Edgar Allen Poe’s Black Cat (1981) (film blu-ray review).

1966 rural English life was an ugly time and place. The fashions and culture was decidedly beige. The preponderance of man-made materials were matched in brightness only by the lavishly applied cosmetics. Into this festival of earth-tones ‘Black Cat’ hisses into life, sort of.


The original story was a tale of guilt and murder, ‘Black Cat’ takes the slightly unusual approach of making it about a supernatural feline killer wreaking havoc on a small English village. This takes some doing. The cat is small and cute and about as threatening as a cupcake. The terror is mostly induced by means of overdubbing the MGM lion’s roar and human screams.

I watched for a while with the sound down, the cat was worthy of any YouTube compilation of cuteness. The human performers were sadly less accomplished. Even looking through the lens of the spirit of the time the acting was wooden at best. Once more, it’s worth singing the praises of the cat and its handler. Staying in cat character during such a ham-fest was fantastic. The other component of terror the film relied on was a sinister old man reciting Latin phrases in a deep resonant voice…and that’s about it.

The 60s produced some masterpieces of cinema. A personal favourite is the original ‘Inherit The Wind’. What an incredible film. Genius writing and performances with little in the way of effects. At the other end of the spectrum, ‘2001 A Space Odyssey’. One of the greatest films of all time. There is no reason for a film to be this bad.

There are a number of specific issues with the photography. In one vital scene, the female lead has a close-up shot with a noticeable black curly hair stuck in the camera gate. I am sure this is one of those elementary things that fledgling cameramen are trained to look for.

There is another crucial dramatic moment where the cat causes a fire. The stains left by whatever accelerant the production team used is clearly visible all over the curtains. Referring back to the lavish use of man-made materials, the flames must have been incandescently hot and toxic. I could talk about the curtains moving behind the levitating bed or the fishing line supporting the rubber bats, but you get the idea.

Once again, this isn’t about budgets or technology. There were many fantastic movies which were this film’s contemporaries. ‘Nosferatu’, from 1922, was made on equipment only slightly removed from pinhole cameras and, with no sound, still has the power to frighten today.

There were a few positive notes. The actress playing the mother had the most wonderful hair colour, the actor playing the police sergeant had a moustache and hair which was 10 years ahead of its time, simply glorious. I tried to find a positive which wasn’t hair-based but I really couldn’t.

Overall, we have a film which isn’t very good, but one which isn’t so terrible that it becomes campily funny. Imagine a ‘Carry On’ film without any of the main actors or jokes. In fact, ‘Carry On Screaming’ was made at the same time and has one or two quite scary moments.

If movies were ranked on a colour spectrum, this film would be a lightest brown colour, somewhere between eggshell and latte. If it was a material, it would be shiny and make static charge when rubbed. You get the picture.

Andy Bollan

January 2016

(region B Blu-ray: pub: Arrow Films, 2016. 1 Blu-ray disk 91 minute film. ASIN: B01AD87N5I)

cast: David Warbeck, Patrick Magee and Mimsy Farmer

check out website: www.arrowfilms.co.uk

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