Back Add a Comment Share:
Facebook Button
First published in 1843, The Black Cat may be Edgar Allan Poe’s most adapted work. Its themes and basic plot points have inspired other stories, comic books, paintings, songs, plays, and, of course, movies. A simple web search reveals dozens of direct and in-name-only adaptations, from Edgar G. Ulmer’s 1934 Boris Karloff vs. Bela Lugosi classic, to anthology versions, like Roger Corman’s Tales of Terror (1962). Three of these films were Italian-made products, including Dario Argento’s section of Two Evil Eyes (which he co-directed with George Romero, 1990) and the two films included in Arrow Video’s Limited Edition Black Cats Blu-ray collection.

Black Cats

Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key

(1972)
A teacher named Oliviero (Luigi Pistilli) finds himself under suspicion when one of his students (and mistress) is found brutally murdered. As more bodies start to pile up, the arrival of Oliviero’s attractive niece (Edwige Fenech) brings with it complications of its own. (From Arrow’s official synopsis)

Sergio Martino’s Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key ( Il Tuo Vizio è Una Stanza Chiusa e Solo Io ne ho la Chiave) has the distinction of the single longest title in the proud giallo tradition of excessively long titles, dwarfing even the concerted efforts of Luciano Ercoli’s The Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion (1970) and Massimo Dallamano’s What Have They Done to Your Daughters? (1974). Sure, the title doesn’t have the same evocative quality as The House with Laughing Windows (Pupi Avati, 1976) or the oddball appeal of A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin (Lucio Fulci, 1972), but what it lacks in poetry, it more than makes up for in superfluousness. Of course, being an Italian exploitation export, it was released under multiple titles, including Gently, Before She Dies, Excite Me! and, most pertinent to Arrow Video’s promotional purposes, Eye of the Black Cat.

Sergio Martino’s contributions to giallo cinema are often overlooked in favour of the genre’s reigning king, Dario Argento, and other popular ‘jack of all trade’ directors, like Mario Bava, Lucio Fulci, Antonio Margheriti, and Umberto Lenzi. But, in terms of sheer numbers, Martino is second only to Argento (who, depending on the reader’s definition of the term, has made between ten and fourteen gialli throughout his career). Starting with The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh (aka: Lo Strano Vizio Della Signora Wardh, Blade of the Killer, and The Next Victim, 1971), Martino made seven distinguished and stylish genre entries: The Case of the Scorpion's Tail (aka: La Coda dello Scorpione, 1971), All the Colors of the Dark (aka: Tutti i Colori del Duio, They're Coming to Get You, and Day of the Maniac, 1972), Torso (aka: I Corpi Pesentano Tracce di Violenza Carnale or The Bodies Bear Traces of Carnal Violence, 1973), The Suspicious Death of a Minor (aka: Morte Sospetta di una Minorenne and Too Young to Die, 1975), and The Scorpion with Two Tails (aka: Assassinio al Cimitero Etrusco or Murder in the Etruscan Cemetery, 1982). More recently, he revisited his glory days with Mozart Is a Murderer (1999). His skill set was not limited to gialli (he had great success with sex comedies and farces, if you’re into that kind of thing), but most of his straight horror/sci-fi/adventure output – The Great Alligator (1979), Mountain of the Cannibal God (1979), Isle of the Fishmen (1979), and Hands of Steel (1986), for example – are only really enjoyable on an ironic level.

 Your Vice is a Locked Room Arrow BD
 Your Vice is a Locked Room No Shame DVD
Your Vice is a Locked Room (the title is actually a reference to a scene in The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh) settles nicely between Martino’s finest achievement in psychedelic horror, All the Colors of the Dark, and his most brutal and tightly-wound film, Torso. It doesn’t quite reach the hypnotic or suspenseful highs of either, but succeeds where so many other gialli fail due to its well-rounded characters and a strong underlying psychological themes. The connections to Poe’s story are pretty tenuous on the whole, but the plot necessities (a contentious tattle-tale of an ebony feline that is immured into a wall with the decaying body of a murder victim) are all present. Otherwise, credited screenwriters Adriano Bolzoni ( A Fistful of Dollars), Ernesto Gastaldi ( Blade of the Ripper), Sauro Scavolini ( The Case of the Scorpion’s Tale), and Luciano Martino (the director’s brother, So Sweet... So Perverse), do a fine job applying aspects of The Black Cat to a typically Italian psychosexual murder mystery.

