Tuesday, October 28, 2014

31 Days, 31 Horror Movies: A Cat in the Brain

The first film of my weekend theme, which was: Films by Famous Italian Horror Directors That I Haven't Seen. Hope to have the second later today - trying to get caught up!

A Cat in the Brain (AKA Nightmare Concert)

A Cat in the Brain is a weird little film, which I know sounds redundant when I'm talking about a Lucio Fulci movie. It's kind of a clip-show - with some of the gorier bits of previous Fulci movies edited in around a framing story about a director that may or may not be going mad. And the director in question is Lucio Fulci - and by that I mean he's playing himself. A simplified highly stylized version of himself, I'm sure, but it makes everything that goes on so much weirder.

I had the film described to me as a proto-meta horror movie, a direct precursor to movies like Wes Craven's New Nightmare. A commentary on both horror movies in general and on Fulci horror movies in specific. Of course I also had it described to me as the lazy 'greatest hits' tour of a hack director out of original ideas, so there's that.

I rented the 2009 DVD from Grindhouse Releasing. Normally this is a 2 DVD set with extras on the second DVD, but I got it from Netflix so it was only the main disk. There are some trailers and a Q&A with Fulci at Fangoria's 1996 Weekend of Horrors. Not sure what's on the second disk, but there's no commentary track on the film itself. The picture is fine for a DVD.

Maybe there's an extra with Fulci's tips on firearms.

The Movie
There's an opening sequence in which someone - presumably Fulci - sits at a large desk, working on something. The camera descends... and suddenly we're inside his soft, pink, bloody brain. And then a cat starts tearing at it. Two cats, maybe. Tearing with their claws and devouring bits of brain.

Given the context of the rest of the film this is an interesting metaphor for the strange and disturbing ideas and imagery that are the obsession of horror film directors. What kind of brain is it that comes up with things like splinters in eyeballs and feeding people to pigs? A disturbed brain, a brain with some kind of creature pulling and tearing. Geez - I'd hate to see what kind of things are playing with my soft grey matter. Probably spiders.

After that we have some clips from Touch of Death, which involves a cannibal. Lots of gory shots of dismemberment. We then see that this is the film Lucio Fulci is working on, and after finishing the last shot (the feeding to pigs scene) he calls for lunch. However when he arrives at the restaurant he can't get past visions of the film - a filet and steak tartar just remind him of the awful things he's just shot. He ends up leaving the restaurant and going home.

"I'm less concerned with the steak Tartar and more with why I dressed in plaid today."

It seems that the horrific visions he creates in front of the camera are starting to infect his normal  life. He starts to have hallucinations in which normal, day-to-day occurrences become terrible recreations of bits of his movies (or new bits - I'll admit to not recognizing every gory moment as being from another film). Worried that he's becoming unstable and losing his grip on reality he goes to a psychiatrist who advises him that he's 'breaking down the barriers between what's real and what you film." Yeah, helpful, thanks doc.

"Trust me, I'm a doctor!"

Pressure mounts on Fulci, as he appears to be filming two movies at once. One of them appears to be a soft-core porn movie about Nazis and sadism, and Fulci questions the point of even making these sorts of films anymore. A German film crew arrives to interview him, but an extended hallucination of shooting another Nazi scene occurs and in the aftermath Fulci finds that he's assaulted the film crew.

Fulci doesn't appear to pulling a lot of punches in this film - he's not out to make himself look good. In the hallucination of shooting the Nazi orgy he's presented as both voyeuristic and even fueling the events - licking his lips and urging the actors on to even more degrading acts. That he looks a little like a bumbling professor most of the time makes those moments when he's acting the degenerate all the more disturbing.

This looks like a selfie gone terribly, terribly wrong.

Soon his psychiatrist has decided to take advantage of Fulci's problem, hypnotizing the hapless director into thinking that the hallucinations are real and that he's descending into madness, committing horrible murders. Meanwhile, the psychiatrist, Professor Swharz, takes out his rage at his wife's infidelity by murdering prostitutes. This... is all pretty ridiculous. The good doctor looks absurd in a hoody and enormous grin. I think he's supposed to be setting up Fulci to take the fall for these, but it's honestly not very clear (Fulci film - should have expected). He even had an epic villain speech where he announces his intentions and waxes about how stupid it is to blame real-life violence on movies - but it's to an empty room, so kinda wasted.

Why is he so happy? He looks ridiculous.

Fulci's visions get worse and worse. Pretty much every mundane thing - a drink, a microwaved dinner, a local girl in a wheelchair - all turn into visions of some horrific moment from his films. (The film clips are all the gory bits and come frequently - they're all low-budget, but entertaining in their own way. The burnt girl in the wheelchair is particularly creepy, though.) Eventually, convinced that the murders he's seeing on the TV are things he's done, he calls a detective friend, presumably to confess. However, the detective is on vacation, so Fulci goes once again to the psychiatrist.

Time to fire the gardener.

At one point he's driving down a road and starts chasing a guy who flees directly down the road, of course, never thinking to move the side into the trees. (I'd give him more crap about that, but I've seen Prometheus.) Hilariously, this guy - who seems to be homeless - recognizes the man trying to run him down and yells "What's the matter with you, Fulci?" Like Lucio Fulci is famous enough that random people on the street recognize him. Like if I was walking and Wes Craven tried to run me down. What's your problem, Wes? And then, just when I'm thinking Fulci only wants to get by and to his destination, he runs the homeless guy over. Like four times.

It's a hallucination of course. Most of the film is of poor Fulci reacting to these horrible scenes he's created. There's a lot of subtext about art and whether the man who creates monsters must be a monster himself, but it's all throwaway - more sub-subtext. While Fulci is honestly horrified to see these things outside of their context - the film set - within the film production context he actively seeks out and revels in them. The film crew that he assaults seems to be pleased to have a Fulci story to tell. And the psychiatrist gets to spout all the dialogue about violence and media. Of course the authorities will believe it's Fulci! He makes those horrible movies, after all.

The ending is abrupt and unsatisfying. Fulci faints at a murder scene and when the police arrive the next morning he fumbles to explain - but they've already caught the real killer, who followed Fulci to the park. It's all wrapped up, but Fulci's problems are never really followed up on - maybe because they're struggles he just has to live with. There's a fun little second ending after that, but the plot line - that I really did become involved in - has already ended, and badly.

"Well, we caught the bad guy. Should we wake him up and tell him?"
"Nah, he looks so peaceful - let him sleep."

The Bottom Line
I was surprised at this film. It really is a low-budget clip show. But it's also an interesting and somewhat fun meta-commentary on Fulci's films and being a person associated with creating horror. It's low budget - I mean it's cheap as hell - but strangely endearing. As with all Fulci, enter at your own risk. But it's definitely an worth a watch.

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