“I am not a criminal because I make horror films. A lot of Italian genre directors are animal lovers. Mario Bava loved cats, Riccardo Freda loves horses, and Dario Argento loves himself.” — Lucio Fulci
Fade in: An aerial shot of a man, sitting at his desk, writing frantically. We hear him muttering like a mad man. His pen can barely keep up with the horrific ideas boiling out of him: “A throat torn out by a maddened cat… burned alive… buried alive… tortured… scalded….” Meanwhile, the camera pushes in close to the dome of his skull… eventually the perspective enters his head. There’s a black cat in there, which munches on his brain like a vulture on roadkill.
Cut to: A cold body lying on a medical table. A section of the rump is missing. The body is then ripped apart by a chainsaw and the camera lingers on every gory cut.
Cut to: A man frying meat in a pan. He sits down in front of a television screen and cuts into his meal with a knife and fork. On the television, an actress seductively informs the viewer, “I love you so much I could eat you.” The man raises his first bite, still skewered by the fork, and proclaims, “Just what I’m about to do!”
Lucio Fulci’s A Cat in the Brain (aka Nightmare Concerto) is gleefully insane.
I’ve never seen this movie before it screened at the Circle Cinema a couple weekends ago. That was a complete oversight on my part. I’ve owned collector’s editions of Fulci’s The Beyond and Zombie. I’ve enthusiastically forced friends and girlfriends to watch his movies numerous times. I’ve gotten so far as placing A Cat in the Brain in my Amazon shopping cart at least twice. Yet I’m always suspect of films coming out of the latter portion of a movie director’s career. Fulci already seemed to be repeating himself by the end of the eighties, so I was afraid I’d be disappointed by his first nineties movie. Most of our cherished cult directors really petered out around that time anyway.
Was I wrong. The film wasn’t even over yet when I thought, “I really ought to see this again as soon as possible.” The best way to see A Cat in the Brain is like so: A) you’re at least fairly familiar with Fulci’s previous work and B) you know absolutely nothing going into it. If you meet the requirements of B, read on at your own peril.
This is Fulci’s version of 8 1/2, but instead of using a movie star surrogate, Fulci plays himself. Like most of Fulci’s movies, the camerawork and the acting are dreamlike, but this time he uses it all to bizarre comedic effect. When I first realized the film was a meta-piece, I thought, “Uh-oh.” Meta-horror is typically pretty lame, especially when there are movies inside the movie (this time it’s stock footage from Fulci’s own films). It took me a while to get the joke—all of fifteen minutes. This isn’t Fulci ripping off Fellini. It’s Fulci making fun of Fellini as well as filmmaking in general. Being a horror director must be one of the strangest jobs in the world, which is especially apparent (and hilarious) when Fulci’s shrink reviews some of his films after assuring him he’s quite sane.
Here are some of the things you’ll see in A Cat in the Brain:
a Nazi using a woman as a billiards pocket, a hilariously psychopathic psychiatrist, and a literal cat inside a man’s head. Fulci is one of the unlikeliest likable protagonists. It hurts he didn’t star in a ton of films like this one.
There’s nothing quite like A Cat in the Brain. And while I always considered myself a fan of Fulci, I appreciate the guy’s work more than ever now.