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A Cat in the Brain (1990)

Grindhouse Releasing
Blu-ray Disc Released: 7/12/2016

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Review by Mike Long, Posted on 6/30/2016

I wonder if the late Italian director Lucio Fulci was aware that some of this movies were staples on video store shelves in the 1980s. It would have been a true rarity to walk into a video store, either an independent or a major chain, and not see Zombie, Gates of Hell (AKA City of the Living Dead), The House by the Cemetery, and Seven Doors of Death (AKA The Beyond) in the horror section. While those were the big ones, it would not have been unusual to see Fulci's The New York Ripper or Manhattan Baby in some stores as well. As the 80s turned into the 90s, Fulci continued cranking out films, but most of them didn't get wide release in America. That didn't stop Italian horror fanatics from tracking down and importing these films. One of the most popular is A Cat in the Brain (AKA Nightmare Concert), which is now making its way to Blu-ray Disc.

Fulci stars as himself in A Cat in the Brain, a director of horror films. After he begins to have violent visions, Fulci becomes convinced that years of making gory movies has had an effect on his psyche. This has begun to have an effect on his work, as Fulci is hesitant to return to the set of his latest project. He approaches Professor Egon Shwarz (David L. Thompson) for assistance. However, Shwarz has his own agenda and he decides to use Fulci's concerns for his own gain. Is Fulci truly going crazy?

I wish that I could say more about the story in A Cat in the Brain, but that's all that there is. You see, A Cat in the Brain is truly a weird movie. While it is an original film, the bulk of the movie is comprised of footage from other movies. When Fulci has one of his visions, he's actually seeing a scene/shot from a completely different film. Two of the movies, Touch of Death and Ghosts of Sodom, were directed by Fulci. The remainder of the footage comes from movies with which Fulci was somehow connected. They are Hansel and Gretel, Massacre, The Murder Secret, Escape from Death, and Bloody Psycho. So, A Cat in the Brain is sort of like a "clip-show" episode of a TV show, except it's made up of Italian horror movies.

Any time that I write about Italian horror movies from the 1980s, I mention the fact that logic is often lacking in these films and it's not usual for parts (if not all) of the movie to not make any sense. A Cat in the Brain is no exception. Again, the film is comprised of scenes of Fulci walking around or driving around, and then seeing a vision of a violent murder. The idea makes sense (sort of), but in practice, we get a jarring movie in which a seemingly mundane and pointless scene of Fuci wandering is suddenly intercut with a gory beheading or stabbing. Many of these really strain credibility as we asked to simply go with the fact that Fulci spends his time meandering around the city or the countryside, where he unexpectedly gets an eyeful of an atrocity. The weirdest one occurs when an encounter with a documentary film crew makes Fulci imagine a needlessly extended Nazi orgy scene. What? And what's up with the weak necks in this movie? People barely get touched and their heads come off.

OK, so A Cat in the Brain is sort of like a "greatest hits" movie. That can be fun, right? Unfortunately, no. I've always put Fulci's movies like The Beyond and City of the Living Dead in the "so bad it's good" category, despite the fact that some people think that Fulci's films represent quality filmmaking. But, A Cat in the Brain does not fall into this category. The lack of any true story means that one can't latch onto the lack of logic which infiltrates his other works. Those works at least want to be earnest on the surface, but we just get random scenes here. The murders themselves are filled with the sort of questionable gore effects which inhabit Italian films from the 80s, which range from somewhat realistic to "that was clearly a mannequin". Some of these are good for a laugh, but that won't sustain the film.

This was my first time seeing A Cat in the Brain and, as with any Fulci movie, I wasn't sure what I'd get. Having said that, while I didn't expect a cinematic masterpiece, I did anticipate a movie with some redeeming features. But, the result is actually a movie which is somewhat of a mess. We simply watch Fulci (Whose front door proclaims that he's a doctor. What's that about?) attempting to make it through the door without succumbing to these violent visions. In reality, someone could have simply strung together a montage of movie murders and dispensed with the "plot". The sad thing is that the "story" in A Cat in the Brain, involving a stressed-out director and a nefarious therapist (what a great band name!), could have actually worked. I know that some Fulci devotees consider A Cat in the Brain a classic. I will respectfully disagree.

A Cat in the Brain is a title derived from a saying which I've certainly never heard before on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Grindhouse Releasing. The film has been letterboxed at 1.66:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 30 Mbps. The Disc offers a new HD digital restoration. However, the image does show noticeable grain throughout and a close look reveals some video noise. I saw some mild ringing around objects in some scenes. As the film is composed of clips from various movies, we also see a shift in the video quality at times. For example, the colors look good in the scenes shots specifically for this film (just look at the reds of Fulci's odd hunting jacket and hat), but they are somewhat washed out in some of the other scenes. Likewise, some scenes have some depth, while others look flat. Again, I've never seen A Cat in the Brain before, but given the work which Grindhouse Releasing puts into its releases, I would venture to say that this is the best that it's ever looked, but there are still issues. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 Mono track which runs at 48 kHz and a constant 1.1 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. Being a mono track, we don't get any dynamic effects here, but the track is free from hissing and popping. The dialogue, music, and sound effects mix well, never overpowering one another.

The A Cat in the Brain Blu-ray Disc contains a number of extras. Disc 1 offers the Italian TRAILER and the U.S. TRAILER. The remainder of the extras are found on Disc 2. The bulk of the extras here are interviews. "Have a Nice Vacation, Doctor Fulci!" (27 minutes) is an talk with Screenwriter Antonio Tentori who discusses his relationship with Lucio Fulci and his work with the director. Cinematographer Sandro Grossi is profiled in "A Nightmare in the Brain" (28 minutes) where he talks about shooting movies for Fulci. "Frizzi & Fulci" (31 minutes) allows Composer Fabio Frizzi to discuss his musical contribution to the film. This is followed by seven minutes of footage showing Frizzi performing in Hollywood in October, 2015. Poster Artist Enzo Sciotti shows off his art in "Painter of Nightmares" (18 minutes) and we get to see several examples of his work. We hear a piece from 1987 in which Antonio Tentori interviews Lucio Fucli (16 minutes). Fulci is next heard from in two talks from 1995 -- "The Television Years" (41 minutes) and "Genre Terrorist" (40 minutes). "Living La Dolce Vida" (46 minutes) is an interview with Actor Brett Halsey. "Memories of Lucio" (5 minutes) allows Jeoffrey Kennedy, Sacha Maria Darwin, and Malisa Longo to share their views on the director. We get a STILL GALLERY which offers promotional pieces for A Cat in the Brain and footage from Fulci's appearance at the 1996 Fangoria Weekend of Horrors. The extras are rounded out by text biographies for Fulci and Halsey.

Review Copyright 2016 by Mike Long