Thursday, March 17, 2011

#223. Masters of Horror: The Black Cat (2007)

DVD Synopsis: "Perversity," wrote Edgar Allan Poe, is "the human thirst for self torture." Jeffrey Combs delivers an electrifying performance as the legendary writer driven to debt and drunken folly by a world cruelly indifferent to his poetry. But is it his beloved wife's agonizing death by consumption or her deranged pet feline that will soon trigger the scribe's most ghastly acts of madness? Director Stuart Gordon and longtime collaborator Dennis Paoli (Re-Animator, Dagon, Castle Freak) co-wrote this grisly exploration of horror fiction's dark genius, condemned to a living hell of illusion, insanity and beyond by The Black Cat.

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.



Anonymous said...

yuck shock not a fan of po nor of these types of horror films but ty for posting extra reviews.

Dave Becker said...

Thanks for stopping by.

Yeah, if you're not a Poe fan, then you obviously won't enjoy this movie. Being an avid reader of Poe's myself, I loved it.

And it's my pleasure to post horror reviews for these 2 weeks. Thanks so much for the comment, and for listening to Planet Macabre.

Anonymous said...

I think you already suggested this movie on the podcast doctor. It was a few months ago if I recall.

Highly anticipating the "Easter Horror" episode!

Dave Becker said...

Hello, and thanks for the comment.

The film I recommended on the Podcast was, indeed, titled THE BLACK CAT, but starred Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff, and was produced in the 1930's. Despite the name of the film, that one had nothing at all to do with Poe or his short story (though that film's credits state it was 'inspired' by an Edgar Allan Poe story, the director came out a few years afterwords saying it was not).

This is an entirely different BLACK CAT, made a few years ago for the MASTERS OF HORROR.

A quick check of IMDB shows that there are no fewer than NINE movies titled THE BLACK CAT, so I guess it was only a matter of time before that title made another appearance on the blog!

Thanks for checking into it, though. It at least gave me a chance to explain the differences.

Have a good day, and thanks for listening to Planet Macabre.