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‘POE 4: The Black Cat’ (2017) [Movie Review]

The POE (Poetry of Eerie) series of anthology films date back to 2011 and over the past seven years and three installments have taken familiar Edgar Allen Poe tales into, quite often, unfamiliar territory. And this fourth installment is no different. However, there is one significant difference between this release and its predecessors – here each segment is a different interpretation, or rather approach to the same story – namely The Black Cat.

Many readers of this site may be familiar with this tale, if not from the original source material than perhaps the cinematic adaptions from the likes of Sergio Martino, Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci. Indeed, it is a tale that obviously has some attraction for Italian (and Italian influenced) directors. For those of you who may be unfamiliar however do not worry for it is not a prerequisite for this release as here Chris Milewski, Domiziano Cristopharo and Brace Beltempo put across their own unique and alternative vision of the tale wherein it is the main themes that influence rather than dictate what is put on camera. Therefore, any viewer may see this release as either a thematic interpretation or simply as three tales that share several common elements.

With no wraparound story The Black Cat opens immediately with the first segment, House of the Black Cat, courtesy of American writer/director Chris Milewski. In this tale a housekeeper-come-carer goes out for a walk leaving her partially-blind patient alone at home, only for a thief to break in and get more than he bargained for.

For anyone familiar with Milewski’s previous work (The Cold Eyes of Death; Violent Bloom at an Empty Grave; The Ghosts of Eden Hall) the look of this segment will come as no surprise – that is late seventies-early eighties Italian horror aesthetics with more than just a little influence by way of Lucio Fulci. In this case the House by the Cemetery is a particularly relevant signpost thanks to the muted colour palette, isolated misty location and of course Fulci-esque violence.

Ah yes, the violence – now stereotypically that influential Italian director, Lucio Fulci, had a predilection for ocular violence. As that ties in nicely with this particular Poe tale, it is no surprise that director Chris Milewski delights in his opportunity to showcase this particular type of violence in a grotesque sequence near the end.

House of the Black Cat is a solid effort filled with a bleak atmosphere and an ending that will delight fans but conversely it is for these very same reasons that perhaps it is not a suitable opener for an anthology. On that note the second tale, the ironically titled Black sees a dramatic shift from the old, isolated house setting from the previous story to a brighter, modern hotel in contemporary Rome.

Centering on the destructive love triangle between a rich wife, her alcoholic husband and her migrant lover, Black manages to continue the theme of greed from the previous segment. Director Domiziano Cristopharo, by way of writer and frequent collaborator Andrea Cavaletto, also manages to incorporate further themes that are not only central to the short story of Poe. But also evident in the duo’s previous films is masochistic pain and cruel violence in addition to greed, making this seemingly a match made in heaven.

These themes are incorporated well into a strong narrative that builds and builds throughout the runtime leading to a very satisfying climax. However, on a first viewing there are some moments of confusion for the viewer. The first such instance comes from a brief dialogue exchange between ‘the wife’ and ‘the lover,’ which does not seem to make sense to us, with the result being to take the viewer out of the film for a moment as they have to process the situation as it is presented to us. This issue is further compounded on several later instances as a few sporadic sentences are spoken purely in Italian. While this may simply be a quirk of the review copy, and while additionally these sentences are not integral to the story, it still serves to have the same effect of taking the viewer out of the moment and therefore does need to be referenced.

As with many of Domiziano Cristopharo’s films I suspect that this film has replay value, whereby with each viewing something else becomes apparent to the viewer. In fact, I am still debating the relevance of the healed scratches on the chest of ‘the lover’. And although this approach of his to filmmaking may not be for everyone there is enough in Black to mean that even the most casual of viewer can take away the key concepts whilst being dragged into a compelling story that truly does become more engaging as it progresses into a twisted, violent horror story with another almost circular ending. Additional bonus points for referencing the cat’s name as well.

The final segment comes from new director Brace Beltempo and sees another significant shift in style further emphasizing this releases dedication to variety. Told via flashback the story focuses on Emily, a mother who is emotionally distant from her child and seemingly withdrawn from her husband, who has taken in a nanny to help take away some of the burden placed on his wife and her mental state.

This story does not play out as one would expect as the cause of Emily’s malaise is not actually any emotional trauma. Rather, she is being tortured at night by the sounds of a wailing cat – sounds that only she can hear – until one night, while exhausted from the torment, she follows the noise and discovers a medallion necklace with an image of a cat on it.

This is the catalyst for what appears to be a demonic possession, although thinking of the possessed in the Spanish film [Rec] may also be an accurate reference point, and Emily starts to go all Amityville on those around her but not before she has a little fun in one particular scene that may make all male viewers wince.

Unfortunately, this is perhaps the weakest of the three stories both in terms of pacing and interpretation. Coming across as pedestrian in execution the story simply fails to really excite the viewer or deliver anything unique or distinguishable in contrast to the previous two segments which at the very least have a discernible style.

Overall POE 4: The Black Cat succeeds in its objective to deliver three very distinct and unique tales within the spirit of the original short story, but it has to be said with mixed success. That said, for horror fans looking for something different (not to mention Poe fans with an open mind) there is a lot to recommend about this release.

About Marek Zacharkiw

A film fan of the pretentious and the extreme, with a penchant for films of a bygone era. He has contributed to Weng's Chop, The Gore Splattered Corner and runs the cinema website cosiperversa.com. Often found discussing Italian horror with anyone that will listen or at the very least not walk away. Follow him on Twitter @cosiperversa

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