Il Gatto Nero (Luigi Cozzi, 1989)
[note: review originally published 24Apr2012]
I suppose it is possible, in some warped alternate universe, that Il Gatto Nero, released in English-speaking countries as Demons 6: De Profundis, actually was meant as the third part of Dario Argento’s Three Mothers trilogy, as at least one other reviewer has noted. From my point of view, having just suffered through this obscenity, it seemed a whole lot more like a cash grab that borrowed liberally from Argento without actually giving him a credit. (Unfortunately, though, that doesn’t explain a cameo from Argento protege Michele Soavi.) If you’ve seen Mother of Tears, Argento’s canonical third entry in the trilogy, and wondered why we had to wait twenty years for what is at its best a below-average movie, take heart: it’s Oscar material compared to this mess.
Loosely based on Poe’s short story that lends the movie its title, Il Gatto Nero concerns itself with Marc Ravenna (Urbano Barberini, who showed up in the original Demons), a scriptwriter who’s trying to find funding for his new project, De Profundis, based on the same Thomas de Quincey book that inspired Argento’s Suspiria. It concerns another witch, Levana, who as it turns out is real (rather like Argneto’s Mother of Sighs), and who haunts the production because, as far as we can tell, she’s really unhappy about Marc’s wife Anne (Black Venus‘ Florence Guérin) playing her. But Levana may not be the worst thing haunting the production—the producer himself, bitter, cranky, wheelchair-bound Leonard Levin (Demonia‘s Brett Halsey), is almost as annoying, if perhaps not as deadly.
Il Gatto Nero (which, it should be noted, only features black cats as set decoration) is an excellent illustration of how quality can vary within genre. The movie itself sets up comparisons to Suspiria, which despite its unbearably cheesy ending is one of the highlights of Italian horror film in the seventies. On the surface, both films share a number of qualities that mark them as bad genre film—the ludicrous dubbing, sets that look as if they were cobbled together with what the set designer could find at the local thrift store, crude special effects. But Argento, during his salad days, was a stylist as much as he was a director; where he put the camera and what he did with it in any given shot was just as important to the way the movie came out as was his ability to get decent performances out of actors ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous. Cozzi, on the other hand—who had worked with Argento at least as far back as said salad days (he was a directorial assistant on Argento’s first great film, 1971’s Four Flies on Grey Velvet)—never picked up any of those tricks from Argento in the way Soavi did. Il Gatto Nero has far more in common with the work of Lamberto Bava (Demons 2) than it does with Argento. Bava was supposed to be another Argento protege; the two worked together on the original Demons, supposedly with Bava directing and Argento producing. Anyone who’s watched the original and the first sequel, directed by Bava solo after Argento had left the fold, knows how true that is. Cozzi is the same way, though unlike Bava, he knew when to admit defeat; after one more attempt at directing, he rejoined the fold and became one of Argento’s second unit directors.
In case I haven’t quite spelled it out yet: this is a phenomenally bad movie. An outrageously bad movie. The kind of movie that makes you want your hour and a half back when you’re done watching it. If you never have the chance to do so, consider yourself spared. ½