Color, 1990, 92m.
Directed by Lucio Fulci
Starring Lucio Fulci, David L. Thompson, Jeoffrey Kennedy, Malisa Longo, Brett Halsey, Ria de Simone
Grindhouse Releasing (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC), Raro (Italy R0 PAL), Shock (Holland R0 PAL) / WS (1.66:1) (16:9), Blackhorse (UK R2 PAL
While Wes Craven kicked off the "post-modern," reflexive horror approach in the United States with New Nightmare and the Scream saga in the mid-1990s, Lucio Fulci got there way ahead of him with A Cat in the Brain, a.k.a. Nightmare Concert, in which the legendary Italian gore maestro also plays a director named, hmmm, Lucio Fulci, who drives around experiencing macabre visions during the shooting of his latest film. Fulci likens this experience to a cat clawing inside his head, shown literally in graphic detail as a furry kitty puppet flopping around in gooey cerebral matter. Fulci consults a psychiatrist (Thompson) who decides to let horror films take the rap for his own murderous urges. The shrink goes out and brutally kills a string of young women, while Fulci thinks he is responsible for the crimes. Will our beloved splatter auteur take the rap, or will he wind up having the last laugh?
One of the most deranged films in the Italian horror canon, A Cat in the Brain has sharply divided Fulci fans on virtually every level. Cheaply shot on 16mm and blown up to 35, the narrative consists largely of excerpts from other films (particularly Fulci's A Touch of Death and Ghosts of Sodom) intercut with new scenes. Since actor Brett Halsey (infamous from Fulci's S&M drama, The Devil's Honey) appears in clips from different films, the experience is not unlike Plan 9 from Outer Space as his appearance changes from scene to scene. Newcomers to Fulci will definitely wonder what the fuss is about: the acting is uniformly terrible, the visuals are crude at best, and Fabio Frizzi's score awkwardly mixes new Muzak compositions with excerpts from his past glory days (mainly The Beyond).
Scene for scene, this may be Fulci's goriest film, and this aspect alone has earned it some fan loyalty; on another level, it's a bizarre cry for understanding, as Fulci appears to be exorcising demons and coming to terms with the nastier pitfalls of his chosen profession. The high level of violence in and of itself certainly grabs your attention, but since it's all directed at cardboard characters we know nothing about, the effect is quite different from your standard horror film; here instead Fulci seems to be pointing out that, after years of sitting with a camera filming people getting mangled in increasingly juicy ways, it's all started to run together and created a detached, alternate method of perception unto itself. Many people will be turned off by the nonlinear and often maddening collision of nonsensical scenes and misogynist gore, but it's an interesting film nonetheless.
A Cat in the Brain's other main claim to fame lies mainly in retrospect as it marks something of a final chapter in the history of the Italian horror film, which quickly slid into irrelevance after this (Dellamorte Dellamore being the odd man out, a highly poetic postscript). Just as Argento essentially wrapped up the high point of his career with Opera the previous year, so Fulci wrapped up the decade with this final over-the-top adieu to his viewers.
After its initial release in Italy, A Cat in the Brain was surprisingly difficult to see for many years, accessible primarily through dupes from the Japanese VHS edition. Eventually near the end of the laserdisc era, it finally hit America courtesy of Grindhouse Releasing in an okay, barely letterboxed transfer featuring a handful of extras. The same extras carried over to their long-awaited DVD edition in 2006, namely a U.S. trailer, a gallery of stills and promotional Fulci artwork, and a very lengthy and endearing video segment of Fulci at the 1996 Fangoria's Weekend of Horrors. The disc was originally announced for a release in 2002, but it was stalled due to some bizarre legal wrangling with producer Alfredo Leone, who also staked a claim on the film and intended to release it as part of Image Entertainment's EuroShock Collection. Obviously we know how all that turned out. The double-disc DVD set features a much better anamorphic transfer that looks about as good as possible for NTSC; colors and detail are excellent in the new footage and variable but generally fine for clips from other films (with the bits from Touch of Death looking better than the actual film's DVD release). The English mono soundtrack is presented along with the Italian one with optional English subtitles; given that the film's looped either way, it's really just a matter of viewer preference. The personal vote here goes for the Italian one, simply because the English one has an annoying canned quality with many lines often mumbled or difficult to make out. The DVD also heaps on a load of new extras (some accessible only through Easter Eggs in the usual Grindhouse fashion) including the original Italian trailer, outtake footage of Fulci signing autographs and talking about his TV career, an additional never-before-seen Fulci interview from 1995 (broken into two segments, "Genre Terrorist" and "The Television Years") in which he spends 80 minutes total discusses everything from his original career as a cardiologist to his love of Joe D'Amato and anthropomorphic animals, and a fun 45-minute chat with Halsey about his Italian films and status as a European movie star including his spaghetti westerns and of course his later Fulci projects. Not enough? You also get quick snippets with American actor Joffrey Kennedy (who made his debut here) and Cat actresses Sacha Maria Darwin and Malisa Longo, all taken from the four-hour Fulci retrospective, Paura: Lucio Fulci Remembered. On top of that are the usual Grindhouse trailers including Death Game and Family Enforcer (which still haven't surfaced!), as well as a liner notes booklet containing thoughts from Antonella Fulci (who apparently still has very ambivalent feelings about her dad), Eli Roth and David S. Schow, all of whom make a case for the film being more artistically significant than many viewers may find. (If you feel like blowing money for no particular reason, the international DVD editions are a mixed bag with the Italian Raro version featuring a comparable anamorphic transfer and both Italian and English audio options but virtually no extras, while the British disc is a fullscreen mess you don't want to experience at all.)
