setsuled: (Frog Leaf)

Why do so many filmmakers think they know how to do Edgar Allan Poe better than Edgar Allan Poe? One of the more spectacular blunders in this department is 1981's The Black Cat (Gatto nero), loosely (to put it mildly) based on my favourite Edgar Allan Poe story, "The Black Cat". Rather than a disturbingly insightful rendering of a man's mind descending into sadism the filmmakers chose instead to make a movie about a cat who's a serial killer. What could go wrong with this idea? Just about everything you could imagine going wrong.

We can start with the basic problem that the movie's monster is tiny, adorable, and clearly has no idea he's in a horror movie and doesn't care. That's not necessarily a problem for many movies that involve a cat but when you want the audience to be uncomfortable you have to be aware of anything in the scene that might distract them and make it easy for them to think of something more pleasant. I just wanted to cuddle this little fiend.

This problem never goes away and scenes of people fleeing the critter in terror bring to mind the deadly bunny in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

The film has other problems. It seems to choose as protagonist an American photographer named Jill Travers (Mimsy Farmer) who's visiting the English village where the film takes place to take pictures of an old crypt. She's brought in to photograph crime scenes as the only photographer available in the small town and she starts taking an interest in the case. Unfortunately, the filmmakers apparently decided this role was too big for a woman so a smug inspector from Scotland Yard named Gorley (David Warbeck) is introduced to solve problems and make out with her. The local law enforcement is represented by a Sergeant Wilson (Al Cliver) who has a distractingly asymmetrical moustache.

The only bright spot in the movie is Patrick Magee as Professor Miles, who gives exactly the thoroughly over the top performance this movie needs and deserves and almost makes up for the fact that his character's motives make absolutely no sense. He's the owner of the murderous cat and when Jill observes the animal badly scratching him she naturally asks him why he keeps it. He tells her that the two of them need each other, something that doesn't make sense at first blush and then makes less and less sense as the plot unfolds. Partly this seems due to one or two elements from Poe's story actually introduced into the film that don't really support the film's otherwise completely different plot in a satisfying way.

It would be nice to see Magee in a really good giallo film. This one doesn't even compare well with the remake of Cat People released the following year, which is not a bad film though I don't think it's half as good as the 1942 version.

Twitter Sonnet #1008

Medallion knives reveal too much to speak.
With knuckles bare, the boxer finds the field.
Twixt passing ships the line conveyed the leak.
The mat or ring took blood beyond the yield.
A wedding broke in lace balloons at war.
Divided jokes foretell colluding grids.
At last a peace descends on tired floor.
In circles petals make the final bids.
A pattern forms of shoes we never cured.
A time in passing clocked a speeding arm.
In balanced notes a copper soon demurred.
As trading thoughts of cats incurs no harm.
We found a plate depicting fallen roofs.
The fortune teller's dog synthetic woofs.
setsuled: (Skull Tree)

The world may seem like it's controlled by powerful, invisible, malevolent forces. Much of this impression may be mere paranoia, so the best answer is investigation and illumination. This is what Peter Cushing believes in 1965's The Skull, a simple but pleasantly garish horror film directed by Freddie Francis based on a story by Robert Bloch.

It may come as no surprise that eventually Christopher Maitland (Cushing) bites off more than he can chew in the form of a skull, supposedly the skull of the Marquis de Sade. The filmmakers don't seem particularly interested in the particulars of De Sade's life beyond the fact that his name is the origin of the word sadism. So the skull is cursed, possessed by a demon that makes its owners commit murder.

Cushing is a collector of bizarre, demoniac paraphernalia from all over the world, surrounding himself with these items and books about them in his study where he spends most of his time alone with the things. Naturally, he neglects his wife (Jill Bennett) in the process.

When a dealer (Patrick Wymark) from whom Christopher purchases many objects stops by, she pleads with Christopher to give up his obsession. She's worried he's tampering with dangerous forces. He smiles indulgently and patiently explains, "It's because people, all through the ages, have been influenced and terrorised by these things that I carry out research to try and find the reasons why."

We frequently see Christopher at ease in his study, relaxing amidst his nightmare sculptures, completely assured of his control. With the introduction of the skull, this sense of control is undermined in different ways. In a possible hallucination, he's dragged out of his study by two men who claim to be police and taken to a place where he's forced to undergo some simple, sadistic trials.

This movie mostly works on atmosphere and performances. In addition to Cushing, Wymark is great as his shady dealer and Patrick Magee is memorable in two brief appearances as a police surgeon. But next to Cushing, of course, Christopher Lee makes the biggest impression, despite being only credited as "guest star"--he's actually pretty prominent in the film as the former owner of the skull who cautions his friend to stay away from it. It's just great watching these two talk about this while playing billiards. I could listen to them discuss occult artefacts while playing and drink cognac all night.


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