Friday, June 23, 2017

Past Misdeeds: Il Gatto Nero (1989? 1991? Always?)

Through the transformation of the glorious WTF-Films into the even more glorious Exploder Button and the ensuing server changes, some of my old columns for the site have gone the way of all things internet. I’m going to repost them here in irregular intervals in addition to my usual ramblings.

Please keep in mind these are the old posts without any re-writes or improvements. Furthermore, many of these pieces were written years ago, so if you feel offended or need to violently disagree with me in the comments, you can be pretty sure I won’t know why I wrote what I wrote anymore anyhow. Though I have to say I have seen even more Cozzi films, and do now expect the insanity rather than the boredom.

Not to be confused with all those other films about black cats, which comes especially easy in this case, because the black cat isn't important here at all.

Plot? Oh right, there was something kinda-sorta plot-like hidden away in here somewhere. Ah, there it is: Director Marc Ravenna (Urbano Barberini) is trying to re-ignite his faltering career by making a semi-sequel to Argento's Suspiria (wouldn't that actually be a semi-sequel to Inferno at this point in time?), based on a witch named Levana from an essay in De Quincey's Suspiria De Profundis. If you just ignore that Levana isn't actually a witch but a goddess and wasn't invented by De Quincey, you'll be as surprised as I was by the realization that someone working on the script for this one might have read the book the film's talking about (and, going by the inclusion of an actual quote from Poe, even more than just a single book; Italy sure ain't Hollywood). You can also be sure someone had seen Suspiria, what with parts of that movie's theme playing on the soundtrack whenever someone mentions it or De Quincey's book.

Anyway, Marc plans on giving Levana's role in his planned movie to his wife Anne (Florence Guerin), a big horror star right now playing in an adaptation of Poe's The Black Cat (this, like everything else, is not going to be important later on). Unfortunately, Levana is real and disagrees with Marc's casting decisions, so she begins to threaten Anne, first by going all green and red light on the couple's house, then by jumping out of a mirror and vomiting green goo in Anne's face, exploding the fridge, materializing a non-threatening fridge repairman and a slightly more threatening pale teenager. She also seems to induce random dream sequences, although - given how the film is structured - I'm at a loss to decide if any given scene is supposed to be a dream sequence.

Levana has plans for Anne's and Marc's baby, too, it seems. Something about possessing it and the end of the world. I think. That might just be a fake plan, though. Or not. Other stuff happens. Caroline Munro in her "big hair, unwilling to act, keep me away from the tanning bed, please" phase plays an actress sleeping with the film's scriptwriter who wants Anne's role. Cozzi lets the movie's camera leer on her legs so often even I'm getting uncomfortable with it. Brett Halsey appears as a producer sitting in a wheel chair, glaring angrily and demanding TOTAL COMMITMENT. Anne talks to the fairy girl that lives in her TV (or in her head; matters are confused, and so am I). Hearts explode. Cartoon lightning is shot from hands. Even weirder shit happens. Shots of something that might be a mouldering plastic doll appear. There's some sort of plot twist about mutants as not seen in the X-Men. And of course, any horror film containing a baby must end with the classic "baby with glowing eyes" shot.

Usually, when I sit down to watch a film directed by Luigi Cozzi, I expect one part shoddy directing and one part refined boredom, so the full-grown, random what-the-hell-is-this-ness of Il Gatto Negro (or whatever the film's title is supposed to be) hit me as a complete surprise. Starting with the insanely ambitious ploy to rip-off Argento's Suspiria and his and Lamberto Bava's Demoni and Poe's Black Cat in a single film without said film having anything to do with its supposed predecessors apart from stealing parts of their soundtracks, Cozzi uses every technique from the handbook  of Italian exploitation cinema: there's the crude yet hilarious dialogue, acting perpetually swinging between sleepwalking and hysteria, the chopped editing that again and again does counterintuitive stuff like intercutting random (and I mean random) shots of houses while people inside those houses are having a conversation for no good reason at all, the special effects of the rubbery yet gooey kind, and plotting so wavering and random one can't help but imagine someone playing scene roulette. Or, as it might be, the film being completely improvised. Obviously, on any sane level, Demons 6 is an abomination barely fit to even be called a feature film. On a less sane level, it's perhaps one of the most successful films I've ever had the honour to experience.

What makes De Profundis such a great success - at least, if you measure a movie's success by the number of times it drives you into fits of giggling and the shouting of "what the fuck!?" - I might also have thought of throwing food at the screen just for the love of it - is how completely it gives itself over to being a structureless mess consisting of one weird-out moment after the other. There's not a single second in the film's running time to suggest Cozzi was trying to tell a story, or make what boring people call "a proper movie", not even an illogical or boring one. Instead, narrative logic gives way to whatever the hell Cozzi ate when he wrote the script (apple pie?). Coherence has left the building long ago; viewers are left in a state of confusion and with a blissed-out feeling only a very few films can produce.

And here I always thought Luigi Cozzi was a bit of a bore; in truth, all the boredom of his other movies was only proof of a director saving his true powers for a magnum opus that would show humanity a) the blind idiot god at the centre of the universe b) what a man can create when he just lets go of all his mental faculties c) the last fanfare for the era of Italian movies that were more dream-like than dreams themselves.

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