Blu-ray review: Edgar Allan Poe’s Black Cats – Two adaptations by Sergio Martino and Lucio Fulci

Man, you should have seen them filming Edgar Allan Poe! Well, this limited edition box set from Arrow Films shows how they used to do it in the old days with a double bill of Italian adaptations of Poe’s tale The Black Cat. With the fur flying, cat lovers might want to give this one a miss, but Euro-horror fans can look forward to a tasty treat.

YOUR VICE IS A LOCKED ROOM AND ONLY I HAVE THE KEY

Starring: Edwige Fenech, Anita Strindberg, Luigi Pistilli
Director: Sergio Martino

The name of Sergio Martino might not quite hold the same caché as those of Mario Bava or Dario Argento, but his gialli have a style that’s very much their own, one that combines ’70s loucheness and decadence with Italian flair. Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key (1972) is a typically kinky and stylish tale of thwarted passions in the picturesque Italian provinces. Oliviero is a failed writer who takes out his angst on his long-suffering drudge of a wife, Irina, humiliating her in front of the house guests who troop through the fadedly opulent villa that once belonged to Oliviero’s dead mother. One such is Flo, his emancipated niece, but whose side is she on, his or Irina’s? And is it Oliviero or some other unknown culprit who’s going round slashing the throats of some of the local maidens with a sickle?

your-vice 2The script by the prolific Ernesto Gastaldi is loosely constructed, with a slightly unconvincing twist ushering in the third act, but the film gains tautness and purpose from the way Martino handles it, using lurching zooms, wide-angled lenses and blanched, backlit cinematography to whip the story along in a fever of torrid imagery. The murders are brief, bloody and brutal, and in between the twisted, constantly evolving dynamics between the three central characters is a continual source of bubbling tension.

Edwige Fenech was the supposed star of the film, but hers is more of a supporting role to Anita Strindberg’s Irina, and it’s the latter’s statuesque screen presence and amazing swooping cheekbones which dominate proceedings. The relationship between the two female characters – one young and free, one middle-aged and bound to her husband and her household chores – touches on themes to do with the changing status of women in Italy at the time, while also introducing a titillating element of lesbian domination into what is already a heady sado-masochistic brew. In short, Your Vice has pretty much everything you’d want from a giallo – sex, chills and a cinematic brio that’s absolutely to die for. 8/10

TRANSFER
The transfer copes well with the unusual look of the film stock, with earthy flesh tones, soft polaroid-ish colours and subdued, gauzy backdrops all reproduced with great fidelity. Faces are haggardly sharp, and all those loose-knit ’70s woollens come up in minute detail. A scene in which Flo and Irina are sitting on a hill-top in bristling furs has a particular windswept beauty (albeit being rather un-PC). 9/10

EXTRAS
Engaging 34-min interview with the fast-talking Sergio Martino, in which he explains the your-vice 1origin of the title (a line from one of his previous films), discusses shooting in Padua and the state of Italian cinema in the ’70s and ’80s and reveals that he talent-spotted Feneche in a dubbing studio (where she was visiting her boyfriend, an American actor). ~ 24 min ‘making of’, with more thoughts from the director, while Fenech reminisces about feasting on location on farm-made egg and onion sandwiches (which must have made the kissing scenes quite challenging). ~ Thorough and well made 29 min video essay by Michael Mackenzie about Martino’s career in giallo. ~ 29 min piece on Fenech with Justin Harries, who’s clearly a fan, looking closely at her prolific body of work. ~ 9 min appreciation of the film by Eli Roth. 10/10

THE BLACK CAT

Starring: Patrick Magee, Mimsy Farmer, David Warbeck
Director: Lucio Fulci

A leafy English village is being terrorized by a homicidal pussy in Lucio Fulci’s 1981 film. Here’s a thought, maybe it has something to do with the crazy professor trying to commune with the dead? But never mind, with Scotland Yard’s finest riding to the rescue on motorbike, the bodies shouldn’t pile up too much before the whole thing gets sorted out.

As you’d expect with Fulci, his adaptation of Poe’s classic tale has more style than substance, while also being encumbered with a rather literal turn of mind when it comes to delivering feline thrills and moggy mayhem. Consequently, it feels like a series of set-pieces in search of a story, but some of these are pretty colourful, including a sealed room murder which is memorably claustrophobic and a ghoulishly convincing FX sequence where a victim turns into a human torch. Perhaps more surprisingly, Fulci shows a lot of feeling for the bucolic Buckinghamshire locales, and the whole thing is lavishly mounted and set-dressed. It’s also nice to see Patrick Magee getting plenty of screen time in a meaty supporting role. 6/10

TRANSFER
A very strong transfer, with no grain, lots of clarity and a sense of depth to the black-cats 1widescreen camerawork. Details of stonework, textures of grass and water, all look very crisp, and scenes with directional light (such as those in the gloomy local pub) have plenty of presence. Really, you’d think it was filmed yesterday. 10/10

EXTRAS
A 24-min piece in which critic Stephen Thrower makes a solid job of looking at the film’s themes and tropes. ~ He pops up again in a 8-min featurette returning to the movie’s rather beautiful locations in Hambledon, West Wycombe Park and the Hellfire Caves. ~ 20-min interview with Dagmar Lassander in which she talks about the various highlights of her career, including working with Bava and starring in the extremely cool Femina Ridens. ~ 70 min interview with David Warbeck. Filmed in the ’90s, this is in smudgy low-def video, but it’s well worth watching for its wealth of insights into what it was like being a jobbing actor on the Italian scene (for instance, he explains how he would often turn up on set without having seen a script and make it his first order of business to set about tracking one down). 10/10

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