Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Belfast City Cemetery

I recently took a stroll through Belfast City Cemetery. I’ve lived in Belfast for about seven or eight years now and this was the first time I set foot in the place. I was immediately taken by how big it was, and how overgrown the majority of the older graves were. Ivy chokes and cascades over everything, rendering the whole place immensely atmospheric.

The cemetery was founded in the mid 19th century, at a time when Belfast saw a drastic rise in its population. The Great Famine drove people out of rural areas and into the city in search of work. As the population rose, more burial space was needed for the increasing numbers of the dead. Up until this stage, the majority of burial grounds in Belfast were controlled by religious denominations. Plans for a municipal cemetery for all religious denominations were made and in 1866, Belfast Corporation (now Belfast City Council) purchased land from a prominent family on Falls Road, with a view to turning it into a burial ground and a park. Englishman William Gay was appointed to design the new cemetery. Gay envisioned a garden cemetery – akin to the likes of Abney Park Cemetery in London – the likes of which were very popular in the early nineteenth century. Amongst the ornate Victorian features inside the grounds are a bell and cast iron fountains, gothic arches and neoclassical angels and shrouded urns.

Before the cemetery opened, disputes over burial customs, ceremonies and procedures ensued due to the site’s cross-denominationalism. Nine-foot deep underground walls were constructed to divide consecrated and non-consecrated ground and separate not only the Catholic and Protestant sections of the graveyard, but the areas reserved for the Jewish community too. Yes. This cemetery has underground walls to separate its occupants according to their religion. Belfast, eh?



The cemetery is the largest in the city with around 250,000 burials. It opened in August 1869 and the first to be buried in it were two young girls. A lot of Belfast's prominent historical figures are also buried here. They include Sir Edward Harland, the controller of Harland & Wolff shipyard at the time of the Titanic’s construction, and CS Lewis' mother, Florence. Also buried here is the 15 year old boy believed to have been the first to die during the construction of the Titanic. Samuel Scott fell and fractured his skull while working in the shipyard in 1910. His body lay in an unmarked grave until recently, when a headstone was placed in the cemetery for him.



According to former Mayor of Belfast Tom Hartley, who now organises tours of parts of West Belfast, as a child he used to run past the cemetery gates because of stories he heard about the devil appearing there one night. He had also read a pamphlet called ‘The Devil that Dances’, which was written by Father Gerald O’Carroll, a priest at Clonard monastery. It presumably condemned the fact that some of the ground in the cemetery was not consecrated and was therefore heretical. Naturally a youngsters’ imagination would conjure images of a cloven-hoofed devil prowling around such a place. Nowadays he attributes the uneasiness he felt going past the cemetery to the undercurrent of sectarianism and segregation at the time. As a Catholic he associated the cemetery with British-leaning Protestantism, and believed that the people buried in it were somehow ‘different’, as the majority of them weren’t Catholic. Throughout the 1970s a lot of vandalism occurred in the cemetery and Protestants wouldn’t visit it because of its location in West Belfast – a predominantly Catholic community. That has thankfully changed now, though the desecration of so many of the graves by hoodlums is still evident.



















Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Audiodrome#7: Tetsuo I & II

It’s that time of the month again to head over to Paracinema.net and check out the latest instalment of Audiodrome. This month my ears have been getting rather bloody, indulging in the onslaught of Chu Ishikawa’s cacophonous industrial soundtrack for Tetsuo: The Iron Man and its equally brutal follow up, Body Hammer.

Shinya Tsukamoto’s searingly visceral film is the graphic tale of a lowly salary man’s descent into a metal-encased nightmare, as his body suddenly begins to turn into scrap metal. Tetsuo combines Cronenbergian body horror with Lynchian existentialism and filters it all through a gritty, William Gibson-esque cyberpunk aesthetic. Ishikawa’s ferocious soundtrack perfectly enhances the disturbing imagery, frantic editing and dystopian vision of the films.

While you’re over at Paracinema’s online lair, why not pick up the latest issue? It’s really rather good and all the articles address the theme of revenge in genre cinema…

Sunday, 22 April 2012

The Spider Labyrinth

1988
Dir. Gianfranco Giagni

A professor of languages working on a project translating ancient tablets from a pre-Christian religion travels to Budapest to find a colleague who has ceased communication, and return with his research. Shortly after he arrives, his ailing and strangely paranoid colleague is found dead. As the young professor delves deeper into the research, he finds himself increasingly entangled in a web of paranoia, grotesque murders and a bizarre cult determined to keep their existence a secret.