As in Poe’s story, the audience is forced to identify with immoral characters. Cruel yet ‘innocent’ antagonists are actually something of a Martino trademark, one which initially fills a murder mystery’s need for multiple red herrings, but ultimately creates a complex and fascinatingly contentious narrative texture. In fact, the whole movie is basically defined by contradictory themes and images, some of which appear to be making a dramatic point and some of which are simply examples of classic Italian exploitation tone deafness. In Blood & Black Lace: The Definitive Guide to Italian Sex and Horror Movies, author Adrian Luther Smith rightfully calls attention to Your Vice is a Locked Room’s habit of condemning misogyny, sexism, and racism within the context of the story, while also capitalizing on the lurid appeal all three (this practice isn’t restricted to Italian movies, of course, but has certainly defined the country’s exploitation output since the advent of Gualtiero Jacopetti & Franco Prosperi’s Mondo shockumentaries). Like his contemporaries, Martino paints sadomasochistic relationships and emotional hysteria as tragic and romantic. He also undercut his most potent psychological/social concepts by engaging the audience’s sweet tooth for up-skirt shots and lesbian make-out sessions. Another example of this ‘have it both ways’ mentality would be Martino’s habit of embracing the youth culture with hippie sing-alongs and strip teases (these popped up once again in Torso), but then pauses, so that the older characters can quietly insult the frivolousness of the younger generation.

 Your Vice is a Locked Room Arrow BD
 Your Vice is a Locked Room No Shame DVD
For his part in the technical execution here, Martino offers vital visual consistency. Quite often, the difference between a great giallo movie and a mediocre one is found in the effort a director puts into the expositional scenes. Like their North American slasher counterparts, too many Italian thrillers simply bide their time between violent set-pieces. A series of extended stationary shots can really drag down an already convoluted story until necessities like plot and dialogue seem like superfluous filler. Martino counteracts pacing and plotting issues by constantly shifting the compositional position, racking focus, and moving the camera. Yet, Martino isn’t obsessed with boastfully flaunting his opulent filmmaking process (like, say, Argento), so his dynamic visuals rarely attract attention away from the actors. The exceptions are the documentary-like handheld shots, most of which are used to express enhanced emotional distress. Naturally, the stalk-and-kill set pieces are still the highlights, but they are still a step or two below the nail-biting intensity of Torso’s nearly perfect final act. In the end, Your Vice is a Locked Room is an exercise in psychological torment over suspense. It is also notable for giving Martino’s muse, the sultry Edwige Fenech – who spent most of her giallo career as the perpetual victim – a chance to break-out as the femme fatale.

Your Vice is a Locked Room has had two official DVD releases that I know of: one PAL anamorphic disc from Italian company Mondo Entertainment and an out-of-print NTSC anamorphic collector’s edition from No Shame Films. As you can probably see from the screen caps I’ve supplied on this page (Arrow BD top, No Shame DVD bottom), The No Shame disc was just about the best fans could expect from a standard definition format. Obviously, the HD upgrade would be an improvement, but Arrow still had their work cut out for them on this 1080p, 1.85:1 Blu-ray debut. The original 35mm camera negative was scanned in 2K via L’Immagine Ritrovata in Italy, then digitally restored by Arrow. While cleanliness is comparable between the two transfers, the Blu-ray has clear advantages in terms of sharp details complex textures. The far back patterns of the busy wide-angle, deep-focus shots no longer appear fuzzy and the close-up elements aren’t affected by edge haloes. Grain levels appear natural throughout without the noisy telecine sheen of other recent Italian genre Blu-ray releases. This grain has some consistency issues (its frequency can be different from scene to scene), but is never intrusive. The Blu-ray has a distinct advantage in terms of contrast. Many DVD releases of Italian horror and thriller movies from the ‘60s and ‘70s tended to be overloaded, blown-out, and generally too white. They also had a slightly yellow quality that never seemed accurate. Here, gamma has been toned down to allow for deeper shadows and more subtle midtones (for the most part – the darkest scenes are a bit grey to compensate for lack of highlights). Some may argue that the colour correction is overcompensating for the yellowness with too much red and, indeed, some skin tones are kind of purple, but I think it’s still preferable and more naturalistic. The more unnatural hues, namely the ones on the oh-so-‘70s costumes, are delightfully punchy.

