FULCI WEEK: Cat in the Brain (1990)

Whenever I’m watching a Fulci movie — or even discussing him — I turn to Becca and often speak in an Italian accent and say things like, “Can I stab the woman in the eyeball now? I’m bored.” If we’re to believe this meta-biographical film, my impression is not far off.

Fulci plays himself, a man haunted by the ever-worsening gore that his movies use. Now, real-life murders — and an obsession with violence everywhere he looks — have taken over his mind. He has, quite literally, a cat in the brain, eating away at the soft tissue, that we see while he’s trying to finish writing a script.

Finishing his latest film, Touch of Death, Fulci tries to eat a meal, but even the fillets and steak tartare he’s offered remind him of the gore he’s just directed. And then when he gets back to work, he’s irritable, even smashing a plate of animal eyeballs. Fulci is and at eyeballs? Something’s wrong!

He can’t even sleep when he gets home, as a handyman is using a chainsaw outside. Fulci flips out and uses a hatchet to smash some paint cans while the music from The Beyond plays.

Fucli decides to see a shrink, Professor Egon Swharz, who we first see fighting with his wife, Katya. His nurse, Lilly (Paola Cozzo, the pregnant nun from Demonia) lets him know that Fulci has arrived. Lilly instantly knows who the director is and Swhartz is interested to break down the barriers between film and reality.

Back at work, Fulci is struggling to complete both Touch of Death and Ghosts of Sodom (Sodoma’s Ghost) at the same time. What follows are two completely batshit sequences where Fulci directs a Nazi seduction scene and imagines a Nazi orgy while being interviewed by a long-legged German reporter. Fulci mutters a non-stop stream of sexual demands as the action unfurls in front of him, reducing him to only being able to say, Sadism. Nazism. Is there any point any more?” When we come back to reality, Fulci has smashed all of their cameras and must apologize.

When he returns for more therapy, the trap is sprung. Swharz wants to use Fulci to commit crimes, killing a string of prostitutes (using footage of other Fulci movies). The toll is taking over his professional life, as his assistant director has started working on his movie without him. Everywhere Fulci goes, death follows and even the police aren’t there to take his confession. When he goes to the police inspector’s house, he sees the man and his family stabbed, chainsawed and decapitated.

Everywhere Fulci goes, death follows and even the police aren’t there to take his confession. When he goes to the police inspector’s house, he sees the man and his family stabbed, chainsawed and decapitated. He still can’t convince anyone that he’s the murderer — he’s a kindly looking older man in a cardigan who people know creates these little gore movies.

Swharz finally flips out and kills his wife, cutting her head off with piano wire. He hypnotizes Fulci, who suffers through a series of violent images before passing out in a field next to a cute cat digging up the remains of one of the doctor’s victims. His friend the inspector finally arrives, but it’s to tell Fulci that they’ve caught the doctor in the act and that he’s innocent.

Months later, Fulci and Lilly, the nurse from earlier, are on his sailboat, named for his first movie Perversion. He uses a chainsaw to chop her up and then makes fishing lures with her bloody fingers. Is Fulci a killer? Nope. He’s just finishing the exact movie that we just watched. The film wraps and he sails away with Lilly, who is really an actress. Everything ends happily — at least in this version. Another has a scream during the credits to suggest that maybe Fulci is a killer.

Cat in the Brain — its title is a play on The Cat in the Hat — is a weird one. Fulci is the main actor in the film, but he had no confidence in his acting abilities, so his voice is dubbed by Elio Zamuto (who was also the Italian dubbing voice for Tom Selleck in Magnum P.I.).

Supposedly, the film started with a script with no dialogue that was a catalog of mutilations and the sound effects that would go with them. And Brett Halsey had no idea he was even in the film until long after it was done, as Fulci just used previously shot footage. This hurt their friendship, as Halsey felt he should have been paid.

In Fulci’s one U.S. convention appearance at the January 1996 Fangoria Horror Convention in New York City, he appeared on crutches with a bandaged foot. He was sick — he’d die two months later — and blizzards had covered the city with inches of snow. Yet fans came from all over the country for the rare chance to meet Fulci. This footage is on the second disk of Cat in the Brain and features the man himself speaking to the crowd, where he claims that Wes Craven’s New Nightmare rips off this film.

Sure, Cat in the Brain raises issues of the effect of horror on the people who make it. But is it really just a greatest hits of Fulci’s later period work? Did he feel trapped within the genre? Was it cathartic to create? These are all questions I would love to have heard him answer.

You can find this at Diabolik DVD.

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