The Spider Labyrinth is an obscure oddity of Italian horror cinema. Made in the late Eighties, at a time when lets face it, many Italian horror films, save for the work of Argento and Soavi perhaps, was wildly uneven at best, and down right dire at worst. It manages to subvert expectations as it emerges as a curious entwinement of HP Lovecraft-inspired mythos, giallo trimmings, gothic horror atmospherics and occult conspiracy narratives, creating a highly moody and surprisingly gripping yarn.

While it may begin akin to the likes of such off-beat ‘conspiratorial’ gialli such as Short Night of Glass Dolls or House with the Laughing Windows, in which an outsider is drawn into a conspiracy with deadly and far reaching implications, The Spider Labyrinth later veers into more fantasy, creature-feature orientated horror. With a story revolving around a scholarly young man ensconced in the research of antique texts and artefacts that inevitably lead him to the discovery of some incomprehensively ancient and evil force that will threaten to shatter not only his belief system, but his very sanity, the film has a distinct HP Lovecraft vibe to it. The revelation that a secret and ancient cult known as The Weavers - whose gods are “not myths, but living creatures” and whose members will kill to keep their existence secret – also ushers events down a highly Lovecraftian route.



As an American in Eastern Europe, Professor Alan Whitmore (Roland Wybenga) is immediately rendered an outsider and it is during these scenes, and the way in which they build intrigue and suspense, that The Spider Labyrinth most resembles a fairly typical giallo narrative. Flashbacks of a traumatic event Whitman suffered as a child - when his friend locked him in a closet with a giant spider - also frequently pierce the narrative, lending proceedings a giallo-esque flavour. Whitmore’s ‘outsider’ status is highlighted by the way in which he is regarded with suspicion and outright contempt by various local types who all seem to know something he doesn't. While much of these moments are arguably clichéd, they still create a stifling atmosphere of paranoia and work to thicken the mystery surrounding uncommunicative colleague Professor Roth and the ancient texts he was researching. The marked contrast between the modernity of the university in Dallas, and the air of ancient traditions that linger foggily throughout the winding, empty streets of Budapest is effectively conveyed. It serves to highlight the hold the past has over the present in certain places, nourishing beliefs in ancient ways and practices. A particularly unnerving scene comes when Whitmore and his colleague’s sexy assistant Genevieve (Paola Rinaldi) have a drink at the hotel to calm themselves after the discovery of Roth’s body. Their hushed conversation draws the attention of everyone else in the dining room and an air of paranoia and unease abounds.

Giagni bides his time building a moody atmosphere and cranking up the tension, aided along the way with some darkly evocative conversations, such as the one between Whitmore and Mrs Kuhn (Stéphane Audran), the owner of the hotel. Woken up by screams in the night, Whitmore wanders through the dark and imposing building before happening upon a secret room where he finds Mrs Kuhn rocking an empty crib and pining for her dead child. They have a rather philosophical conversation about faith, God and mortality during which she intones: “God? There is no God. There is no light. There is nothing.”



This fairly low-key approach picks up momentum and eventually goes all out crazy with the introduction of a be-fanged, frenziedly-haired hag who stalks and violently dispatches anyone who tries to help the professor, leaping upon her victims like a spider. In one memorable scene she stalks her victim from the ceiling above, entangling him in webs she salivates, lifting him up to her so she can slit his throat. As the pace picks up Giagni lets rip with some jaw-dropping creature effects - courtesy of Argento regular Sergio Stivaletti. These moments are arguably rather trashy, but they still work within the context of the story and just add to the film’s already weird, off-kilter and quite frankly bonkers tone. Another stand out moment – and one that certainly provides a loving nod to Dario Argento - is the death of Marie (Claudia Muzi), a maid at the hotel who tries to warn Whitmore of the danger he’s in. Awakening in the night when someone whispers her name, she wanders through a vast, luridly green-lit laundry room with billowing white sheets everywhere, before being chased and stabbed in the head; her contorted, screaming face tightly pressed against a sheet she’s entangled in. The pièce de résistance must surely be the jaw-dropping climax that comes complete with a grotesque infant that mutates, courtesy of some squelchy The Thing-type effects, into a giant spider. Eek! The somewhat dated stop-motion spider effects also add to the increasingly delirious proceedings.