 Your Vice is a Locked Room Arrow BD
 Your Vice is a Locked Room No Shame DVD
The original mono English and Italian soundtracks were scanned from the 35mm source and digitally restored. Both are presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0. The viewer has the option to watch either the Italian or English version of the film, which changes the on-screen text (meaning titles, mostly), and the ability to configure each version for either English or Italian audio. Comparing the two, it appears that the English titles were added recently, so I suppose the more ‘authentic’ route would be the Italian version. As I’ve mention every time I review an Italian film from this period, Your Vice is a Locked Room was shot without sound, often using a multi-lingual cast that speaks to each other in their own tongue. All of the audio tracks available for these movies tend to be dubbed tracks, so there is no ‘correct’ language in which to view the film. In this case, the Italian language track has minor advantages in terms of loudness and the presence of certain (usually very minor) ambient effects that don’t show up in the more staid English track. On the other hand, the English track doesn’t have issues with high-end distortion or tinny vocals, so it’s sort of a tossup and the choice will come down to preference. Having discovered many of these movies on North American VHS releases, I tend to skew towards the familiarity of the English tracks. That said, I do think this is a case of the Italian performances being superior. Bruno Nicolai’s fantastic score is mixed the same on both tracks, which is to say it’s a little too quiet for my taste. This isn’t Arrow’s problem, though – it is an issue with the original sound design.

Extras include:
  • Through a Keyhole (34:40, HD) – A new interview with director Sergio Martino, who discusses the film’s development around the success of The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh, a real-life event that was popular in the news at the time, Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Les Diaboliques (I’m sort of ashamed that I never noticed the similarities between Your Vice is a Locked Room and Clouzot’s classic), and the idea of adapting Poe’s story to a giallo context. He also talks about his cast (especially Fenech), the locations, plotting, other inspirations, ‘70s/‘80s Italian politics, and Nicolai’s score.
  • Unveiling Vice (23:10, SD) – This retrospective featurette from No Shame’s DVD release includes interviews with Martino, Fenech, and screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi. Though Martino’s part overlaps with the new interview, the actress and writer interviews offer a nice new perspective on the production, as well as other Martino movies.
  • Dolls of Flesh and Blood: The Gialli of Sergio Martino (29:00, HD) – This brand new visual essay by expert/writer Michael Mackenzie explores the director’s unique contributions to the genre. After establishing the early days of Martino’s career, Mackenzie focuses on all five of the director’s ’70s gialli releases – The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh, The Case of the Scorpion's Tail, All the Colors of the Dark, Your Vice is a Locked Room,   Torso, and The Suspicious Death of a Minor – as well as Romolo Guerrieri’s The Sweet Body of Deborah (1968), which Martino worked on as producer. This is a fantastic extension of Mackenzie’s equally great Gender and Giallo video essay seen on Arrow’s UK Blu-ray release of Bava’s Blood and Black Lace (1964).
  • The Strange Vices of Ms. Fenech (29:40, HD) – Another new visual essay – this time from film historian Justin Harries and concerning the career of Matino’s favourite acrtess. Harries’ flowery language and oodles of footage from Fenech’s movies (and her Playboy spread…) makes for a fresh and informative featurette. I’m not too sure about the choice of a fisheye lens, though.
  • Eli Roth on Your Vice (9:20, HD) – The Hostel director discusses his affection for Martino’s work, like he did on Blue Underground’s Torso release. Note that Fenech appears as an art teacher in Hostel Part II in a reference to Martino’s brand of giallo, which inspired the superior sequel.


 Your Vice is a Locked Room Arrow BD
 Your Vice is a Locked Room No Shame DVD

 Your Vice is a Locked Room Arrow BD
 Your Vice is a Locked Room No Shame DVD

 Your Vice is a Locked Room Arrow BD
 Your Vice is a Locked Room No Shame DVD

 Your Vice is a Locked Room Arrow BD
 Your Vice is a Locked Room No Shame DVD


Black Cats

The Black Cat

(1981)
Scotland Yard Inspector Gorley (David Warbeck) finds himself summoned to a sleepy English village to investigate the recent murder of a young couple. With no obvious signs of entry at the murder scene, Gorley is forced to start considering the possibility that his suspect may not be human… (From Arrow’s official synopsis)

In the early 1980s, Lucio Fulci was riding the highest high of his entire career. Following a successful run of spaghetti westerns, gialli, farcical comedies, and a particularly violent period melodrama ( Beatrice Cenci, aka: The Conspiracy of Torture, 1969), he had his first international mega-hit in 1979 with Zombie (aka: Zombi 2 and Zombie Flesh Eaters). Zombie’s extremely graphic violence became the one thing a new legion of viewers expected from his work. This offered him an unusual chance to cut loose with increasingly surrealistic horror movies, culminating in a trio of fan-favourites – City of the Living Dead (aka: The Gates of Hell, 1980), The Beyond (aka: Seven Doors of Death, 1981), and House by the Cemetery (1981). But Fulci did make two other movies during this three year period that tend to be overlooked in favour of his more elaborate masterpieces. The first, Contraband (aka: Luca il Contrabbandiere, The Smuggler, and The Naples Connection, 1980) is understandably neglected, because it’s not a horror movie (though that’s not an excuse to skip it, because it’s a great poliziotteschi), while the other, The Black Cat (aka: Gatto Nero), is slighted, because it’s the least gory of his gothic horror movies.

In my review of Ted Geoghegan’s Fulci tribute We Are Still Here, I maintained that Fulci’s horror movies were not just about gore. Surely, gore played its part, but Fulci’s work endures because of the particular atmosphere he evokes. The Black Cat is every bit as baroque as any of its hyper-violent counterparts. There are outstandingly gorgeous images in this film, thanks to Fulci uncharacteristic patience, cinematographer Sergio Salvati’s dynamic photography (this film may represent the apex of his overindulgent crash-zoom/slow wracked-focus style), and Massimo Antonello Geleng & Franco Calabrese’s elaborate production/art design. The technical crew all adopts a more measured and traditionally gothic approaches to the material, proving that Fulci really could compete with the likes of Mario Bava and Riccardo Freda. That said, The Black Cat does devolve into a bit of a formulaic slog. There are more gory moments than I had remembered – one victim has his head shoved through a windshield, another is impaled on exposed rebar, yet another has her face burned off, and David Warbeck has the living hell scratched out of his face – but these relatively dry moments tend to remind the viewer that a few impaled eyeballs can go a long way when paired with an otherwise underwhelming storyline (Fulci’s obsession with eyes still crops up in the form of incessant closeups on frightened peepers). Still, I didn’t find the movie as glacial this time around. Perhaps my taste in Fulci has matured? Probably not.

 Black Cat Arrow BD
 Black Cat Blue Underground DVD
Much of Fulci and Biagio Proietti’s screenplay only really adheres to the obvious touchstones of Poe’s story (an evil black cat that is thought to be dead, but ends up cluing in the cops to a dead body rotting in the wall). Beyond this, there are actually more changes made to the source material than the already patently un-Poe-like Your Vice is a Locked Room. Yet, many of the changes to the story feel consistent with Poe’s typical milieu (or at least consistent with other existential ghost stories of the author’s era). For example, one of the central characters, a medium named Robert Miles (portrayed by the always intense Patrick Magee) is a tortured soul in the tradition of most of Poe’s (first-person) unnamed narrators and his attempts to record his conversations with the dead (a plot point that is woefully underdeveloped) is a sort of modern extension of The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar. The screenplay’s attempts at a murder mystery structure are likely in reference to Murders in the Rue Morgue (as mentioned by author Stephen Thrower in this Blu-ray’s extras). Even Miles’ lonely, cobweb and portrait-infested estate recalls the imagery of the more famous Roger Corman ‘Poe Cycle’ films.

The biggest breaks from the author’s 19th century storytelling aesthetics come when Fulci and Proietti try to reframe the narrative as a giallo-like bodycount picture, like tertiary characters wandering off alone to be slaughtered and gliding killer kitty P.O.V. shots. The title creature is transformed from an open-ended metaphor for emotional burdens (guilt, rage, and mourning, though Poe refers to it as the ‘spirit of perverseness’) into an actual spectral cat that kills people. An evil supernatural cat might be frightening on the page, where the idea is expanded by the reader’s imagination, but even a technician of Fulci’s calibre suffers to make it work on film. The more abstractly scary images work beautifully, but, anytime the cat literally attacks someone, the results are almost always silly. The scenes that depend on the title critter frightening and entrancing its victims into putting themselves in dangerous situations don’t stretch the audience’s suspension of disbelief too far (it’s sort of akin to the Final Destination movies, actually), but when Mimsy Farmer is forced to keep the kitty at bay with a camera flash during the climax, it’s difficult not to notice how cute and harmless the little fella looks.

