Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #523
Also known as Nightmare Concert
Number of Views: One
Release Date: August 8, 1990
Country of Origin: Italy
Running Time: 93 minutes
Director: Lucio Fulci
Producers: Antonio Lucidi, Luigi Nannerini
Screenplay: Lucio Fulci, Giovanni Simonelli, Antonio Tentori
Special Effects: Giuseppe Ferranti
Cinematography: Alessandro Grossi
Score: Fabio Frizzi
Editing: Vincenzo Tomassi
Studio: Exclusive Cine TV
Distributor: Grindhouse Releasing
Stars: Lucio Fulci, David L. Thompson, Brett Halsey, Jeoffrey Kennedy, Malisa Longo, Shilett Angel, Ria De Simone, Sacha Darwin, Paola Cozzo
Suggested Audio Candy
 Fabio Frizzi “Un Gatto Nel Cervello”
 Fabio Frizzi “Sealed To Reveal”
 Jerry Whitman “Too Bad You’re Crazy”
“Cinema is everything to me. I live and breathe films — I even eat them!”
It’s fair to say that Lucio Fulci was a rather complex character. It doesn’t require a degree in neuroscience to know that the visionary Italian craftsman had his fair share of demons but, in 1979, he found a way to use any weaknesses as strengths and, when Zombie Flesh Eaters earned him the kind of Stateside attention that had previously been lacking, The Godfather of Gore finally found his niche. There are a number of trademarks synonymous to his particular brand of European horror cinema, but none quite so prevalent as his eye for messy detail. Where Dario Argento painted his canvas like an artist expressing himself, Fulci inspected it closely through his infamous zoom lens, as though trying to understand it better.
He suffered in comparison to his rival and found it hard being taken seriously throughout his career, after being blacklisted in his native country during the seventies. However, his Gates of Hell Trilogy cemented Fulci as one of the most unique voices in the industry. Sadly, it all began to turn awry by the mid-eighties and, once again, he struggled to be taken seriously. Moreover, the exclusive gift that had made him stand out in the first place became more and more frequently mimicked by fresh young Italian faces looking to make their own mark. It’s not in question that the quality of his work during this uncertain period began to suffer and many regard The New York Ripper as his last great movie.
I would argue vehemently against that claim as A Cat in The Brain is, in many ways, his most inimitable piece of work. Arriving in 1990, it was still stuck in perpetual limbo in 1999 and, when he submitted it to the BBFC for classification, they refused it point-blank. Even now, a lot of his fan base aren’t actually aware of its existence and it is my intention to change that. You see, we all want nothing more than to fathom our personal heroes, and this particular piece of work is the closest we will ever come to getting a handle on his tormented genius. He was a great believer that life imitates art and vice versa and never explored it quite so openly and intimately as he did here.
From the offset, it has to be made clear that A Cat in The Brain is far from his optimal work from a technical standpoint. Poorly edited, hamstrung by budgetary restraints, and featuring some of his least inspired photography, it is an undeniably crude little number. Having said that, it is also cunningly subversive, deeply intelligent, and the kind of film that scratches around inside your brain for days afterwards like the proverbial moggy of its title. Fulci often found a place in his films for both cats and dogs but, this time around, allowed one decidedly spiteful feline to claw away at his frontal lobe. Lucio being Lucio, we were all cordially invited to take a front row seat while he adjusts zoom.
For the first time in a career spanning five decades, he placed himself in the driving seat, playing himself and doing a pretty stellar job of it too. From the opening shot, he can be seen plugging away at a script, before cutting to footage from his 1988 film A Touch of Death where his star Brett Halsey is preparing a rather protein heavy meal using a McCulloch chainsaw to carve the bird, as it were. Lucio decides it is high time he take a time out at this point and heads off to his favorite restaurant for the usual bloody fillet. On arrival, his ordinarily insatiable appetite is conspicuously absent and, moreover, the very sight of red meat makes him feel physically nauseous. Could it be he is turning soft in his own age?
Thankfully, his psychiatrist friend Professor Egon Swharz (David L. Thompson) is on-hand to offer his prognosis and takes his symptoms very seriously indeed. While attempting hypnosis on Lucio, he sows a few seeds of his own, leaving his exasperated patient little more than a vessel for his skulduggery. Meanwhile, a spate of remarkably vicious real murders are playing out and there’s no way that Lucio is imagining them as they’re plastered all over the news. Moreover, he is starting to question whether or not he is actually the one responsible for dishing out these injustices. It’s a concept that would later inspire Wes Craven’s New Nightmare but Fulci was the one who pioneered it, proving without reasonable doubt that he truly had his own voice.