Giangi frequently doffs his hat to the likes of Argento and Bava throughout The Spider Labyrinth. Some of the scenes bear an uncanny resemblance to those in Argento’s Suspiria follow-up, Inferno; with characters wandering through a vast, formidable house in an almost dream-like state before being murdered in moodily lit set pieces. There’s also an interesting similarity in the appearance of Mrs Kuhn and Daria Nicolodi’s character in Inferno. Indeed, if you substitute the bizarre spider cult with the denizens of Mater Lachrymarum, you could well have another contender for a bona fide Three Mothers film, a la The Black Cat. The black ball that bounces into various shots just before someone is gruesomely dispatched echoes similar moments in Mario Bava’s deliciously gothic revenge-from-beyond-the-grave film, Kill Baby, Kill. While there are more than a few nods to the Masters, The Spider Labyrinth still unravels as an interesting and pretty unique film in its own right. It is also a very obscure film. The copy I watched was a VHS rip – complete with Japanese subtitles – courtesy of Midnight Video. For fans of Italian horror it is well worth seeking out, and one would hope that the likes of Shameless will one day give it a home on their label, lovingly restore it and allow it the chance to be seen by a wider audience.

The Cabin in the Woods

2012
Dir. Drew Goddard

Five friends go to stay in a creepy cabin in the woods. Sinister occurrences, bloodshed and something called ‘game changing’ ensure. However as the tagline suggests, if you think you know the rules, think again; The Cabin in the Woods has more than a few surprises and twists to reinvigorate even the most jaded horror fan. A word of warning though; if you’re in any way interested in seeing this film, don’t read anymore of this review. As much I begrudge adding to the hype of anything, I simply believe that films such as this really benefit from the audience not knowing anything about them. Having said that, I think that even if you do spoil the surprise, The Cabin in the Woods should still serve as a highly enjoyable and playful ride in the way it addresses the conventions of horror cinema and turns them on their head.

The narrative follows a typical slasher scenario with teens being menaced and murderlised in an isolated cabin. So far, so Evil Dead. From the beginning though we know that there is something more going on than just the initial slasher narrative in the cabin scenes. I’m not giving too much away here; the trailer revealed that someone or something is fucking with the teens on a very grand scale and in a very controlled environment (that sprawling invisible fence?). The opening scene reveals that the actions of the teens, and even their personalities, are being manipulated to closer resemble those of horror film types by various white collar scientist types in a vast CCTV monitor-filled lab. Indeed, the creepiest aspects of the film often involve the lengths these people have gone to in order to get the teens in certain situations and act in certain ways. So the fact that these scientists are manipulating events, much in the same way as directors and writers of horror films do, we’re left dangling as to why. And therein the brilliance of the films lies. As the story unfurls and seemingly familiar scenarios are played out, and clichéd lines uttered (“I think we should split up”, “Hey guys, did you hear that?” etc etc) we’re constantly straining to figure out why. And perhaps even more tantalizingly, we’re prompted to ask why the conventions of horror films are so important in this experiment. Aside from addressing notions of freewill, this is also a sly commentary on how filmmakers are slaves to genre conventions and expectations.



Throughout the first act various scenarios play out that, if seen in other, less reflexive and playful films, would seem utterly clichéd and boring. In The Cabin in the Woods though, they become tense and unsettling because we’re constantly made aware that they are being manipulated and actually need to happen for a specific reason. One scene that exudes an overwhelmingly strange, almost sexualised menace comes when the friends are playing truth or dare. Jules (Anna Hutchison) is dared to kiss the head of a wolf mounted on the cabin wall. She advances seductively towards it while her astounded friends look on and we’re treated to a close up of her passionately kissing these beastly, snarling jaws. Because of the creepy uncanniness of the head, and only seeing it close up as Jules moves towards it, and being aware that nothing in this film can be taken for granted, that at any moment it will lurch down an unexpected route, one half expects the wolf head to come alive and rip her head off. The strange mix of animal savagery and sexuality creates a palpable and very unsettling tension.