 Black Cat Arrow BD
 Black Cat Blue Underground DVD
As a relatively popular Lucio Fulci film (one that I believe was included in group deals for distribution), The Black Cat has been released on DVD a number of times in a number of different territories. The best releases were anamorphic, 2.35:1 discs from Shameless Screen Entertainment in the UK and Anchor Bay in the US. The AB transfer was recycled for Blue Underground’s DVD and I have included screen caps from that disc on this page. Since the BU disc is still in print, I think a lot of fans assumed they’d be the ones to bring the film to Blu-ray for the first time, but Arrow has beat them to the punch with a brand new 1080p, 2.35:1 transfer. I had heard that the original materials for Black Cat were in bad shape and, as you can see from my screen caps, AB/BU was forced to contend with some significant print damage. Against the odds, Arrow seems to have discovered another original 35mm negative, which was then scanned in 2K via L’Immagine Ritrovata in Italy, then digitally restored in-house – though some of the same basic print damage elements do remain. As you can see, the comparison skews heavily in favour of the HD release. Besides the lack of significant print damage on the Arrow transfer, you’ll notice that the DVD image was slightly zoomed and horizontally stretched. The compression noise/discoloration has been replaced with fine grain and other more filmic artefacts. Details are tight, especially wide-angle textures, and the Blu-ray features much more impressive fidelity (notice how much clearer Warbeck’s bloody face is in the HD caps). Colour quality has improved, including punchier highlights and a better mix of hues. As mentioned in the Your Vice is a Locked Room review, many of these older Italian genre DVDs had issues with yellowing. The Blu-ray corrects the sickly green tint as well. However, the DVD still has one minor advantage in terms of gamma and contrast levels. There are definitely some details that go missing on Arrows darker and more black crushed image.

The original mono English and Italian soundtracks were scanned from the same 35mm materials and are presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0. Once again, Arrow has given the viewer a choice between Italian or English titles without forcing them to also choose the corresponding audio tracks. And, considering that this is another Italian genre movie from the era, viewers should continue to understand that both tracks are dubbed. This time, the English dub has the minor advantages in terms of volume and fine ambient noises. Ambience is important, too, given the plot points about recording ghostly voices. There are a number of key English language performances here, including Warbeck and Patrick Magee, both of whom dub themselves. Fulci’s horror/thriller output from this era was mostly scored by Fabio Frizzi, but The Black Cat’s music is provided by the legendary Pino Donaggio, who had worked on Brian De Palma’s Blow Out the same year. The score is a strange, but catchy mix of folk rock and more traditional, Herrmann-esque string work (the similarities between these cues and Donaggio’s Blow Out and Carrie cues is striking) that teeters on the brink of distortion at peak volume levels. Thankfully, clarity remains relatively constant, especially on the slightly superior English track.

 Black Cat Arrow BD
 Black Cat Blue Underground DVD
Extras include:
  • Commentary with current editor and chief of Fangoria Magazine and filmmaker, Chris Alexander – This informative commentary track is a nice contrast to the rest of this collection’s extras, in that Alexander approaches Fulci and his work from a more casual, fan-based point-of-view. Not to say his statements aren’t intellectual in their own respect or that his British counterparts here are stuffy, but there’s definitely a difference in presentation style. There also isn’t a lot of overlap between this track and the disc’s other extras.
  • Poe into Fulci: The Spirit of Perverseness (25:40, HD) – Stephen Thrower, film historian and author of Beyond Terror: The Films of Lucio Fulci, discusses the history of The Black Cat and where it fits in Fulci’s oeuvre. There’s a lot to learn here, even for those of us that have read Thrower’s already extensive book. My favourite bit is when he ties The Black Cat’s concepts to those of David Cronenberg’s The Brood (1979). This featurette also includes footage from VHS releases to illustrate the fact that so much of the movie becomes a frustrating study of the bridges of noses when displayed in 1.33:1.
  • In the Paw-Prints of the Black Cat (8:30, HD) – A tour of the film’s locations, hosted by Thrower.
  • Frightened Dagmar (20:10, HD) – A new interview with actress Dagmar Lassandre, who covers the majority of her career, piece by piece. She misremembers Ercoli’s Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion as a Fulci film, but is otherwise on-the-ball and full of behind-the-scenes snippets.
  • At Home with David Warbeck (1:10:20, SD) – This extensive interview with the star of Black Cat and The Beyond was recorded on home video in 1995, two years before cancer took his life at the age of 55. It sounds like Thrower is the man off-camera asking the questions, but I’m not positive. The length is daunting and rough, the unfocused discussion is demanding, but the casual ambience is quite charming and Warbeck’s stories are delightful.


 Black Cat Arrow BD
 Black Cat Blue Underground DVD

 Black Cat Arrow BD
 Black Cat Blue Underground DVD

 Black Cat Arrow BD
 Black Cat Blue Underground DVD

 Black Cat Arrow BD
 Black Cat Blue Underground DVD
* Note: The above images are taken from both Blu-ray release, the No Shame Your Vice is a Locked Room DVD, and the Blue Underground Black Cat DVD, then resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


Links: