the tale begins to climb, Combs brings it all back to Earth with his humane embodiment of a deeply disturbed man. This dream within a nightmare of grandiose storytelling is the essence of what Masters of Horror should be and a bitter reminder of how often it has failed to deliver on those pointed demands.