The Black Cat (1989)
Director: Luigi Cozzi
Writers: Luigi Cozzi
Starring: Florence Guerin, Urbano Barberini, and Caroline Munro

The Plot: Marc is an Italian genre-film director. Like many directors, he often casts his wife in his lead roles. Anne, despite what one may think, is actually a talented actress, despite being married to the boss. As they do their best to finish their latest horror title, a giallo called “The Black Cat,” Marc and his partner come up with a great idea. Influenced by the same book that Dario Argento was for his film Suspiria, they come up with the idea to shoot a movie focusing on the evil witch Levana. The plan is for Anne to play the lead role of Levana, and at first everyone seems very excited. Every person who reads the four-page outline of the script comes up with the same result: the story is brilliant. However, as the group retires to their villa for a rest, Anne begins to have visions. The witch Levana appears to be real, and she is trying to stop this movie from being made. Anne is soon finding it difficult to differentiate between reality and fiction, because Levana seems to be filling her head with nightmarish visions on a daily basis. Her husband believes that she is going crazy, but will Anne be able to protect her family from this extremely powerful witch?

The Review
Luigi Cozzi’s late entry into the Italian horror market is one that has been released under various titles and featured illusions towards several notable horror icons. Titled The Black Cat on Netflix, and for clarity the Netflix streaming copy is what I am reviewing today, there is certainly an attempt to pay homage to Edgar Allen Poe’s story of the same name. The movie also goes by another title that makes a fairly apt, but begging for attention, allusion to the novel Suspiria de Profundis by Thomas De Quincey. As some of you may know, this was the novel that served as the basis for Dario Argento’s Suspiria. This is a factor that will be blatantly mentioned within the film, but how would you like to see the story become even more ridiculous in its alternate titling? How about we add yet another bizarre film title? That’s right, this feature was also known as Demons 6. So, the original Italian film title was Il gatto nero, and from that producers gave us The Black Cat (obviously the most direct translation, even though this movie has little to do with Poe’s story), Demons 6, and Demons 6: De Profundis, Going off of these titles alone, it would seem that the producers were attempting to grab from every possible audience that they could get their grubby little hands on. Yet, with all of these allusions to other works, does the movie do enough to stand on its own feet? The answer is a boggling yes and no. Intriguing and hard to forget, audiences will find The Black Cat a fun and memorable feature, but its hardly a classic piece of horror cinema.

The Black Cat is a late entry into the Italian horror movie cycle, and for the most part it is a shockingly engaging piece of work. Filled to the brim with references to all of Italian cinema, Cozzi’s film is a meta trip through the history of Italian horror cinema. Beginning with a scene that could have been ripped from any generic giallo made during the sixties or seventies, we eventually find out that our introductory scene is only a movie that is being shot. However, before the cameras cut, we see that the lead killer bares a startling resemblance to the masked killer found in Mario Bava’s Blood and Black Lace. Yet, this is only the start of the blatant references and homages. Cozzi spends the majority of the film paying tribute to his contemporary Dario Argento. As the plot synopsis gives it away, the entire plot for the movie is based upon references to both the novel that Suspiria is based upon as well as Dario Argento’s film itself. During a dinner-table scene near the beginning of the film, where most of the exposition is given away for the majority of the plot, Argento is actually referenced by name and his movie is complimented along the way. This acknowledgement of other Italian filmmakers within, especially inside of a film that seems to know it is an Italian horror movie (with the character of Marc, who is a director, referring to himself as a director of “Spaghetti Thrillers”), is quite the strange thing to find. This sort of meta content is incredibly brazen and risks making the audience a bit more critical, which may in fact turn out to be a bad route for this film to take.

Aesthetically, the movie continues its adoration for Dario Argento and Mario Bava. While it is not quite the tour-de-force that Amer was, there is certainly a visual tie to Italian horror from the past. The very first sequence during the movie, where Levana makes her presence known, is completely filled with references to Argento’s Suspiria. With inorganic lighting that baffles the mind, Cozzi fills his set with nightmarish green and blue lighting that presents a very eerie vibe. The only thing that could have tied the movie more closely to Argento’s film would be if he filled his sets up with white sheets that could have floated out and danced with the lighting. Unfortunately, Cozzi also borrows from another aspect of Argento’s work that I never particularly cared for: his use of heavy metal music on his soundtracks. After Argento worked on Demons, it seems as if he fell in love with the idea of telling his stories using heavy metal music. Phenomena and Opera both featured some eighties-style riffing on the soundtrack, and Cozzi seems to have picked up on this trait as well. In nearly every scene that is supposed to deliver a scare or showcase tension, Cozzi blasts high octane heavy metal over the soundtrack and it completely derails any true atmosphere that the movie may have developed. It also doesn’t help that the ghost of Levana is voiced by an utterly ridiculous, and highly over-the-top, actress. These two aspects of the movie completely kill any scares that the movie may have attempted to produce, which is a real shame because there is definitely some craftsmanship at work here.

The original novel Suspiria de Produndis by Thomas De Quincey featured a story in it called Levana and Our Ladies of Sorrow (click the link to read the actual short), and it was this story that ultimately gave birth to features such as The Black Cat and Dario Argento’s Three Mothers Trilogy. However, if you actually listen to the explanations made in Cozzi’s film, you would think that Thomas De Quincey was a practicing priest in the dark arts. This is of course conflicting with the reality that Quincey was an essayist and poet who worked in numerous fields and inspired a great many people in the literary world, but he was best known for his autobiography which dealt with his addiction to opium in Confessions of an English Opium-Eater. Yet, this is also one of the reasons that I sorta loved The Black Cat. While I won’t argue that it is a great or well made movie, there’s certainly a great imagination at work here. The same type of imagination that it took for Argento to find his story within the very loose fibers of Quincey’s short. As the movie goes along, the plot becomes decidedly more ridiculous, but despite its inability to actually maintain any scares, the visuals are very compelling and the wild tangents that make up the story make it very worth watching. The fact that it packs a few healthy gore sequences certainly doesn’t hurt.

The Conclusion
The Black Cat isn’t a sterling example of Italian horror, this is obvious. Hey, it isn’t even a great by the standards set in the late-eighties Italian horror scene, and that says a lot, but it is absolutely worth checking out if you’re a fan of Italian horror. There are enough elements at work in this project to keep Italian film geeks glued to their seats, but the horrible soundtrack, lack of truly atmospheric scares, and general silliness really hinders this one from being anything all that special. I give the movie a three out of five.