David L. Thompson
Ria De Simone
Trivia This film was initially refused classification by the British Board of Film Classification, but was finally passed uncut with an '18' rating in mid-2003.
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Cat in the Brain (1990)
15th Aug 05
A horror film director thinks he is committing grisly murders. But isn't. Or something.
Which of you Lucio Fulci fans are intrigued beyond belief about the idea of a film by Lucio, starring Lucio as Lucio? If you’re anything like me, you’d be dying with curiosity to see this offering from the Godfather of Gore. But you know what they say: curiosity killed the Cat in the Brain.
Strangely though, you might only care to watch any of Fulci’s films for the gore. You could argue that there’s little else of notable worth floating around in his sizeable oeuvre. But you’d be wrong. Fulci had much more to offer than what this turgid, half-baked experiment would suggest. He worked in pretty much every genre you could care to name (including Westerns, Musicals, Comedy, Sci-fi, Fantasy and Giallo) but due to the worldwide success of Zombie Flesh Eaters during the zombie boom of the early 1980’s (and subsequent mixture of similar theme variations and misfires), was only really remembered for his contribution to horror cinema.
It is in this context that he approaches this highly flawed oddity from 1990. Fulci plays Fulci. We see him writing horror scripts, shooting grotesque set pieces and then not being able to eat steak tar-tar at a restaurant because it reminds him of the gore in his films. He consults Professor Egon Schwarz - a psychiatrist whose wife is giving him an extremely hard time lately. He tells Fulci that he “is breaking down the barrier, the boundary what you film and what’s real” and so eventually asks our director to engage with a hypnotherapy treatment course. When Schwarz hypnotises Fulci, his evil plan is disclosed: “Your mind will make you live scenes you think are real...you will think you have committed terrible crimes.”
As a result, poor Fulci goes out of his mind as he sees in his mind’s eye the terrifically gory crimes being committed by the nutcase shrink in a raincoat. He thinks he is in some way responsible for the crimes.
Cat in the Brain is gory. Extremely gory. It’s as if Fulci accepted that gore was all he was to become associated with then threw this film together and rubbed it in our faces with his maggot hand. Except it was too gory. It was only given a BBFC certificate (‘18’ in case you were unsure) in the UK in 2003. Perhaps this is because there seemed to be little or no justification for the excessive displays on show here. If this was the case, then our censors may have a good point. Try this on for size: in the German release they cut TWENTY minutes of gore out of Cat in the Brain, leaving it with a running time of 66 minutes. Wow.
While the aesthetic of the film looks like an experiment in how flat, lifeless and downright boring it is possible to make a picture look, the acting – as usual with a Fulci – leaves a lot to be desired. This is particularly unfortunate given that Fulci is the main actor, sleepwalking his way through most scenes with only occasional flutters of emotion.
The admittedly innovative story has so much scope for further development but it seems as if Fulci and Co. were quite happy to leave it not even halfway near its potential. Fulci’s character, Mr. Fulci, is obviously a direct representation of himself. He’s seen shooting scenes from his own films (Ghosts of Sodom and A Touch of Death). He’s questioning his sanity and his guilt regarding the murders being committed by Professor Schwarz while reliving gory scenes from his past films during ordinary activities, usually involving the preparation of food of some sort, e.g. when he puts food in the microwave oven he sees a man's face melting. But apart from a dodgy homicidal psychiatrist’s diagnosis (which sounds like it’s lifted straight out of 'The Bluffers Guide to Psychiatry'), we are left with a void where there should be questions and answers about the director who has placed himself in the spotlight for the one and only time. This lack of autobiographical substance surely has to be one of the most significant disappointments for Fulci followers.
It would have been nice to learn something we didn’t already know about Fulci from a film such as this. We don’t. Apart from the fact that he was obviously a self-obsessed ego-freak, we learn little of Fulci. Instead we get a badly scripted, unclear plot garnished with overlong, uninteresting and unnecessary-to-the-story shots and extremely gory scenes lifted from the aforementioned Fulci films. It’s as lazy as it is insulting.
The title (in case you were wondering) refers to the feeling Fulci has inside his head, i.e. that it feels like he has a cat eating away at his brains from the inside. In one of the earlier gore scenes he shows us the worst fake cat in cinema history chewing at a mass of substance that resembles bloody brains. Just in case you need it visually illustrated. Tastelessly. But I suppose that’s Fulci for you.
Avoid any Fulci offerings post-1985. Whatever it is that he possessed was sadly absent after that. Shame.
Versions A Cat In the Brain
Gatto nel cervello (I volti del terrore), Un (Italy)
1st Nov 04 Above all though, it is the relationship between John and Laura Baxter which is the film’s central focus throughout, and the gradual disintegration of their relationship amidst a haze of grief.