Review Date: May 28, 2009
Released by: Gindhouse/Box Office Spectaculars
Release date: 3/31/2009
Region 0, NTSC
Widescreen 1.66:1 | 16x9: Yes
Considering Lucio Fulci’s cult pedigree today, his self-reflective starring effort, 1990’s Cat in the Brain
, seems only natural given the way his Italian contemporaries like Federico Fellini and Michelangelo Antonioni also made themselves the center of key works. Both Fellini and Antonioni had previously turned the camera inward for their own looks into the mirror in 8 ˝
and Identification of a Woman
, respectively. But in 1990, Fulci’s career was virtually in shambles – the Italian film market had eroded years prior, and he was relegated to television and softcore – basically any genre that would have him. During his lifetime, too, Fulci was nowhere near as revered as Fellini or Antonioni, or even his horror peers like Argento or Bava. He was an artisan who would hammer out a few movies a year – for producers he was a guy who got the job done, and for his small core of followers, he was a guy who always delivered the gory goods. But a guy seasoned and important enough to make the center of his own film? In 1990 that’s something that could only have been pulled off with a guy as bullish and as self-confident as Dr. Fulci, as he’d commonly refer to himself. He may have been down in the industry, but in his mind he was always tops.
Thanks to the continuing efforts of Blue Underground, Severin and Grindhouse, Fulci’s very much living up to his own self-image in the minds of cultivated fans in the era of Laserdisc, DVD and erm, beyond. He’s the Godfather of Gore. Il re. The king. After last year’s lavish release of The Beyond, Grindhouse is certainly treating him as such, and it’s only getting better. Cat in the Brain
has always been a tough find for Fulci fans, but with this shiny, lenticular two-disc DVD, Grindhouse is making sure it’ll pass by fans no longer. Let’s jump inside Fulci’s brain and find out whether it’s all been worth it. Trust me, this is going to get messy.
Showing rare restraint, the film begins with a slow crane shot down upon Fulci’s aged and hairless scalp as he pontificates on his next screenplay. As we get closer, he too gets closer to epiphany, until the point where we seemingly enter his brain to see just what makes him tick. There it is, completely uncovered and pulsating in gooey thought. And then, without warning, it’s eviscerated by a cat that makes Harvey Keitel’s chat noir look tame in Two Evil Eyes
. What’s Fulci saying, that the mind is a fragile and feral thing? Is death and carnage the only thing, literally, on the mind? Regardless of the movie he’s making, whenever Fulci has something to say he makes sure he says it with a big red exclamation point, and this prelude is only a hint of what’s to come.
Fulci plays Lucio Fulci, a horror director with a penchant for pushing gore to the eleventh decibel. A stretch, surely. Anyway, he’s in the middle of one picture (well, actually it looks and seems like several, given all the pre-existing footage he cuts too, but then again that’s fitting for a man who made 56 films in 31 years) when all of a sudden he starts seeing the deaths of his actors in real life. He’s filmed that before, right? Or wait, it’s just a dream. Is it? A mid-afternoon chopping of wood by a neighbor suddenly becomes a cacophonous cross cutting of zooms as Fulci imagines himself or maybe one of his actors, cut into pieces by a chainsaw. For a guy who lives by putting horror on the screen, he’s suddenly finding the screen taking over his life.
Fulci sees a psychiatrist to try and get to the root of all these sightings. Bating critics, and even snidely jibing Argento’s own reflexivity in Tenebre, Fulci has his psychiatrist point out the “stupid old theory about seeing violence on the screen provoking violence”. Has a lifetime of making horror movies caused Fulci himself to emulate what he knows best? Is there a copy…cat taking advantage of Fulci’s failing sanity? Is it all just a rouse? Whatever the outcome, be assured that to get there requires decapitations a plenty and gore by the gallons. If the film’s Nightmare Concert title is to make any sense, then this epic is Fulci’s In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida.
Much has been made of Cat in the Brain
and its serious commentary on the nature of horror. Bullshit. As Fulci states in an interview on the second disc, he was always a man for humor and playfulness, and without a doubt this work is his most jovial. In a way, it’s kind of brilliant the way he’s able to just recycle old clips into a new bridging narrative about a filmmaker on the brink. Using longtime collaborator Fabio Frizzi to score the piece, he uses the soundtrack to transform what once was intended as scary into something suddenly, oddly, nostalgic. If Tenebre
was Argento’s way of vindicating his horror to critics once and for all, Cat in the Brain
is Fulci’s way of saying “Fuck you, I love this shit!”
