Lucio Fulci movies are divisive things at the best of time, with many fans in adoration of the maestro’s work while others dismissing them flatly as badly made nonsense. A Cat in the Brain (also known as Nightmare Concert) is a very late-period effort from the director that takes meta-horror to the extreme, which despite pre-dating Wes Craven’s New Nightmare by a few years and clearly taking its influence from Federico Fellini’s 8 ½, will certainly not win over his detractors. Those who have enjoyed the late Italian’s work will find plenty to relish here, though.
Fulci plays himself (or, at least, a heightened version of himself since his door includes the inscription ‘Dr Lucio Fulci’), a director whose ultra-violent work is beginning to get to him. He seems to be unable to escape the visions of mutilation, disembowelment, and decapitation that have become his trademark. Fearing for his sanity, he visits a psychiatrist (Thompson, who looks unnervingly like game show legend William G. Stewart), who suggest hypnosis. Unfortunately for Fulci, the shrink has some murderous intentions of his own and plans to frame the director.
Using re-hashed footage from two previous movies, the little-seen efforts Touch of Death and Il fantasma di Sodoma, we get more than our fair share of chainsaw shenanigans and gore-soaked mayhem, not to mention a gloriously ridiculous visual depiction of the film’s title. Despite only appearing in his previous films in Hitchcock-style cameo roles, Fulci is actually quite engaging here, far from the car-crash performance it could have been. He’s clearly having fun with his character, too, which is great to see, particularly considering the fact he was suffering ill health at the time.
It could be argued that Fulci was perhaps addressing the usual argument of ‘violent film influencing actions’, it never really comes up with any conclusive commentary on the subject and instead blends cod-giallo and splatter, albeit with a sense of humour. By having the ‘respected’ academic character as the antagonist, it quietly subverts the assumption, but that was clearly lost on those who didn’t see past the over the top gore.
It’s far from Fulci’s best, and doesn’t display the glorious flourishes that made the likes of The Beyond, Lizard in a Woman’s Skin, and House by the Cemetery such fan favourites, but it has got enough going for it to merit interest, and shouldn’t be overlooked if you have a penchant for ocular trauma.
As for the Blu-ray presentation, the image is certainly better than we’ve experienced in the UK before (and are perfect if you were used to the un-dubbed/subtitled bootleg versions from the early nineties), but the film stock brings the overall look down and it’s not much of a noticeable upgrade from the DVD release. There are a couple of interesting extras, the largest being a lengthy talking head documentary that discusses the merits of Fulci’s late period. It’s an interesting and knowledgeable piece regardless whether or not one agrees with the appraisals on offer. Also included is concert footage of Fabio Frizzi performing the theme music live at one of the US dates on his Fabio 2 Fulci tour, which is interesting, but far from essential as it’s not the most dynamically shot live footage.
A CAT IN THE BRAIN (1990) / CERT: 18 / DIRECTOR: LUCIO FULCI / SCREENPLAY: LUCIO FULCI, GIOVANNI SIMONELLI, ANTONIO TENTORI / STARRING: LUCIO FULCI, BRETT HALSEY, RIA DE SIMONE, DAVID L. THOMPSON / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW