Two films from Italian genre maestros - YOUR VICE IS A LOCKED ROOM AND ONLY I HAVE THE KEY from Sergio Martino, and Lucio Fulci's THE BLACK CAT - that are both inspired by Poe's classic short story.
THE BLACK CAT (GATTO NERO) is Fulci's Gothic take on the yarn, locating the action in a rural English village which affords cinematographer Sergio Salvati ample opportunity to impress with luscious widescreen exterior compositions.
From the offset, we're aware of a pitch-black moggy that is capable of influencing whoever captures its mesmerising gaze into committing fatal acts: a luckless driver smashes his car in the opening moments, his head crashing through the windscreen and setting ablaze in typically gory Fulci style.
He's not the only victim. An amorous couple are suffocated; an elderly gent is chased by the cat into a farm barn, where he ultimately falls on to some nasty-looking spikes.
All simple misfortunes? Local photographer Jill (Mimsy Farmer) begins to suspect not, especially when she pays a visit to the village's resident psychic, Robert (Patrick Magee) - he's an unusually sinister type, given to communicating with the dead via tape recordings in the nearby graveyard. More than that, he appears to enjoy an almost telepathic relationship with his feline pet. And Jill's not-long-since discovered cat footprints at the scene of one of the "accidents"...
With the help of detective Gorley (David Warbeck), Jill begins to investigate further into the growing series of mishaps - including a show-stopping bedroom blaze...
Despite the odd moment of grisliness, THE BLACK CAT sees Fulci in restrained mode, especially given that it was helmed in 1981 - slap-bang in-between his mega gory THE HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY and THE NEW YORK RIPPER. Instead, it favours the Gothic approach which is ostensibly in keeping with Poe's source material.
However, the screenplay - co-written by Fulci and Biagio Proietti - deviates from the original novella and falters by doing so, serving up an uneven pace that prevents tension from ever escalating.
Despite Salvati's best efforts, a low budget is obvious. The cast of familiar faces are fun to watch, even if Warbeck lacks the charm he oozed in THE BEYOND and Magee is frankly terrible. Able support comes from Fulci regulars Al Cliver, Dagmar Lassander and Daniela Doria.
It's one of Fulci's lesser films from his most fondly remembered era, then, but THE BLACK CAT still has enough set-pieces and arresting photography - not to mention a warm, welcoming score from Pino Donnagio - to help make it worth your while. Lovers of close-ups on eyes will love it.
In YOUR VICE IS A LOCKED ROOM AND ONLY I HAVE THE KEY (IL TUO VIZIO E UNA STANZA CHIUSA E SOLO IE NO HO LA CHIAVE), we're given access to a late Countess' household, where her deviant middle-aged son Oliviero (Luigi Pistillo) lives with his much-berated wife Irene (Anita Strindberg).
They hold parties nightly where the local hippy commune are invited to come along, dance naked and indulge Oliviero's penchants for alcoholism, womanising and publicly humiliating Irene.
When an employee at the local book store arranges to meet Oliviero one evening, she's brutally slain with a sickle while waiting for him. Naturally, the cops peg him as their prime suspect. So when his black maid Brenda (Angela Le Vorgna) is later killed in his own home, Oliviero insists Irene must help dispose of the corpse, rather than let the police believe he's killed again.
But then things get complicated. Oliviero's sexy niece Floriana (Edwige Fenech) arrives to stay, soon taunting her uncle with her sluttish manners and seducing beleaguered Irene.
And what of the mysterious Walter (Ivan Rassimov), who first makes his presence felt when he turns up at Oliviero's door with his dead mother's freshly washed dress - the same dress that was stained with blood the night Brenda was slaughtered ...
As the body count mounts and the cops keep sniffing ever closer to Oliviero's chateau, the labyrinthine plot morphs from simple whodunit and into a twisting tale of treachery, conniving and double-crosses galore...
Easily the better of the two films on offer here, YOUR VICE is one of five gialli directed by Sergio Martino in the early 1970s. As a genre picture, it's one of the best of its era, with everything you'd expect to find in a giallo: killer's POV shots, gory murder set-pieces, deviant sex sub-plots, misogynistic male characters, cunning femme fatales, elongated sequences detailing women in peril, quirky coppers, a twist ending ... all the tried and true ingredients are here.
Add the double whammy of Fenech and Rassimov on the bill too (though Rassimov has very little screen-time) and a beautiful score from Bruno Nicolai, and you really are being spoiled.
Familiar in traits to Martino's celebrated TORSO (the kinky references to dolls; the hippy dancing; the sadistic violence), YOUR VICE proves that the director was up there with Argento and Fulci when it came to being a master of the giallo.
Superbly edited, tightly constructed, deliciously playful and effortlessly suspenseful - sexy too - YOUR VICE is a stone classic, and to see it reach blu-ray in the UK is a joy.