It was inevitable that one of Grindhouse's flagship titles would eventually get the Blu-ray treatment, and sure enough, a decade later in 2016 it turned up as a double Blu-ray set with a third disc sporting the original 15-track soundtrack on CD (with a 2015 live Hollywood performance by Frizzi tacked on as well). The deluxe embossed slipcase packaging (which cheekily calls this "a psychological masterpiece in the tradition of such cinematic classics as Psycho, Strait-Jacket, Eraserhead, and Fellini's 8 1/2!") also contains a striking, thick embossed insert card portrait of Fulci in the first 3,000 units, as well as a liner notes booklet with the previous three essays and a new one by Martin Beine breaking down the exact components of other films woven into this sanguinary tapestry, which also includes such titles as Mario Bianchi's The Murder Secret, Leandro Lucchetti's Bloody Psycho, Enzio Milioni's Escape from Death, Giovanni Simonelli's Hansel and Gretel, and Andrea Bianchi's Massacre. The first Blu-ray contains the main feature, of course, in a pristine new HD transfer that wrings about as much detail and color out of the original material as possible. The new footage now looks fantastic (with that cat puppet at the beginning now less convincing than ever!), and again the audio options are English or Italian in DTS-HD MA mono with optional English subtitles. Extras on the first disc include the Italian and American trailers, plus the autograph convention footage (3 mins.).
On to the second Blu-ray, you get a jam-packed disc of bonus material including the previous Fulci and Halsey interviews (with hidden one-minute outtakes from both sessions), the Weekend of Horrors appearance, the 23-minute gallery, and the Kennedy, Longo and Darwin extracts. New here are a 27-minute interview with cinematographer Sandro Grossi (who talks about being inspired by Barry Lyndon and working his way up through the industry on later projects by Fulci, a "cinema encyclopedia"), a really sweet and engaging 30-minute interview with the great Frizzi about his love of music and his Fulci collaborations, a 16-minute radio interview between Fulci and screenwriter Antonio Tentori from 1987 about Italian horror cinema, and a 27-minute video interview with Tentori about working with Fulci (in the same bookcase setting seen in his interviews on other discs like Island of the Living Dead) and the poetic concepts within the director's latter efforts like this and Demonia. Then there's a 17-minute chat with poster artist Enzo Sciotti, sitting next to the original Cat poster painting and explaining his training as a painter and segue into designing macabre art before the industry's demise courtesy of computers. Also slipped in there are a 5-minute video of Frizzi performing the main theme during his 2016 tour, plus bonus trailers for The Beyond, Pieces, Pigs, Cannibal Holocaust, Gone with the Pope, The Tough Ones, The Big Gundown, I Drink Your Blood, Corruption, The Swimmer, An American Hippie in Israel, Scum of the Earth, Cannibal Ferox, and Massacre Mafia Style. As usual, you should browse carefully through the cast and crew filmographies, where you'll also stumble on bonus trailers for Road Devils, an Italian trailer for the Edwige Fenech film My Sister in Law, Roy Colt and Winchester Jack, The Return of the Fly, Silver Saddle, and Beatrice Cenci. Needless to say, it's another home run for one of the best genre labels out there today.