There’s a moment in The Black Cat where Patrick Magee is lying on a grave, begging a voice to speak to him while the black cat looks on with hatred in his eyes, as fog rolls across the graveyard, where you say to yourself: this is gorgeous art, far above the hack title that so many give to Fulci. In fact, this is a film packed with moments just like this.
Based on the Edgar Allan Poe story, the film starts with the titular black cat hypnotizing a man and making him crash his car. He smashes through the windshield and catches fire, all while beautiful music plays and the cat explores his neighborhood. This sequence is so perfect, a wordless way to show how this cat can be seen as pure evil yet is above the morality of humanity.
We follow the cat to the home he shares with Robert Miles (Magee, who also appeared in Asylum and Tales from the Crypt), a medium obsessed with speaking with the dead. We also meet Jill Travers (Mimsy Farmer, Autopsy), an American tourist who is taking photos of crypts when she finds a broken microphone. She meets Sergeant Wilson (Al Cliver, The Beyond), who warns her that his father told her not to bother the dead. He reminds her that this is a small British town and not London, so even a cop can be superstitious.
Meanwhile, a young couple goes to a boathouse to have sex. However, the key disappears, the air conditioning breaks and they are left to die as the air runs out. Fulci cuts back and forth between what’s happening in the outside world and then dying hand in hand.
The girl’s mother, Lillian (Dagmar Lassander, The House by the Cemetery) asks the police to help find her daughter, bringing Inspector Gorley (David Warbeck, The Beyond) from Scotland Yard. Jill seeks the owner of the broken microphone and discovers Miles. He explains how he can easily hypnotize her and make her do whatever he wants before the black cat attacks him, breaking his hold over her.
Later that night, the cat kills a drunk by causing him to fall in.a barn and get impaled. With no one else to take photos, Gorley asks Jill to take photos for him. She notices the dead man has scratches on his hands just like the cuts the cat gave to Miles.
Lillian begs Miles to find her daughter, even offering to fall back in love with him again. After falling into a trance, he gives clues that lead the police to the boathouse, where the bodies of the couple are found. However, the room is locked from the inside, leaving the murders a mystery. Hours later, the black cat kills Lillian in a house fire.
Jill accuses Miles of using his evil on the cat, but Miles claims the cat has possessed him. Later, he drugs the feline and murders it, but that only gives the cat more power. Even Gorley — an unbeliever — sees the cat, which puts him in a trance, causing him to walk right in the path of a car.
Jill then breaks into Miles’ house to listen to his recordings of the dead. He returns home and she hides in the cellar where the cat begins to appear and disappear. Miles finds her and says that the cat is attacking on his hatred of the townspeople. Jill tries to run, but is attacked by bats (oh Fulci, you do so love bat attacks) and then Miles knocks her out and traps her inside a wall.
However, Gorley has survived, leading the police to Miles’ house. While they find no trace of Jill, they do hear the cry of a cat from the basement. Jill is found at the last minute and the black cat leaves, defeating Miles in the end.
The Black Cat gives Fulci plenty of opportunities to fill the screen with foggy atmosphere. There are moments of gore, but it’s not drenched in the red stuff like his later films. You can see it for yourself on Shudder and for free with a membership at Amazon Prime. Or you can grab the Arrow Video reissue at Diabolik DVD.