From the moment I discovered the sick and twisted genius of The Gates of Hell (1980, aka City of the Living Dead), I knew I was a Lucio Fulci fan -- and a few weeks later (after experiencing the horror-geek heaven that is Fulci's Zombie (1979)), I knew I had to track down more of his movies. Over the intervening years I've seen and enjoyed (or seen and laughed at) movies with colorful titles like A Lizard in a Woman's Skin (1971), Don't Torture a Duckling (1972), The Psychic (1977), The Black Cat (1981), The Beyond (1981), The House by the Cemetery (1981), The New York Ripper (1982), Manhattan Baby (1982), Conquest (1983), and The New Gladiators (1984), which is cool for me because now I know a good deal about the guy's work -- but there are still a big fistful of Fulci flicks that I've never seen!
Thanks to a very solid new DVD from Grindhouse Releasing, I can now cross another title off the list: Fulci's overtly self-referential Cat in the Brain (aka Nightmare Concert), which the director put together back in 1990. As Fellini has 8 1/2 and Woody Allen has Stardust Memories, Lucio Fulci offers this one, which is not a horror story as much as it is a portrait of a horror director (Fulci himself) who becomes sick by (and obsessed with) his own cinematic perversions. It's a provocative and unexpected approach from this godfather of gore, but unfortunately the self-reflexive commentary is rather simple, often redundant, and (ultimately) tossed away in favor of a silly twist. What begins as an indictment of Fulci's own stomping grounds becomes a thinly-veiled argument between "movies causing violence" and "psychiatrists being pure evil."
There's really not much plot to speak of: While working on a new horror movie, the director is struck by horrible visions. When offered a steak, he gets visions of sloppy gore. When he hears a neighbor chopping wood, our poor director envisions a screaming girl beneath the axe. And on it goes. The director turns to a psychiatrist for help, but the doctor has plans of his own: His wife is a hateful shrew, you see, so he decides to hypnotize the director into becoming a homicidal puppet. I don't get the logic either, but it all ties together (fairly obviously) near the end. The concept is really the story here, as it would be a few years later for Wes Craven and his own meta-movie New Nightmare, and there's certainly enough in Fulci's back catalog to make for a compelling follow-through -- but more often than not, Cat in the Brain feels like a "semi-greatest hits" package with only a cursory attempt at "new stuff."
Littered across the colorful but repetitious flick are sequences lifted from six or seven of Fulci's earlier films, and while the concept works pretty well at the outset, it later starts to feel like the Cat in the Brain action is taking a back seat to the "clip show" approach of the flick. There are only so many ways you can wedge an old torture scene into a rather one-note tale of cinematic insanity, but at least the Fulci fans are treated to a long and splattery litany of the director's trademark carnage. More of a worthwhile curiosity than anything resembling one of Fulci's best films, Cat in the Brain raises some interesting questions about the mental make-up of a bona-fide blood-slinger, but it doesn't answer nearly as many, and the result is a surface-deep "art vs. analysis" piece that's most memorable for Mr. Fulci's unexpectedly intriguing acting performance -- and (of course) for all that nasty gore.
Fulci fanatics (and newcomers alike, I assume) will be thrilled to learn that Grindhouse Releasing have treated Cat in the Brain like it's one of Fulci's top five flicks, and by that I mean this: A sterling audio/video presentation and a two-disc mega-set that delivers all sorts of gore-caked goodies. On disc 1 there's a 25-minute Fango convention Q&A with Fulci from 1996; a massive package of interviews with Lucio Fulci, and actors Brett Halsey, Jeoffrey Kennedy, Sacha Maria Darwin, and Malisa Longo; some biography / filmography data on Fulci and Halsey, a bunch of Grindhouse trailers, and some not-so-hidden easter eggs for geeks like me. The only thing that's missing is some sort of audio commentary from a Fulci expert or horror film historian!