Two black cats

Edgar Allan Poe’s tale “The Black Cat” builds to a horrific climax—kind of a combination of plot devices used elsewhere in his “Cask of Amontillado” and “The Tell-Tale Heart”—in which the cries of a murdered woman’s pet cat, accidentally walled up along with her dead body, give away the murderer.  Both Lucio Fulci’s 1981 Black Cat (Gatto Nero) and Dario Argento’s contribution to the 1990 anthology film Two Evil Eyes (co-directed by George Romero) retain this plot point even as they play fast and loose with the other elements of the original story.  Fulci’s version adds telepathy, a mad professor (played by Patrick Magee), a rash of bizarre killings, and a romance between a Scotland Yard detective and a pretty journalist; in Argento’s version, which tries to engage with the themes of alcoholism and domestic violence present in Poe’s text, Harvey Keitel at his most “eh, fuck it” plays an unhinged crime scene photographer. 

Harvey Keitel with uncredited animal actor in Two Evil Eyes (dirs. Dario Argento and George Romero, 1990).

Neither film is really all that good, possibly because in both cases the animal actors upstage their human co-stars.  Watching the title character prowl the rooftops of what is meant to be an English village under the opening credits of Fulci’s film (to the sounds of a melancholy Pino Donaggio theme), I found it impossible to buy that it was an agent of evil.  It looks curious, regal—and harmless.  Any film of “The Black Cat” in which the onscreen presence of the cat provokes the response “kitty!” must probably be considered a failure.


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