(A.k.a. NIGHTMARE CONCERT; THE FACE OF TERROR; UN GATTO NEL CERVELLO [original title])
Acclaimed horror filmmaker Lucio Fulci (portrayed here by, er, Lucio Fulci) oversees the direction of a gory set-piece on the shoot of his latest movie. It involves a hefty serving of chainsaw dismemberment, decapitation and cannibalism.
After calling "cut" on the scene, Fulci feels a little queasy and so takes a stroll outside to get some fresh air. He calls into his regular restaurant, where the waiter offers him a couple of meat platters. But all Fulci can envisage when he looks at them are the grisly sequences he's directed moments earlier. He makes a hasty exit from the restaurant.
A short while later, in the recording studio, Fulci is repulsed by a bowl of prop eyes designed to be used in an eye-skewering scene for his film. It seems that decades of overseeing violent onscreen demises is starting to take its toll on the Maestro ...
So much so that he pays a visit to an unassuming psychiatrist (Brett Halsey) who wastes no time in exploiting his patient's confusion between fiction and reality, and using it to aid his murderous urges. With the assistance of hypnosis, he deduces that he go out on killing sprees and convince Fulci that he is the perpetrator of these transgressions.
Have you got that? Does that make sense? If it doesn't make sense in text, then I assure you it will be no clearer on film.
But A CAT IN THE BRAIN is so fucking bonkers that, so long as you know what you're getting into, you won't much care. Though some have attempted to liken its commentary on filmmaking and the blurring of lines between art and reality to the likes of 8 1/2 and WES CRAVEN'S NEW NIGHTMARE, it's actually more of a darkly comical take on the notion that watching violent cinema will corrupt your mind. It's also, more subtly, an insight into a director who knows he's reaching the end of his career and is taking stock of everything he has - and hasn't - achieved. Fulci does so with humour, albeit through gritted teeth, and with a mean streak which suggests his cult status (celebrated wilfully here) is a bittersweet reward for never achieving the breakthrough success once hinted at with ZOMBIE FLESH EATERS. The film also pokes fun at the director's reputation as a misogynist, with frequent scenes of women getting sliced, hacked, gouged, stabbed, drowned, raped and so forth.
It's common knowledge that a great deal of the set-piece scenes in A CAT IN THE BRAIN (the title is explained, in a fashion, during the film's opening moments) are cribbed from half a dozen other films, most notably the director's own SODOMA'S GHOST and TOUCH OF DEATH. Fulci manages to cram all of these bizarre, grisly images in by utilising them for the most part as scenes from his own film-within-a-film or as increasingly surreal hallucinations. If anything, this film is never dull as a result.
Fulci and Halsey make for amiable leads. It's always good to hear Fabio Frizzi providing a score for a Fulci film, and the one on offer here is certainly up to snuff: very atmospheric and retro-style. The gore may well be of the bargain-basement variety but it's delivered with considerable gusto (and regularity). There are also a healthy amount of attractive actresses willing to disrobe without cause for motivation in a Fulci movie, it would seem. So, you know, as an unabashed exploitation flick, A CAT IN THE BRAIN delivers the goods in spades.
So much so that I recall this film being something of a Holy Grail amongst collectors during the mid-90s. Living in the UK in the midst of a period of heavy censorship, A CAT IN THE BRAIN was whispered about but seldom seen. I finally managed to get a bootleg VHS and was blown away. It was, I convinced myself, the most violent film ever. Irrespective of the fact that I had the likes of NEKROMANTIK, CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST and SALO in my collection at the time.
The BBFC evidently agreed, as they rejected the film outright when Tartan submitted it for a home video release in 1999. The film's reputation steadily grew. Then, in 2003, Hardgore submitted the full uncut version to the BBFC in the hope of putting it out on UK DVD. We all shrugged ... but the film sailed through the censors without snips.
Which brings us to ...
A CAT IN THE BRAIN comes to UK blu-ray for the first time, courtesy of our friends at 88 Films. At 92 minutes and 51 seconds in length, this is the full uncut version.
Presented as an MPEG4-AVC file and boasting a new 1080p HD transfer struck from the original 16mm negative, the 16x9 picture is framed correctly at 1.66:1. The onscreen title is "NIGHTMARE CONCERT (a cat in the brain)". The film looks really healthy here, with strong detail, bold colours (especially the blood-soaked reds) and deep, controlled blacks. Yes, some scenes are soft and there's an overall grittiness to proceedings - the grain that's inherent with shooting on 16mm is retained, lending the film an authentic feel which cinephiles will appreciate - but it's all good.
Audio comes in choices of Italian and English language tracks, both of which are given the uncompressed stereo treatment. While these won't knock your socks off, they are no doubt true to how the film's audio (and its dub track) were recorded: both are clean, clear and consistent propositions. The Italian track comes with well-written, easily readable English subtitles which can be switched on or off. You can also use your remote handset to enable these during playback of the English dub track, though the translation of the Italian dialogue does differ somewhat to the English-language script.
A fine selection of extra features kick off with "Brain Food", a new 46-minute documentary taking a look at the later stages of Fulci's directorial career. Film historians Mikel J Koven, Kim Newman and Allan Bryce talk of the Maestro with equal amounts of affection, respect and honesty (no-one shies away from pointing out Fulci's occasional shortcomings). Lack of budget and ill health are obviously discussed at length, such as they both had an influence over the quality of later Fulci flicks, but the critiques contained herein are balanced enough to allow the films to retain an allure for the curious viewer. The film's co-writer Antonio Tentori (credited as John Fitzsimmons in the main feature's English-language opening titles sequence) is also on hand with his thoughts. Clips and post art are neatly interspersed throughout.
Next we're treated to a nifty 7 minutes of live footage taken from the Frizzi 2 Fulci tour of America in 2015. Filmed in Hollywood, this sees composer Fabio on keyboards with full band accompaniment, rocking through a nicely proggy rendition of the film's theme tune. Nice ZOMBIE T-shirt too, Fabio! Presented in HD.
The film's original American trailer runs for an enjoyable 2 minutes. It gives away the entire plot but who cares? It also manages to pack an impressive amount of gore and nudity into its meagre running time.
Finally, this set comes with double-sided cover artwork (the reverse boasts the film's original Italian title) and a 4-page colour booklet containing liner notes, incorporating an enjoyable interview with Tentori.
Initial pressings also came with a slipcase.
It's great to finally see Fulci's A CAT IN THE BRAIN on UK blu-ray, and 88 Films have done it justice with this attractive package.
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by 88 Films|