THE BLACK CAT and YOUR VICE are being released onto blu-ray and DVD together by Arrow Films Video, as part of this four-disc package entitled EDGAR ALLEN POE'S BLACK CATS. Limited to just 3,000 copies, the packaging looks to be lovely: a slipcase housing each film in separate keepcases, along with a luscious 80-page colour booklet for good measure.
We were equipped with screener discs of the two blu-rays for the purpose of this review.
Both films have been treated to 2K restorations from the original camera negatives, and predictably look the best they ever have done on home video.
With THE BLACK CAT, for example, images are sharper, brighter and enabled with far more clarity than ever before. Colours are deep and true, blacks are unerringly reliable. The 1080p HD resolution complements the clean print (a spot of vertical lines on the print around the 41-minute mark notwithstanding) extremely well, fully realising the expert cinematography and stylish lighting in a manner DVD never did. Presented in its original 2.35:1 ratio, THE BLACK CAT looks superb.
YOUR VICE, which is given the benefit of its original 1.85:1 ratio, also looks great. It's not as pin-sharp or bright as THE BLACK CAT, but still boasts a clean print and wonderful filmic imagery along with bold colours and satisfyingly stable black schemes. Those who owned the film on NoShame's DVD from a few years back will remember how good it looked: the blu-ray offers a noticeable upgrade from that already agreeable proposition.
Both films are also graced with options of English or Italian language soundtracks. In each case, the uncompressed mono audio proffered is a clean, clear and consistent proposition. Well-written and easily readable optional English subtitles are provided for both Italian tracks. The English soundtracks have their own optional subtitles for the Hard-of-Hearing. I personally felt that YOUR VICE worked better in Italian, while THE BLACK CAT benefitted from the English track due to its lead actors losing their natural voices on the Italian variant.
Each disc opens to its own animated main menu page, from which pop-up scene selection menus allow access to their respective films via 12 chapters.
THE BLACK CAT's extras begin with "Frightened Dagmar", in which the actress speaks fondly about her time working on several genre classics. In a mix of German and English language, she talks us through her near-fatal experience on the shoot of THE BLACK CAT, and - perhaps most interestingly - recalls her time as the star of the sublime THE FRIGHTENED WOMAN. This enjoyable prospect runs for a captivating 20 minutes.
Stephen Thrower is our host during the 25-minute "Poe into Fulci" and the 8-minute location-revisitation featurette "In the Paw-Prints of the Black Cat". As expected from the author of "Beyond Terror", there's no better guide.
Thrower is also the off-screen interviewer in a delightful 70-minute offering entitled "At Home with David Warbeck". Recorded at the late star's home in Highgate, London, back in 1995, this is an absolute joy for fans. The chain-smoking actor looks extremely relaxed in his armchair as he recounts his acting experiences with Fulci, how it was to shoot Italian-style, his affection for Catriona MacColl and Janet Agren, and - of course - the fun he had making THE BLACK CAT. Refreshingly well-humoured and politically incorrect, he speaks with fondness and a great memory about his time as a cult star. There's a great story about how he and MacColl kept giggling on the set of THE BEYOND, much to Fulci's annoyance. Priceless.
The film's original 3-minute trailer remains a tantalising, attractive proposition.
A thorough, enthusiastic audio commentary track from fan Chris Alexander rounds things off.
For YOUR VICE, we begin with a superb new interview with Martino (in Italian with English subtitles). This 34-minute featurette finds the director discussing his early works, including specific recollections on the cast of YOUR VICE - complete with a sad story about Pistillo.
"Unveiling the Vice" is the same 23-minute Making Of retrospective which featured on NoShame's excellent DVD of a few years back, makes a most welcome appearance here. It remains a great companion piece to the main feature.
Michael MacKenzie narrates a self-directed 29-minute effort entitled "Dolls of Flesh and Blood", which provides an excellent and engaging visual essay on the themes that run through Martino's gialli. Take heed of the disclaimer at the start though: this is VERY spoilerific (as keen-eyed readers may have guessed, given its title's reference to TORSO's confessional scene).
Film historian Justin Harries has fun gesticulating through an engaging 30-minute retrospective of Fenech's impressive cult career entitled "The Strange Vices of Ms Fenech". As with MacKenzie's offering, this is peppered with attractive clips and stills from key films such as THE STRANGE VICE OF MS WARDH and STRIP NUDE FOR YOUR KILLER.
HOSTEL director Eli Roth is also on hand to proffer an animated 9-minute appraisal of the film and how it fits in to the genre's oeuvre. Love him or loathe him, you can't fault his passion. He loses points however for referring to the plural of giallo as "giallos", but recovers some ground by mentioning the wonderful TO BE TWENTY when remarking on Italian exploitation cinema's penchant for swinging Bohemian-style parties during the 70s.
Another Fulci on blu-ray, a great Martino giallo hitting HD, and a lovely package packed with extra features: what are you waiting for?!
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by Arrow Video|
|see main review|