Here's one all you fans of Edgar Allan Poe are sure to enjoy. Directed by Stuart Gordon for the Masters of Horror series, The Black Cat is an excellent film that brings to life a dark period in the great writer's career, a time when, despite his hardships, he found the strength to compose one of his most famous short stories.
The setting is Philadelphia in the mid-19th century. Famed writer Edgar Allan Poe (Jeffrey Combs) is suffering from a severe case of writers block. With mounting bills, no money to pay them, and a sickly wife (Elyse Levesque) to care for, Poe turns to the bottle for comfort. But when his wife suffers a severe attack from the consumption that plagues her, Poe must stop drinking and start writing, a task made all the more difficult by the constant interference of his wife's troublesome cat, Plato. Pushed to the brink of insanity, Poe takes his frustrations out on poor Plato in a heinously violent manner, yet this grisly deed might just be the inspiration the great writer has been searching for.
The Black Cat goes to great lengths to recreate this tragic period in Poe's life (director Gordon, himself an aficionado of Poe's work, has stated that every character in the film is based on an actual person from the writer's life), and I was honestly blown away by the impressive attention to detail. Yet the true center of The Black Cat is the performance delivered by Jeffrey Combs. His Poe is a flamboyant drunkard, an arrogant writer whose only saving grace is his immense talent, and a weak-willed man whose sole reason for pressing on is the love he has for his dying wife. Combs shines in nearly every scene, and shows he's just as adept at comedy as he is tragedy (there's a very funny scene that takes place in a local tavern, where Poe makes a drunken bet with the bartender, played by Patrick Gallagher, that he can stand on one finger). While director Gordon and his crew must be congratulated for the realistic sets and costumes, Combs' turn is the glue that holds The Black Cat together.
A few years ago, I was fortunate enough to tour the Edgar Allan Poe National Historical Site in Philadelphia, which was established in one of the many houses Poe resided in during his years in the city. As we toured the basement, the guide was quick to point out several similarities between that space and the one Poe himself described in The Black Cat, which is one of the tales he penned during his stay in this house. That tour set my imagination to spinning, and thanks to Stuart Gordon and Jeffrey Combs, everything I imagined that day, and more besides, has been vibrantly brought to life.
WARNING: SCENE CONTAINS GRAPHIC VIOLENCE