Oh, A Cat In the Brain.
What a frustrating film!
Listen, as someone who loves Italian horror and who feels that Lucio Fulci made some of the best (if most misunderstood) horror films of all time, I certainly wish A Cat In The Brain was a great film. Every time I watch it, I find myself hoping that it will turn out to be better than I know it’s going to be. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t necessarily think that A Cat In the Brain was a terrible film. Especially when compared to some of the other films that Fulci directed towards the end of his career, A Cat In The Brain is competently made and it certainly proves that Fulci had a better sense of humor than many critics give him credit for. It’s not really a bad film. It’s just a disappointing one.
To understand why, you have to understand just who Lucio Fulci was and why horror fans hold him in such high regard. Fulci was an Italian director, one who was responsible for some of the most visually impressive horror films of all time. Even though Fulci did not start his career working in the horror genre, it’s those films that for which he is best remembered. Many of his films, like Zombi 2, City of the Living Dead, The House By The Cemetery, and The Beyond, are rightfully remembered as classics. By design, these movies often felt like filmed nightmares and they remain influential to this very day. Literally every zombie film that has been released over the past few decades owes a debt to Fulci and The Beyond trilogy is perhaps as close as any director has ever gotten to truly capturing the feel of H.P. Lovecraft on film.
Unfortunately, many critics refuses to look past the violent content of Fulci’s films. In some countries, his movies were banned outright. In America, Fulci’s masterpiece, The Beyond, was released in a butchered, compromised form. Following the release of his controversial and disturbing slasher film, The New York Ripper, Fulci’s career went into decline and, suffering from ill-health and often in desperate need of money, he found himself directing low-budget films that were unworthy of his considerable talents. It’s one of the sadder stories in the history of Italian horror.
A Cat In The Brain was one of Fulci’s final films and it stars none other than … Lucio Fulci! Fulci plays a horror director named Lucio Fulci. Fulci is concerned that all of his recent work in the horror genre is starting to mentally damage him. For instance, after editing a scene about cannibalism, Fulci goes to a nearby restaurant and orders a steak. However, whenever he starts to eat his steak, Fulci flashes back to the movie that he’s just directed. When he goes home, the sound of the handyman using a chainsaw causes Fulci to think about a scene that he filmed, one that involved a killer chopping up a body. When a frustrated Fulci kicks a bucket of red paint, he visualizes blood. Meeting a German reporter causes Fulci to fantasize about a Nazi orgy. Is Fulci losing it? Could it be that violent movies really do cause violent urges?
Worried about his mental health, Fulci goes to see a psychiatrist, Professor Egon Schwarz (David L. Thompson). Schwarz puts Fulci order hypnosis and tells Fulci that, over the next few weeks, he will think that he has “done terrible things.” It turns out that Professor Schwarz is an aspiring serial killer. Schwarz wants to go on a killing spree and have Lucio Fulci take responsibility for it…
To be honest, the plot description probably makes A Cat In The Brain sound like it’s a lot more subversive than it actually is. It has all the ingredients to be a great satire but, unfortunately, Fulci’s heart never seems to really be in the movie. Oddly, considering that the movie is literally about his life, Fulci directs A Cat In The Brain in a rather detached and clinical fashion. There’s none of the visual poetry that distinguished Fulci’s best work.
Even worse, probably over half of this film is made up of clips that were lifted from other Fulci films. Unfortunately, the scenes don’t come from Fulci’s good films. Don’t go into A Cat In The Brain expecting to see anything from Zombi 2 or Don’t Torture A Duckling. Instead, all of the clips come from stuff like Touch of Death and The Ghosts of Sodom, films that largely represent Lucio Fulci’s declining years.
However, there is one good thing about A Cat In the Brain (beyond the title, which I think is adorable): the film ends with Fulci happy and literally sailing into the sunset. Considering both Fulci’s lasting influence as a filmmaker and the sad details of his final years, it’s hard not to feel that A Cat In The Brain gave Fulci the final scene that this talented director deserved.