As the film hurtles towards its climax, and people start dying and gradually realising that they're not alone; that something sinister is afoot and they're not yet glimpsing the bigger picture, things begin to resemble writer Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer, with all manner of beasties and monsters revealed. The idea that horror stems from reality suggests that in the reality of this film, the typical narratives of all horror cinema germinate from some kind of subconscious suspicion that these situations and stereotypes have existed for centuries and for very specific purposes. The notion that horror movie archetypes and scenarios have gradually fed into popular culture because of something very ancient and ominous is an irresistible one, and one that fuels this film. When we finally get to the denouement and the big reveal, courtesy of a fantastic cameo by someone who shall remain nameless, things get very Lovecraftian indeed. It's revealed that audiences of horror films, much like the characters in horror films, and indeed humanity at large, are all just playthings to be sacrificed to an incomprehensible, evil, and for now anyway, slumbering force. Things become very existential indeed. Slasher archetypes are elevated to strangely iconic status and take centre stage, revealed to be part of an ancient custom and the reason why the teens are being manipulated to do things that only characters in slasher films do. Indeed there are a number of scenes that depict other groups of people around the world being monitored and manipulated in a similar way; and the kinds of horrors they face depends on the traditional horror lore of their culture. 



The Cabin in the Woods is vaguely akin to Wes Craven’s New Nightmare in that it also contemplates the function, and arguable importance of horror stories as a way of somehow addressing and helping viewers comprehend genuine evils throughout the world, while safely engaging our primitive instincts and blood-lust. In Craven’s film, the Nightmare on Elm Street series acted as a way of containing some form of ancient, nameless evil that was condensed and given articulated form in the shape of Freddy Krueger. When the films stopped, the evil was released and free to roam the collective consciousness of the wider world. Horror cinema has long been discussed in terms of its ability to help viewers deal with complex emotions and anxieties in a safe environment, where we know no harm can come to us. Like the traditional function of fairytales, horror helps form a means with which we can subconsciously figure out the dangers inherent in our world. They are stories filled with cautionary morality; warning and preparing us for the trials and tribulations we will face (and ultimately strive to overcome) in the wider world. They form a sort of code of conduct that promotes a very conservative morality. At the risk of sounding like Crazy Ralph - sex, drugs and straying from the path will lead to certain doom. With that in mind, the reveal at the climax of The Cabin in the Woods suggests that for centuries humanity has been drip-fed horror stories as a way of not only distracting us and somehow preparing us (on a subconscious level anyway), but in the context of this film, also protecting us from something else entirely. In the words of psychoanalyst Bruno Bettelheim, “As children, we need monsters to instruct us in the ways of the world.” Bettelheim believed that by hearing about life-threatening problems and potential menaces at a young age through fairytales and scary stories, we are given vital information that operates on a subconscious level, educating us about the struggles of life, and that these struggles are actually an intrinsic part of our existence. This might seem like a tangent, but it all feeds into the mythology that lurks beneath the story of The Cabin in the Woods. The thought that an ancient evil, and the measures a secret faction of society take to protect the rest of us from it, is the crux of Whedon’s story. How the conventions of horror feed into this and ultimately sprung from it, is exhilarating.



The Cabin in the Woods is very ambitious in its scope, and while it’s certainly not perfect, it is still an invigorating and fresh approach to a genre currently littered with redundant sequels, remakes, reboots and cash-ins. The most frustrating aspect of this film doesn’t actually concern the film itself, but rather its production and subsequent distribution. It was filmed in 2009 and left on the shelf to gather dust; its studio unsure of how to ‘market it.’ That’s right. The concept of how to market something so fresh, original and playful mystified these people. You could argue that perhaps they planned to let it sit for so long in order for it to gather a kind of cult status and mystique the longer they left it. I doubt that though. While I can’t see it reinventing the genre, what it certainly does do is raise the bar a hell of a lot higher for other horror filmmakers. Horror cinema needs more people like Joss Whedon, who creates not only entertaining and thrilling stories, but also makes us think, if we want to, about the nature of horror and its vital place in the world.

Monday, 9 April 2012

The Black Cat

1989
Dir. Luigi Cozzi

AKA Demons 6: De Profundis

When a horror film based on the same source material as Dario Argento’s Suspiria and Inferno goes into production, the evil witch the story is based upon manifests herself and not only begins to terrorise the actress set to portray her on screen, but reveals plans to wreck havoc and bloodshed throughout the world.

