“A woman hacked to death by an ax. Her face cleaved in half. Another strangled. Yet another hanged. Someone chopped to bits by a chainsaw. Or drowned in boiling water. A throat torn out by a maddened cat. Burned alive. Buried alive. Tortured. Scalded. Stabbed. Sawn in two. Crucified. Decapitated.” With his opening dialogue, Fulci announces what sort of gruesome acts his audience is about to bear witness to in Cat in the Brain, a film that might appear to be lazily put together at first glance, since more than half of the film’s running time is composed of clips from some of his previous efforts – Touch of Death and Ghosts of Sodom, for example – and a few other equally macabre productions, like Bianchi’s Massacre. But between all the gore and grue that the maestro offers up during his 95 minute exercise in intense and unapologetic violence, he manages to create a thought-provoking story about the problems faced by an aging director that is no longer at the top of his game, the effect of horror films on the human psyche, and the general public’s perception of them.
Fulci is, apparently, a strong believer in the phrase, “If you want something done right, you’ve got to do it yourself,” as he cut out the middle man and stars as himself, an aging horror director whose worked himself into quite a frenzy on his latest shoot. He’s begun having strange hallucinations and, much like Tenebrae’s Peter Neal, is unable to separate reality from art – or, in this case, fact from film. With the current shoot becoming too much for him to bear, he begins seeing a psychiatrist, Dr. Egon Schwarz (David L. Thompson), to help him retain his focus and deal with his stress. The good doctor has other plans, of course – this is a Fulci film, after all.
Suspicious of his wife’s faithfulness, Dr. Schwarz begins taking his frustration out on innocent bystanders, most of which connotate sexuality, such as a hooker, and a couple having sex in their car. But the doctor needs a patsy, so he hypnotizes Fulci into thinking he’s the murderer and, really, who better to point the finger at than the famed director? As the deranged M.D. says, “Doesn’t that stupid old theory say that seeing violence on the screen provokes violence?”
Fulci’s frustrations of working within the film industry are on full display in Cat, stemming from the basic idea of becoming type-casted in the genre. Like many horror directors, critics accused Fulci of repeating himself over and over again and being unoriginal, which makes using clips from older films a rather ingenious idea. By integrating past productions into his film-within-the-film, he intentionally plays right into the stereotype by passing off previously shot sequences as something new and presenting other people’s work as his own. And, if there’s one thing that a director is more afraid of than being called a copycat, it’s the fear that their style will become so workman-like that it can be copied by anyone, which is illustrated by the fact that Fulci’s film is taken over by the producer in his absence and the scene is cut into existing footage without anyone questioning it.
The fake-looking nature of the special effects is what really drives the idea of the perception of reality home. While many might scoff at the sight of a cat puppet chowing down on Fulci’s brain – a lenticular cover of which is included in the first 2500 copies of Grindhouse Releasing’s 2-disc set – or the rubbery appearance of every amputated body part, they’re kind of missing the point. Since Fulci’s world is upside down and he can’t differentiate between what’s real and what isn’t, it needs to be fake looking in order for the parallel realities to work alongside the notion of him experiencing murders that he isn’t even present for.
In time, I think Cat in the Brain will become a more beloved entry in Fulci’s filmography and be regarded as his swan-song. Some aspects of the film are questionable, such as the acting and production values, but they satisfyingly convey the film’s ideas at play, whether it was intentional or not.
Lucio Fulci at Fangoria’s Weekend of Horrors: NYC 1996 (22:07) – For many, many years, I kept seeing bootlegs of this panel at various conventions and was always curious about what exactly was said at Fulci’s first and only U.S. convention appearance – one that has gained a legendary status over the years and has given attendees bragging rights, since the director succumbed to diabetic complications two months later. Fulci looked like he was having a lot of fun in the camcorder footage provided, taking playful jabs at fellow horror icons, such as Wes Craven and Dario Argento, and working the crowd like a seasoned speech-giver. He bravely answers questions about the misogynistic nature of his films, and talks briefly about The Wax Mask, his collaboration with Argento that promised gore beyond our wildest dreams. Unfortunately, Fulci died a week or two before its first scheduled day of production, and I’ll always wonder whether it was him or Daniele Stroppa who wrote the T-800-esque character into the film, which went on to be helmed by Sergio Stivaletti.
Lucio Fulci: Rome, July 27th, 1995 (81:00) – Split into two 40-minute segments, this interview will, no doubt, become the definitive Fulci interview, if only because he really tells it like it is. In the first part, Genre Terrorist, Fulci talks about the actors and actresses he’s worked with – both good and bad – and his thoughts on the Italian film industry, leading to an in-depth discussion about his peers, why he classifies some of their films as thrillers and others as horror, and the fantasy aspect of his more grotesque films. The second part, The Television Years, focuses on the mid-80’s period of his oeuvre, where he spent most of his time working on made-for-TV movies that were, often times, too violent to be shown in their entirety on television. This period is often thought of as the lowest point of his career, so it’s interesting to hear him candidly talk about all the problems he faced and why he chose to make a few small-screen productions.
Brett Halsey: Living La Dolce Vita (45:58) – This fairly lengthy conversation with Brett Halsey is more of a career retrospective, rather than a piece on just his experiences while working with Fulci – a topic that comes up about 21 minutes into the interview. Starting off as a contract player for Universal Studios, he began his career working on films such as Revenge of the Creature (in 3-D!) and Ma and Pa Kettle at Home before traveling across the Atlantic to work on Italian productions with the likes of Mario Bava (Four Times That Night and Roy Colt and Winchester Jack) and, eventually, Fulci. Halsey’s relationship with Fulci became strained after Cat, since all of his scenes were taken from previous Fulci productions and spliced into Cat without him being informed or paid. Aside from that incident, he had almost nothing but admiration for the director and talked about his quirks and on-set habits.
Memories of Lucio Fulci (4:53) – A collection of short interviews with Cat in the Brain stars Jeoffrey Kennedy, Sasha Maria Darwin, and Malisa Longo. The clips – pulled from the excellent Fulci documentary, Paura – show the actors briefly reminiscing about Fulci, whether the impression he left on them be good, bad, or otherwise.
Easter Eggs – On disc one, press left after highlighting the Weekend of Horrors featurette on the extras screen to select the pulsating eyeball and view a short segment of Fulci autographing posters and interacting with fans at his convention appearance. It’s exactly what it sounds like, so there’s not much to it. However, for someone who wishes they were at that convention as much as I do, it’s a nice addition. On disc two, highlight any option (except for Jeoffrey Kennedy’s interview) and press left to select the eyeball and see outtakes from Fulci’s Rome interview sessions.
DVD score: 4.5/5