A Cat in the Brain aka Nightmare Concert begins with Italian horror legend Lucio Fulci sitting at his desk, brainstorming ever more gruesome ways of killing people – on screen of course. The frame then fills with a bloody, pulsating human brain. Suddenly, a black cat pounces into view and begins clawing at and eating the organ in graphic detail. Later, Lucio says to a confidante, “I feel like I’m going crazy…as if my brain’s being eaten by a cat.” The films from Fulci’s golden period were heavy on the hallucinatory, dreamlike imagery, but in this film from the Maestro’s final years, he goes straight for the literal.
Lucio Fulci directed 56 films in his career, including Westerns (Four of the Apocalypse), Giallos (A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin), Mob movies (Contraband), and even films intended for children (White Fang). But it is the pure horror films from his golden era, (Beginning in 1979 with Zombie and ending, arguably, in 1982 with the uber-sleazy The New York Ripper) in which he is most remembered and lauded for. Nobody, and we mean nobody, could shoot gore like Fulci.
In Cat from 1990, Lucio Fulci, horror film director, plays Lucio Fulci, horror film director. Hence, Lucio was doing Meta well before Wes Craven. After the cat scene, we see a nude women lying on a table with a large chunk of flesh missing from her leg. A man is seen frying up and consuming a large piece of steak which is decidedly not Grade A Prime. Next he takes a chainsaw to the woman and dismembers her into multiple pieces which he then stuffs into a meat grinder to feed to his pigs.
We then see Fulci in his director’s chair purportedly filming this stuff, but it’s actually a spliced in scene from an earlier Fulci film, Touch of Death. He then breaks for lunch and goes to a steak house while inexplicably dressed as a lumberjack. The sight of Filet Mignon and Steak Tartar repulses the director and he abruptly leaves.
Later, Fulci can’t sleep. He sees a man outside his window sawing at a log with a chainsaw and envisions the man as being covered from head-to-toe in blood when in actuality it’s merely red paint. Why Mr. Fulci…you’re cracking up. He then goes to see a psychiatrist (in a walk-in appointment, no less). The director is lying down on the couch spilling his guts – which ordinarily in a Fulci film would involve a bisected stomach and miles of cascading intestine – but in this case is more of the confessional type. The doctor earns his PhD by brilliantly diagnosing that the boundaries between Fulci’s personal and professional lives are breaking down. You really think, doc?
Lucio continues to experience hallucinations, each one resulting in a spliced in scene from an earlier late-period Fulci film. In addition to the aforementioned Touch of Evil, there’s an unbelievably debauched scene from Ghosts of Sodom which depicts a Nazi orgy a la Salon Kitty, but with an uber-disturbing game of pool that features a very unique center pocket.
The nuttiness continues when Lucio goes for his follow-up with the shrink and agrees to be hypnotized. While Fulci is under suggestion, the doctor implants the conviction that Lucio will soon be committing real-life murders when it will actually be the good doctor doing the slaughtering. Where did Fulci find this quack? This malfeasance is a clear and flagrant violation of the Hippocratic oath. Oh well…whatever it takes to further the plot, I guess.
This leads to a scene where the doctor, looking absolutely demented in a completely zipped-up K Way Jacket with hood, murders a prostitute by slicing off her hand before decapitating her. Speaking of head lopping, Cat in the Brain probably features more decapitations per minute than any other film in history. Naturally, Lucio thinks he did the deed and is racked with guilt, all the while continuing to hallucinate which leads to further recycling of past films.
One wonders what prompted Lucio Fulci to make A Cat in the Brain. Is it exploitation, sheer hackery made worse by cheap recycling, perhaps a mea culpa for making so many violent and misogynistic films, or is it Fulci’s way of criticizing those who had so often criticized him by regurgitating the hoary falsehood that seeing violence depicted on screen begets actual, real-life violence? This reviewer feels that it’s all of the above and more.
Any newcomer to Fulci would be ill-served by starting with A Cat in the Brain. The director’s usual visual flair, lush imagery, hallucinatory scores and ornate beauty is here replaced by a sort of cheap tawdriness. There is gore aplenty, but it’s of the bargain basement kind as opposed to the ingenious and startling effects of City of the Living Dead or The Beyond. Start with those first. Then visit A Cat in the Brain – an intriguing curiosity in Fulci’s varied oeuvre.
*** (out of five)