Luigi Cozzi’s The Black Cat was conceived as an unofficial finale to Dario Argento's then still unfinished Three Mothers Trilogy, which began with Suspiria and Inferno, and was eventually completed in 2007 with Mother of Tears. The Three Mothers’ films chart the exploits of three ancient witches, Mater Suspiriorum (the Mother of Sighs), Mater Tenebrarum (the Mother of Darkness) and Mater Lachrymarum (the Mother of Tears) determined to inflict untold suffering upon the world. The Black Cat focuses on the third mother, Mater Lachrymarum – Levana - as she attempts to return from the dead when a screenplay based on her bloody exploits goes into production. Filmed under the title De Profundis, ("From the Depths") Cozzi was persuaded by American distributors to change the title to The Black Cat with a view to releasing it as part of a series of Edgar Allan Poe adaptations. Cozzi’s film bears no resemblance whatsoever to Poe’s short story (though the film within the film is apparently a giallo based on it) and the Poe series never materialised.



As a follow up to Suspiria and Inferno, The Black Cat is a strangely fascinating though ultimately flawed and trashy work. At times it plays out as a loving homage to the work of Argento, and indeed Mario Bava and many of the classic titles of Italian horror cinema, but Cozzi exhibits none of Argento’s directorial panache, and while some of the lighting and music wouldn’t seem out of place in an Argento film, The Black Cat is flat and awkwardly constructed. You must admit though, as cinematic oddities go, the premise is an irresistible one: wrapping up Argento’s supernatural horror trilogy with a film about horror films could have resulted in a delicious deconstruction of not only Argento’s body of work, but of Italian horror cinema in general. Sadly, this is not the case, as The Black Cat takes a fascinating concept and then proceeds to piss all over it with a terrible script, shoddy direction, ropey acting, awful dubbing and laser beams. Yup, this film has laser beams in it. And a character that discovers she can control time and space. Or something.

Kicking off with dire Eighties rock music that’s more Demons than Suspiria, The Black Cat opens as a young woman with a gun ventures into a moodily lit building to confront a killer. These moments are drenched in lurid, Inferno-esque lighting (gawdy yellows and livid reds) and conjure memories of Argento’s work; though it immediately becomes obvious, Cozzi possesses none of Argento’s ingenuity or flair. Expectations are surprisingly confounded however, when this is revealed to be a scene in a giallo movie production, complete with a killer decked out in fedora, black leather gloves and long trench coat. He even sports a blank white mask a la the killer in Bava’s Blood and Black Lace. Eagle-eyed viewers will spot Italian horror stalwart Michele Soavi as the film director with a keenness for blood, and some interesting dialogue ensues about his preoccupation with gore and violence at the expense of his actors’ performances - gee, I wonder who they could be talking about.

That man is no director, he’s a butcher. All he wants is blood, blood and more blood.”


We’re soon introduced to another director, Marc (Urbano Barberini), who discusses his new Three Mothers project with his wife Anne (Florence Guérin), who is set to play the main part, and he despairs at his reputation as the “king of spaghetti thrillers.” Their dialogue is intercut with shots of an ancient, red-lit tomb as something stirs and emerges from its crypt. Later, when Marc and Anne invite the new project’s writer and wife Nora (Caroline Munro), an actress who wants to play Levana, to dinner, they discuss the work of Argento and how their film will become the closing chapter to his Three Mother’s trilogy. This scene could have been a sly, humorous and insightful discussion about Argento’s impact on horror cinema. It isn’t. While they do discuss the background of Suspiria, its source material (incorrectly accredited to the writing of Baudelaire), the figures of the Three Mothers and what makes them such compelling subjects, it could have been handled better. What should have been a tantalising deconstruction and reflexive critique of Italian horror just comes across as clunky exposition-heavy dialogue. Even so, to hear characters in a film discussing Suspiria and Dario Argento is, on a purely geeky level, really kinda cool.

Much later, when Marc and his writer approach a professor of mysticism and the occult to act as consultant on the film, we get back to Argento/Suspiria territory as she confirms the source material of Argento’s earlier films is actually not based on the work of Baudelaire “the poet of the dammed”, as Marc incorrectly stated; but English writer Thomas De Quincy’s hallucinatory text Suspiria de Profundis (actually part of his Confessions of an English Opium Eater). She claims De Quincy merely translated an earlier text, a chronicle about the most evil witch that ever lived – Levana. As she consults a dusty tome, Goblin’s music from Suspiria plays on the soundtrack and she reveals that Levana can apparently take over the body of anyone who concentrates on her enough. The film is peppered with shots of planets and stars as Cozzi’s camera floats through space and we catch a glimpse of what appears to be an astral foetus (rather akin to Space Odyssey’s Star Child, but on a lower budget), and there’s some talk about Levana needing to possess a woman born under a certain constellation of stars in order to carry out her dark deeds. If she is reincarnated as a man however, she needs to sacrifice a newborn baby in order to carry out her revenge on the ancestors of those who burned her at the stake.

