Written by: Lucio Fulci, John Fitzsimmons, Giovanni Simonelli, and Antonio Tentori
Directed by: Lucio Fulci
Starring: Lucio Fulci, David L. Thompson, and Brett Halsey
Reviewed by: Brett G.
"Doesn't that stupid old theory say that seeing violence on the screen provokes violence?"
Even though I've been a lifelong horror fan, the works of Lucio Fulci went largely unexplored by me until the last few years. Since one of my local video stores actually carried Zombi 2, I was familiar with it for years; however, it wasn't until I gained internet access that I discovered that Fucli was one of several horror giants hailing from Italy along with Bava and Argento. As the years wore on, I managed to see many of the essentials from the latter two, while Fulci remained on the back-burner until a few years ago. It was at this point that my fellow reviewer, Brett H., highly suggested that I check out The Beyond, which promptly blew me away and opened the Fulci floodgates.
I tore through The Maestro's better known undead works (City of the Living Dead, House by the Cemetery) before turning my eyes towards his giallos and other works, which I enjoyed immensely. Thus, I really looked forward to seeing A Cat in the Brain when Grindhouse Releasing announced a DVD release; often hailed as the 8 1/2 of Italian splatter cinema, I knew the film would offer up some rather deranged carnage from the mind of the Maestro. Self-reflective horror films are few and far between, and seem to have mostly emerged in the last decade and a half (though 1974's Madhouse is a notable exception); it's interesting that Wes Craven's New Nightmare is often credited for this trend, with Scream taking up the reigns. However, it would seem that Fulci beat Craven to the punch with Cat in the Brain, and he even referred to New Nightmare as a rip-off.
The film opens with a bird's eye view of Fucli hammering away at a script; we hear The Maestro plugging away at ideas for the gory demises he'll bring to the screen. We then move inside Fulci's skull to literally reveal a cat tearing away at his brain in a truly bizarre sequence that sets the tone for what's to come. The film then cuts to footage from a previous Fulci film, Touch of Death, where Brett Halsey is engaging in cannibalism. After the shot is over and Fulci is satisfied, he goes to have lunch; however, the steak he's offered reminds him of the cannibal scene he just shot. Later, a man using a chainsaw outside of his window produces a similar effect, and Fulci takes a hatchet to the handyman's paint. Clearly, Fulci is cracking up so he seeks the aid of a psychiatrist, Professor Swharz, in his neighborhood; Swharz eventually watches all of Fulci's horror films and calls another session wherein he hypnotizes the Maestro into believing he'll be perpetrating horrible crimes. All the while, it'll be Swharz himself butchering random people as Fulci looks on hopelessly.
Obviously, A Cat in the Brain is not an ordinary film. In fact, one might say that Fulci mirrors Halsey's cannibal character because the film itself involves the act of cannibalizing many sources, including his own films, and piecing them together into a wholly new experience that comments on the effects of violence on not only Fulci himself, but his viewers as well. For the unaware, much of the film is literally composed of footage from other films, including the aforementioned Touch of Death and Sodoma's Ghost. There's even a musical reference to The Beyond thrown in for good measure. Surrounding all this cannibalized footage are the sequences with "Fulci" himself attempting to reckon with the carnage he perpetrates on screen, as the barrier between reality and fantasy begin coming apart at the seams.
Some of you might be wondering how A Cat in the Brain can be regarded as an actual film rather than a simple compilation (not unlike Zombiethon) of Fulci's greatest hits. It's an easy assumption to make, to be sure; however, the fact is that this is decidedly not Fulci's greatest hits. Instead of editing from his more well-known films like Zombi 2 or House by the Cemetery, he borrows from the aforementioned lesser-known films, and even other obscure works that he wrote or ghost-directed. Furthermore, the final assembly with the Fulci wrap-around segments truly blend together into something cohesive despite its Frankenstein nature. When I first read about A Cat in the Brain, I thought it could easily become a mess of half-baked ideas and poorly edited retreads, but I was wrong. Even though the first 15 minutes or so are shaky, the film truly does feel like something new and complete on its own, and it's edited together well. In fact, it almost feels like Fulci is creating a reality/nightmare dichotomy with the "new" footage and the "cannibalized" footage, and this effect lingers until the last scene of the film.
Of course, one must wonder what the point of such an exercise as this is. If it's not to showcase some of the more gory sequences in Fucli's oeuvre (which is certainly not the case), then what is A Cat in the Brain? The comparisons to Fellini's 8 1/2 are obvious, as the film is very much concerned with the effect of art on its artist. Fucli particularly seems to be concerned with the essential questions of what a horror director must feel about the violence he perpetrates on screen, and if such violence truly can alter one's perception of fantasy and reality. By that same token, the Swharz character is used to examine the effects of violence on the viewer, even going so far as to suggest that cinematic violence begetting real violence is a laughable thought. Of course, if this is true, what are we to make of the brutal violence committed by Swharz throughout the film? I believe the answer lies in the end; without delving into any heavy spoilers, I think Fulci leaves us with his tongue planted firmly in his cheek about the whole affair.
Thus, A Cat in the Brain, above all else, feels like a bit of a satire on several levels. It certainly seems to satirize the perception that many people have about horror violence and its effects on all involved. Of course, it achieves this by stringing together as much unrelenting violence as possible; however, the film never seems like an excuse to just show us violence. Such a criticism is often leveled at Fulci, but I think this film (perhaps more than any other in his filmography) reveals there was more to the man than violence. In the end, it would seem that he's certainly unapologetic about his craft, and I don't think hardcore horror fans would have it any other way. Ultimately, the meta-fictional nature of the film confirms that this is, after all, just a movie. It would seem that this message would not only apply to A Cat in the Brain itself, but to all horror films in general.
As mentioned earlier, Grindhouse Releasing has brought A Cat in the Brain to DVD for the first time ever. Those familiar with Grindhouse will not be surprised to learn that the film's transfer is excellent (considering the source), and the film retains both the English and original Italian mono soundtracks. A sampling of each revealed both to be on the soft side, but it's certainly intelligible. The release also features a second disc full of extras, with the main highlight being Fulci's appearance at the 1996 NYC Fangoria Weekend Convention just before his death. Also featured are in-depth interviews with Fulci and Halsey, the original theatrical trailer, a gallery of stills and poster art, and some excellent liner notes from Antonella Fulci, David Schow, and Eli Roth. It should be noted that the first 2500 copies come with a limited lenticular cover; however, it seems that Best Buy received most of these editions, so if you truly want to track it down, check out your local stores. All in all, it's an excellent horror release, even if it does seem that many who pre-ordered the disc hoping to secure the limited edition got shafted. Still, lenticular cover or no, A Cat in the Brain is a surprisingly effective piece of self-reflective horror that no fan should be without. Buy it!
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