In the same general period as the Italian film industry was imploding in on itself due to a lack of budgets and enthusiasm, director Lucio Fulci decided to try something different: a self-reflexive look back over the latter part of his career as a famed horror director. While the end results have divided even some of his most hardened fans, Fulci’s A CAT IN THE BRAIN (1990) is certainly a novel concept – in terms of Italian horror films, at least – plus, taking his Hitchcockian cameos to the next level, Fulci casts himself in the lead role as a tormented director who is beginning to blur the line between his excessively gory filmic output and everyday reality.
Sometimes referred to as “Dr. Fulci”, first seen is his now trademark woolen cap and matching hunter’s lumber-jacket, he is suffering from terrible hallucinations (“a woman hacked to death with an axe”) that, according to him, feels akin to a ‘cat in his brain’, which is hilariously depicted by a ferocious feline – an obvious hand-puppet – ripping apart the inside of his grey matter. Sandwiched between numerous gore scenes from late-entry Italian splatter flicks – including many of his own – Fulci’s violent hallucinations are very easily triggered, even as he performs the most mundane of daily activities, so he seeks the help of psychiatrist Egon Swharz (David L. Thompson) to help quell his ever-increasing loss of reality. Unfortunately for Fulci, his psychiatrist merely uses him as a pawn to continue indulging in his very own – and very real – murder spree.
Directed a year after his much-touted, but decidedly meager, ‘comeback’ film DEMONIA (1989), Fulci decided to really let loose and try something entirely different, and while this is yet another very low-budget effort, it’s considerably more memorable and even – gasp! – rather audacious for the once-fiery director. Like Fulci himself, by the end of the film, most people will also be tired (or bored?) by the seemingly unending stream of gore and realize it’s closer in spirit to a comedy than a horror film. Even much of the ‘borrowed” footage consists of Fulci’s TOUCH OF DEATH (1988), a darkly comic, and equally gory, look at a modern-day Bluebeard as portrayed by Brett Halsey, who, in A CAT IN THE BRAIN, is merely credited as “the monster.” In actuality, much of this footage plays quite well alongside A CAT IN THE BRAIN’s original material as Fulci becomes paranoid of eating steak tartar, a man chopping wood, a microwave oven, or even a young girl in wheelchair, scenes which are always punctuated by some sort of splattery nightmare. However, as the film progresses, the gimmick does begin to wear-out its welcome, which may well have been Fulci’s original intent; to try and smother the viewer with as much gore as possible until it no longer resonates and leaves viewers inured to its effects from simple repetition. It’s a fitting close to one of Fulci’s most popular periods in his 40+-year career.
Despite the heaping amounts of squishy gore on display, it’s left up to the cast to inject any real substance into this “Fulci’s Greatest Hits” package, and aside from the novelty of Fulci as the lead (adequately dubbed in the English version by Larry Dolgin), most of the cast is only amateurish at best. As the psychotic shrink, Thompson doesn’t exhibit any acting range whatsoever, and comes across almost like a caricature of all those ’70s gialli killers. On the other hand, it’s always nice to see Malisa Longo (credited here as Melissa Lang), star of countless ’70s Italian ‘sexy’ films, who here appears as the bitchy, unfulfilled psychiatrist’s wife and meets a particularly nasty end.
A popular title among Grindhouse Releasing’s catalogue since the laserdisc days, A CAT IN THE BRAIN first appeared on DVD in 2006 as a 2-disc Special Edition (the initial batch even had a nifty lenticular cover), which was loaded with extras, but if you’ve never seen this film or are possibly considering an upgrade, then Grindhouse’s newest 3-disc set, which houses 2 Blu-rays and one soundtrack CD of the complete 15-track Fabio Frizzi score, is yet another incredible set well worthy of the double-dip. Due to the film’s low-budget origins, A CAT IN THE BRAIN would never be considered demo material, but the team at Grindhouse have, as per their usual standards, created yet another small miracle with their latest Blu-ray; it’s hard to imagine it looking any better than it does here.
Presented in its customary English language version as NIGHTMARE CONCERT (the film’s alternate English language export title), Grindhouse have also provided the Italian language track with removable English subtitles. All the extras from the earlier DVD are reinstated, including “Genre Terrorist” and “The Television Years”, a massive two-part interview with the late director. Further interviews with Halsey, Longo, Sacha Maria Darwin and Joffrey Kennedy are also included alongside new interviews with director of photography Sandro Grossi, composer Frizzi, co-writer Antonio Tentori and poster artist Enzo Sciotti. More extras include hidden Easter eggs, the obligatory Grindhouse trailers – and even a few for some of Fulci’s rarer films, which are located in the filmography section of the disc – and poster galleries. An excellent booklet with essays from Antonella Fulci, Eli Roth, David J. Schow and Martin Beine, who gives a great rundown of the ALL the borrowed footage that appears throughout the film, is also included. Lastly, the first 3000 units come with a portrait of Fulci, which is supplied as a thick insert card.