Cozzi's tacky incarnation of the Mother of Tears


The appearance of Levana in Cozzi's film contradicts what we know of her from Argento's films. Described in Suspiria and Inferno as the cruelest, but also the most beautiful of the Three Mothers, she appears in The Black Cat as a hideously deformed old crone with glowing red eyes. The make-up is laughably shoddy and she would have been much more effective and creepy had Cozzi relegated her firmly to the shadows. At times we only see close-up shots of her eyes, and these are more successful in conveying her mystery and otherworldly menace; if only Cozzi had stuck to revealing her in such subtle ways. There are actually a number of fascinating similarities between her various guises in The Black Cat and Argento’s Mother of Tears, particularly the moment when Anne reads her husband's script (as Goblin's theme from Suspiria tinkles ominously in the background) and dons a veil to help her get into character. Anne's appearance is briefly very similar to how Levana looks in Argento’s Mother of Tears where she was introduced very gradually, beginning with mere glimpses; a curled lip here, a glaring eye there, and she wears a dark veil concealing her face. I’m not suggesting that Cozzi’s vision of Mater Lachrymarum had any influence on Argento, but here are a few images to illustrate my point.

Anne dons a 'veil of crepe' in The Black Cat
A teasing glimpse of Mater Lachrymarum in Argento's Mother of Tears
Levana possesses Anne in The Black Cat
Mater Lachrymarum has similar eye make-up in Mother of Tears

On a more unrelated note, there’s also an interesting similarity between Levana’s appearance in Mother of Tears, and certain scenes in The Black Cat, and that of Barbara Steele’s look in the Italian horror movie Nightmare Castle; most of her face sinisterly, yet alluring concealed. 

Steele - resembling Argento's version of Mater Lachrymarum - in Mario Caiano's darkly gothic Nightmare Castle.
Another interesting similarity between The Black Cat and Mother of Tears is the appearance of a spectral girl who reveals to Anne that she has the power to stop Levana but must delve deep within herself to find her latent powers. A similar spectral agent appears in Mother of Tears in the form of Sarah’s mother (Daria Nicolodi) who acts as a guide and mentor. The girl in The Black Cat is called Sybil and is revealed to be a fairy. Her ethereal appearance is usually signalled by pulsating green light, and she reveals herself to Anne through a TV set. Aside from these moments, and Anne’s final utterance of “will we all live happily ever after?”, The Black Cat lacks the allusions to fairytales that were rife throughout Suspiria and Inferno, both of which unfurled as devastatingly violent, dark and feverishly adult fairytale narratives in which characters wandered through imposing spaces seeking crumbs of truth while attempts were made on their lives by evil witches. The only aspect of The Black Cat that feels like a fairytale is the inclusion of an actual fairy to guide Anne through her dark times (and even this is ludicrous).

Sybil, the 'good fairy' in The Black Cat
Sarah's spectral mother in Mother of Tears
A number of scenes, if handled properly, could have been immensely unsettling. The scene where Levana emerges from a mirror to attack Anne for instance, could have been incredibly creepy, and perhaps even formed a reference to Inferno and the scene in that film when the Mother of Darkness bursts through a large mirror. Instead it is crass, lacking in tension and just plain ridiculous. Levana merely throws herself on Anne and screams that they will never show her face on the screen and then pukes green slime over her. Another scene that could have been creepy and atmospheric is the one in which Anne is wandering through her house following an eerily glowing light as she is beckoned by the rasping tones of Levana. The vivid lighting renders her home an otherworldly place where danger lurks in every shadow. Unfortunately, the scene culminates with Anne discovering a strange mist cascading out of her fridge! What's that all about?! Is Levana hiding in the fridge?  

The conversation between Anne and Marc about the broken mirror evokes - albeit very weakly - the scene in Suspiria where Dr Mandel and Suzy chat about connections between the belief in the supernatural and the occult, and mental illness. Anne claims the mirror was broken into a million pieces when Levana burst through it to attack her; while Marc insists that she’s just imagining things as she’s so stressed and tired. Broken mirrors, broken minds. Ahem. A few other mildly interesting moments occur that distort the line between dreams and reality, but far from being used to explore Anne’s increasingly fraught mindset, they just appear as lazy means to further on the ever-convoluted plot. It would have been interesting to apply the same reality/dream distortions to The Black Cat as say, those utilised in Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, and to tease out a similar exploration of the effect of horror cinema on its audience, and indeed those involved in the production of horror films. When Marc and his writer meet with their potential producer, wheelchair-bound tycoon, Levin (a reference to Varelli in Inferno?), their conversation boasts a throwaway line that, if explored more thoroughly, could have been quite interesting and maybe opened up a ‘cursed movie’ narrative akin to John Carpenter’s Cigarette Burns or David Lynch’s Inland Empire. Levin says he has a feeling that when distributors hear about their Three Mothers project, they’ll be “cutting each other’s throats to get their hands on the film.” What might have also been quite interesting would have been the revelation that the film studio they planned to use was actually built on the site of one of the three cursed dwelling places designed by sinister architect Varelli for the Three Mothers to reside in. Something like this would have helped enhance the link to Suspiria and Inferno, both of which also featured cursed buildings in which an evil witch dwelt.



Throughout the increasingly muddled plot, various characters are either violently bumped off (including one unfortunate victim whose heart explodes in her chest) or revealed to be under the control of Levana, and then violently bumped off. This aspect of the story, with normal people doing despicable things under the manipulation of an evil witch, also evokes memories of Suspiria and Inferno, and Argento himself would revisit this notion in Mother of Tears. Perhaps the most effective of these moments is when Nora is no longer of use to the witch and ordered to slit her own throat. These instances should help ratchet tension, with the increasingly paranoid Anne unsure of who she can trust, but all they do is feel undeveloped and eventually confusing. The pace picks up as Anne desperately attempts to reclaim her kidnapped baby as we rush towards the climax, which rather in keeping with those of Suspiria and Inferno (and indeed Argento’s Mother of Tears), is a rather limp one. After the 'big' showdown between Levana and Anne, which consists of Levana shooting some lasers out of her hands and eyes, and Anne discovering her ability to control time and space, Marc shows up and unceremoniously impales the evil witch on a sharp pole. The final shot, perhaps designed to set up a sequel, is the icing on the trashy cake. 

As mentioned, Cozzi has absolutely none of Argento’s directorial panache – at times he is successful in evoking an Argento-esque atmosphere; the stylised lighting and music consisting of glaring rock and creepy music box lullabies: but The Black Cat more frequently boasts the feel of a tacky Demons movie rather than the eerie and darkly resplendent tones of Suspiria and Inferno. Why it was released as Demons 6, I have no idea. Then again, Michele Soavi’s The Church and The Sect were released as instalments of the Demons movie ‘franchise.’ The Poe connection is tenuously alluded to in the scene where Marc and his writer discuss Anne’s increasing nervousness about her current role in an adaptation of Poe’s short story and her forthcoming role as Levana. The writer quotes from Poe’s tale: “my wife, who at heart was not a little tinctured with superstition, made frequent allusion to the ancient popular notion, which regarded all black cats as witches in disguise." To hammer this home, and connect it to Argento’s Three Mothers’ Mythos, myriad shots of black cats are inserted throughout the narrative.


Really, Luigi? LASERS??
This is a tragically flawed yet strangely fascinating film (for Argento fans anyway), that could have been an 8 ½ or Wes Craven’s New Nightmare of Italian horror cinema. It’s worth seeking out, though very hard to come by. It was never offfically released on DVD, and it seems the only copies floating around have been ripped from a Japanese VHS (complete with subtitles). You can watch it on YouTube though, and thanks so much to Terence for the link! I for one hope that maybe one day it will find a release through the likes of Shameless or Arrowdrome. While I recognise its obvious flaws and shortcomings (and there are many), I still enjoyed Cozzi’s attempts at a meta-giallo. As an avid fan of Argento’s work, I found much to appreciate here as far as references to and appreciations of his films are concerned. I found the central concept of The Black Cat utterly irresistible, but despaired at the execution and wasted opportunity. Set your expectations to low, and you may find much trashiness to treasure here; it's pretty much a love letter to Argento penned by a filmmaker obviously infatuated with the Maestro's work, but ill-equipped to effectively pay homage to it. It's also a film that I for one shall no doubt enjoy revisiting.

The images included in this post are screengrabs I took from watching the film on YouTube. I tried to tweek them to make them less murky. They're still not great though. My obsessing over editing the images was definitely a labour of love; for while The Black Cat may be the bastard runt of the Three Mothers' litter, I still dig it.