Il gatto nero, 1981. Directed by Lucio Fulci. With Patrick Magee, David Warbeck, Mimsy Farmer, Al Cliver, Dagmar Lassander.
In a small, English village a series of mysterious and deadly accidents occur and somehow a black cat is involved. The cat belongs to the reclusive and strange Mr. Miles (Patrick Magee). He is a medium who communicates with the dead. His nightly visits to the local cemetery don’t go unnoticed and the villagers think he’s a “queer one and a bit mad”.
A photographer visiting the village, Jill (Mimsy Farmer), finds a microphone in an old tomb. She tracks it back to Mr. Miles. They talk about his supernatural powers and then he tries to hypnotise her, but fails when the black cat suddenly attacks and badly scratches him.
Jill enters the tomb...
Scotland Yard-detective Gorley (David Warbeck) arrives to help the local police with the missing of a young couple. The missing girl’s mother, Lillian Grayson (Dagmar Lassander), calls in the help of her ex-lover and psychic Mr. Miles. Following up on his visions, Lillian and the police find the decaying corpses of the couple in a boathouse, which was mysteriously locked from the inside.
Noticing scratches on the hands of yet another victim, Jill is convinced that Mr. Miles is behind all these deaths and confronts him. But he claims it is the cat that is the evil one. After Lillian Grayson is burned alive in a fire started by the feline, Mr Miles drugs the cat and hangs him in his garden. But this unleashes supernatural forces that haunt him, and the cat simply returns. When detective Gorley is also attacked and hit by a car, Jill sneaks into Mr. Miles house to investigate...
Detective Gorley and Sergeant Wilson (Al Cliver)
Visions of death...
And another close-up.
In recent years this film has made sort of a comeback, thanks to a great dvd release and some good reviews. Made after City of the living dead and before The beyond, this movie lacks the extreme gore of Fulci’s other films of the period, but has some eye-catching visuals, lots of atmosphere and a good performance by Magee.
The relation between Mr. Miles and the cat is a complex one. Mr. Miles claims they need each other, but why is never made clear. In fact, the cat seems to be very able to take care of itself and obviously has the upper hand, attacking and hindering the man to great extend. Another thing is that the cat always seems to protect Jill at the expense of Mr. Miles. But no clues are given to explain all this.
The day after she found the decomposed body of her daughter, Lillian is burnt alive.
And there lies the biggest problem with this film. The lack of any explanation or even a hint at the goals of either Mr. Miles or the cat makes their actions completely arbitrary and the movie sort of dull. I realise that Italian horror films were never too big on story and logic, but still... In City of the living dead we knew that the opening of the Gates of Hell could be prevented and in The beyond there were enough clues from the past to sort understand the present and it’s looming dangers...
Big plusses though are the beautiful, slick cinematography by Sergio Salvati, who makes the most of the English village, Mr. Miles-house and the gothicy sets, and the score by Pino Donaggio, his only one for Fulci.
Talking through the fence.
And check out that eye... (Thank you, Hugo!)
Patrick Magee turns Mr. Miles, with his sad, piercing eyes, wild eyebrows and slow diction, to the centre of the film and deservingly so. Mimsy Farmer is her usual boring self and David Warbeck is ok, but with his this-is-all-a-big-joke-body language, he always seems a bit out of place.
Not a bad picture, but not really good either, it feels like a missed chance.