Sergio Martino (Torso) takes on the classic Edgar Allan Poe story "The Black Cat" in this fantastic giallo that is one of my favorites of the genre. There have been many takes on this story over the years including adaptations by Lucio Fulci, Roger Corman, Dario Argento, and Stuart Gordon (in a "Masters of Horror" episode) but Martino's interpretation takes this to another level with visual style and a stellar cast of giallo veterans that deliver solid performances elevating this to be the best of the bunch. From the opening party scene featuring an impromptu hippie singalong to the fitting ending, this is one of those movies where you have no idea what is coming next and are therefore engaged throughout. Fans of Italian cinema know that Martino is one of the masters of the giallo. This is one of his finest moments and it should not be missed if you are a fan of the genre or of Poe adaptations.
Luigi Pistilli (A Bay of Blood) stars as Oliviero, a real prick of a man who takes out his failings in life on his wife Irina (Anita Strindberg - Who Saw Her Die?) and is generally unpleasant to everyone he comes into contact with. After humiliating both his wife and his servant at a party, Oliviero goes out the next day and runs into an old flame who wants to meet up for some action. That evening, the woman is murdered and Oliviero is the prime suspect. Making matters worse, his servant is murdered the next day inside the house so Olivero decides to bury the body in the basement with his terrified wife's help. Adding a further complication, Olivero's niece Floriano (Edwige Fenech) arrives and stays at the house and her sexual nature draws in a number of people. This results in more complications as suspicions grow and Irina become increasingly paranoid about her safety. All the while, a black cat named Satan lurks around the house and acts as both an observer and eventually a participant in the chain of events.
Giallo fans know Fenech from a number of classics of the genre such as All the Colors of the Dark and The Case of the Bloody Iris and she is regarded as one of the most beautiful women to grace Italian cinema. There is no denying that in this flick as she is not only physically stunning but she also perfects the dangerous sexuality of a femme fatale that is essential to the plot. She is perfect in the role as is Pistilli who is loathsome from the opening scene and never lets up but manages to restrain himself from going completely over the line and jeopardizing the role of the character in the plot. I found he brought a strange element of humanity to the role of a man who has lost his way both morally and artistically whose communication is reduced to projecting his failings on others with the aid of a bottle. The most compelling performance, however, is from Stindberg who seems to be in a hopeless situation and internalizes her torment. You can also look for Ivan Rassimov (Man from Deep River) as the mystery man who appears from time to time.
A flaw in a number of giallo films is that they have a few great moments but overall can come off as a little bit slow and boring. This is not the case with this flick as the opening party scene will hook you in and Martino keeps things moving along with new characters and events (including the requisite nude scenes and violence) being evenly paced. Unlike some other entries in the genre, I did not find that this had many standout scenes but was solid as a whole (a much more impressive task). Highly recommended. (Josh Pasnak, 11/8/15)
Directed By: Sergio Martino.
Written By: Adriano Bolzoni, Ernesto Gastaldi, Sauro Scavolini.
Starring: Edwige Fenech, Anita Strindberg, Luigi Pistilli, Ivan Rassimov.
aka: Gently Before She Dies, Eye of the Black Cat.