The film is wonderfully chaotic, flowing from one gore set piece to the next in a stream of conscious like fashion, never bothering to get bogged in any plot whatsoever. Of course there is a bit of text there for critics to stew over, including a few elaborate psychiatric sessions, but we all know what Fulci thought of psychiatrists. Pure and simple, the film is Fulci’s equivalent of a mix tape; a collage of gory favorites, some not even his own, grouped together without rhyme or reason, but somehow seeming like a whole. When Fulci hung up his reigns as a director of taught thrillers and instead of one of unabashed horror, his focus became less and less on plot and more on gore. The Beyond
came right at that precarious point before he’d take a plunge from which he’d never return, it’s his masterpiece – but Cat in the Brain
is also a masterpiece of a different order.
Cat in the Brain
is Fulci when he could descend no lower, where he had reached the depths of that beyond he had been striving for so long in cinema. He’d crossed the gates of hell, steps away from the house of his own cemetery, and finally, paradise. An exodus to a place where he could simply be. Free to bid farewell to plot and to even the actors he often cared little about. He was at the film front and center, and he could do damn well what he pleased. Never has a horror director seemed as comfortable in depravity as Fulci is here, constantly in awe at the horrific marvels he’s able to project on screen. And all without shame. It’s pointless to fight the critics or the esteem of his dramatic peers, so Fulci instead had fun doing what he does best, and in the end, it is he who sails off into the sunset.
Grindhouse presents Cat in the Brain
in a nice progressive 1.66:1 transfer enhanced for 16x9 televisions. Considering the film was shot on a shoestring and culled together from clips from several other films, it holds up quite well. Naturally, the consistency varies depending on the source, with some quite soft and others ridden with some smearing colors. Reds are particularly susceptible to this, especially during all those nightmarish murder scenes. Even the new Fulci bits contain grain, although they are quite sharp all things considering. It’s nothing that would approach reference quality, but like with their other releases, Grindhouse has given the film as handsome a touchup as can be hoped for a film like this.
Like many of Fulci’s most memorable goregasms, this film is rife with some of the most hair raising sound effects that really amp up the carnage on screen. Add in another fabulous score by Mr. Frizzi, and this certainly has a soundtrack to remember. Unfortunately, the film only gets a mono only treatment from Grindhouse, but what’s there naturally sounds clear and well produced. No hissing or drop outs, and the levels are consistent, with the dialogue always audible and never drowned out by scoring or effects. A big plus one to them, too, for including both the English and Italian tracks. Naturally, since this is Fulci in the lead, this should really be watched in Italian, since he doesn’t speak a lick of English. The English dubbing isn’t all that bad, though, but you owe it to Lucio to listen to him right from the source.
On the heels of their stellar release of Pieces
, Grindhouse impresses with yet another two-disc arsenal of extras that Fulci fans aren’t going to want to miss. There are three lengthy Q&A’s with the master, and each one offers wonderful insight into his temperament and his legend. On disc one, it’s 22 minutes with Lucio Fulci at Fangoria’s Weekend of Horrors in New York City 1996. It would become one of his last public appearances, and his first for an American audience. Sometimes it’s tough to hear the questions, but whatever, Fulci’s answers are good regardless of context. Never afraid to speak his mind, when asked specifically of Cat in the Brain, and why he made it so self-reflective, he responded: “So Wes Craven could copy me”, in reference to New Nightmare
Moving on to disc two, where Fulci’s other two interviews are stored. Both were shot in Rome in the summer of 1995. The first is called “Genre Terrorist”, where Fulci answers a series of questions about the horror genre (and its difference from the thriller). He then goes to knocking the Americans for ripping off everything he and his peers have ever done in Italy, segueing that into a discussion of his contemporaries and where he thinks he stands. Naturally, Fulci holds himself in high esteem, and hey, can we blame him? He also talks at length about some of the actresses he has worked with, and often recollects some memorable anecdotes and tangents worth remembering. After the 40 minutes, the interviewer says “I’ll see you in a few years or a few months” and Fulci says “I hope months because I don’t think I have that many left.” Sad stuff from such a legend.
The other 40 minute interview is called “The Television Years” is from the same sitdown as the previous. Most of it is recalling experiences during his television career, and comes across often as esoteric and filled with names that only Fulci or the heads in Italian television would know. There is a nice interlude midway through where Fulci discusses Beatrice Cenci
, but for the most part, other than the usual Fulci frankness, there isn’t much meat here.
It may seem odd, but perhaps the best extra on the disc is something that really doesn’t even pertain to Fulci himself. Also included is a 45 minute interview with Hollywood contract player Brett Halsey from 2005. Halsey is probably best remembered as the lead from The Return of the Fly
, but like many actors spit out of the studio system, he found refuge in Italy for the bulk of the sixties and seventies, starring in whatever genre du jour they were serving up, from Spaghetti westerns to James Bond knock-offs. Naturally, he also starred in a few splatter flicks courtesy of Mr. Fulci, including Cat in the Brain. To be fair, though, his appearance in Brain was actually without his knowing, since Fulci merely recycled footage from their previous collaborations. Naturally, Halsey has an amusing anecdote about the whole thing. Halsey also worked with Bava and Franco, among other Italian kingpins, and dishes out on all of them with candor. It’s enlightening to hear the whole era from an actor’s perspective, as he talks often about what it was like working on European sets and the differences he found from the classical Hollywood he grew up in.
Then there’s a “Memories of Lucio” section, which features interviews with three Fulci collaborators – Jeoffrey Kennedy, whose first role was in Cat in the Brain
, Sacha Maria Darwin, from Fulci’s Touch of Death
and Voices from Beyond
, and Malisa Longo, who had the benefit of being in both Fulci’s first and last thrillers, Perversion Story
and Cat in the Brain
. As much promise as this lineup has, it’s really only a few short clips designed to promo the longer 4-hour Fulci documentary already pimped out on Grindhouse’s The Beyond
disc. Too bad.
The other minor extras are scattered throughout the two discs, including nice biographies and filmographies for both Fulci and Halsey, both garnished with a number of vintage trailers and even some more interview footage. Both are written very well and thorough, too – that’s how you do biographies! There are also a number of previews for other Grindhouse product, including the great looking Mad Ron’s Prevues from Hell
. On disc one there are also trailers for the English and Italian releases, and a still gallery. It should be noted that the still gallery goes only for a little under two minutes before playing Fulci’s Fangoria convention appearance in full. If you go digging enough, there is also an Easter Egg on each disc with some extra footage of Fulci, including the essential bit of him getting a cough lozenge.
Finally, the top notch packaging of the product deserves mention, since Grindhouse has crafted one of the best looking covers I’ve ever seen for a DVD. The lenticular design animates fully depending on how you tilt it, with the cat’s eyes peering at you through the skull. There’s also nice touches like blood dripping down and the background in a frenzy of lines. It represents the film perfectly, and thankfully (for those who can find the release with it intact) it’s an insert separate from the regular insert, so it can be removed and put on display with ease. Great stuff. There are also some liner notes by Eli Roth, David J. Schow and most memorably, Fulci’s daughter Antonella. She writes impeccably and sums up Fulci and the film with a poetry you wouldn’t expect from the daughter of a guy who often avoided it.
Cat in the Brain
presents Fulci gone off the deep end, completely enveloped in the gore and horror he so often pursued in his films. The film could have been a lot of things – a critique on the nature of horror, a frightening look into artistic madness or an attack on understanding. Surprisingly, though, it’s none of the above, instead rising above it all with a certain gory romanticism that only Fulci could pull off. It isn’t scary in the list, but damned if it isn’t Fulci’s most endearing film. This is as loving a swan song as I’ve ever seen any director put on film. Grindhouse has treated Fulci’s final bow with the same master touch, putting together a glorious collection of extras spanning two discs and a couple hours with of material. The video looks good all things considered, and having both the English and Italian tracks is a nice bonus. The packaging, too, is the cat’s ass. I know it’s already premature to say this, but I’ll say it anyway – this is surely one of the best DVDs of the year.
Movie - A-
Image Quality - B+
Sound - B+
Supplements - A-
- Running time - 1 hour 35 minutes
- Not rated
- 2 Discs
- Chapter Stops
- English mono
- Italian mono
- Three lengthy interviews with Lucio Fulci from 1995 and 1996
- "Living La Dolce Vita" interview with Brett Halsey
- "Memories of Lucio" short interview promos
- Still gallery
- Easter eggs
- Liner notes