It has been soundly documented that the last few years of his life were plagued both by medical and emotional turmoil and watching A Cat in The Brain leaves us under absolutely no illusion that this was very much the case. Horror wasn’t actually his original passion and he cut his teeth largely through comedy films and spaghetti westerns, but it was in horror circles that he finally found acceptance. After over a decade of brutalizing victims in the most heinous ways imaginable, it’s only to be expected that it would take its toll and this wasn’t helped by the fact that he felt betrayed by those who placed him on a pedestal in the first place. Fandom can be a fickle thing and you’re only ever as good as your next movie in some eyes. This left him in uncertain territory, teetering over his own chasm, and with no other way of channeling this spiraling angst than to place his darkest fears under the cinematic microscope. Now that’s intimacy.
As a coherent piece of fiction, A Cat in The Brain works on the most rudimentary of levels and this is due both to the honest performance of its charismatic leading man and a truly unnerving one from Thompson as his nefarious death pimp. It doesn’t feel that we are being ushered through the narrative so much getting shoved through a number of blackened doorways, each one leading to a more hideous room in his head space than the last. He splices footage from a number of other movies, many of which are not his own, but decides against regurgitating any of the notorious gags from his much-heralded classics. The reason for this? He was as happy as a hog in excrement at the time they were filmed and felt like his career, and indeed life, had found its true direction. By the late eighties, the cat had gotten into his brain, thus this is the period he fixates with.
On a surface level, A Cat in The Brain plays out very much like a giallo. We’re not entirely convinced as to who or what is performing these vile acts and the dialogue in-between these delicious set-pieces is often so negligible that we really feel the kidney punch each time the deep red starts to gush. In this respect, it does its job, nothing more or less. Where it becomes far more fascinating is the almost satirical approach he adopts to tell his tale, and the way that it makes us question our own psychological make-up. Is horror having an adverse effect on our psyches? Does excessive exposure make us as lamentable as those who practice it in action? Did we really just witness that cute tricycle-trundling kid have his skull-cap sliced in half by a chainsaw? Are we watching that shit on loop? Heavens above, we must really be sick to the marrow.
Of course, we know the real truth and, in nine out of ten cases, we’re as harmless as kittens. But, as demonstrated by Professor Swharz, the power of suggestion is a most potent tool and he uses it to open his audience up to friendly debate. And to think that they believed he’d dried up by 1990. If you’re looking for an entry beacon for Fulci’s vast body of work, then I would suggest leaving A Cat in The Brain well alone for the time being. It’s not that it’s inaccessible, indeed the fact that it plays out almost like a grue montage makes it one of his most approachable features.
However, like any semi-autobiographical work of art, it’s better to get the formal introductions out-of-the-way first. Zombie Flesh Eaters, all three of the Gates of Hell Trilogy, The New York Ripper, and his unsung giallo masterpieces Lizard in A Woman’s Skin and Don’t Torture A Duckling are all more worthy of your primary affection than this. However, don’t let the overall score it garners deceive you, none of the aforementioned offer such an exclusive jaunt through one of the greatest, most misunderstood creative minds horror cinema has ever known. Saluto Lucio Fulci. Now how do I get rid of this incessant purring?
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 7/10
Grue Factor: 5/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers & Pelt-Nuzzlers: There is a valid reason why many of us didn’t even know about this particularly grisly Fulci offering. It may have arrived long after the video nasty commotion subsided, but the censors weren’t about to unleash this sadistic grunge on the general public. With regards to the all-important grue, A Cat in The Brain plays something like a greatest hits and, while the dispatches themselves are of variable quality, every last one of them effortlessly sickens. Limbs are removed, throats slashed, heads caved in and shut in toyboxes, faces sliced, high-speed 8 balls shot into vulvas, innards ooze, blood flows, glugs and jettisons and beautiful women are destroyed with a total lack of hospitality. It’s a downright Fulci-fest and without doubt the most sickening work he ever committed to celluloid. You see, something good did come out of the nineties after all.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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