The Black Cat (1994)

Edgar Allan Poe's The Black Cat may be the most often-filmed short story of all, inspiring movies (many deviate greatly from the brief text) from Richard Oswald (who made the first version, in 1919's Uncanny Tales, which he remade in 1932), Edgar G. Ulmer (a 1934 classic with Karloff and Lugosi and very little Poe), Dwain Esper (the amazing grindhouse hit Maniac), Albert S. Rogell, Roger Corman (scrambling in A Cask of Amontilladofor an episode of Tales of Terror with Vincent Price and Peter Lorre), Harold Hoffmann, Sergio Martino, Lucio Fulci, Luigi Cozzi and Dario Argento (half of Two Evil Eyes with Harvey Keitel). Rob Green and Clive Perrott deliver the most faithful filming yet: Perrott is made up to resemble Poe and recites almost all of the original prose, as brief flashbacks illustrate rather than dramatise the events that have brought the protagonist to his wretched state. This is a rare reading of the story that grasps Poe's dry humour (the murderer reminisces that as a child he was the laughing stock of his friends because of his tender-heartedness towards animals) as well as his sense of impending insanity and gathering doom.

The soundtrack, augmented by a superb music score and a wonderful symphony of clanks and creaks, could almost function as a 'talking book' of the story, but Green effectively visualises the text, emphasising the physical shackles that bind the mad protagonist and symbolise his mental chains. When we see the murderer in the flash-backs, he trails the chains that he wears in the present, and is even tripped up by them rather than the cat in the build-up to his murder. An odd side-effect of this is that the eponymous animal is not seen until a flash of animation at the finale, making this the only version of the story not to be full of close-ups of hissing and snarling pussycats straining after the significance the author weighs them down with. As a pure distillation of Poe, this is worthy of comparison with Edward Abrams and Jan Svankmajer's stabs at The Pit and the Pendulumand the UPI cartoon of The Tell-Tale Heart.
KIM NEWMAN

First Published In: Sight and Sound vol.4 no.12 (December 1994) p.57 (UK)


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