The Black Cat (DVD)

The Black Cat (DVD)
Poe's Me-ouch
Updated: 07-17-2007

The Black Cat, more than just about any other episode of Masters of Horror from the second season, is like a mini-movie. It's filmed slickly and stylishly, directed with ease and assurance, and acted with passion and intensity. The story brilliantly blends Edgar Allen Poe's (Jeffrey Combs) real life events with those of the first-person narrator of his classic short story of the macabre, The Black Cat.


Here is's review of The Black Cat in its entirety


The DVD, more than most Masters of Horror second season offerings, has a lot of extras which are both entertaining and informative. The Making Of  featurette begins with spoiler warnings, which is appreciated; Anchor Bay is always thusly courteous. Director Stuart Gordon explains how he decided to film this story true to its literary source: He read it for his daughter's high school English class one Halloween, found that it still had power, and decided to ditch his usual Lovecraft horror go-to for the second season (however, he points out, H.P. Lovecraft "idolized" Poe). There've been a lot of movies and TV shows made from The Black Cat, but none as faithfully — or with all the animal cruelty.


In this layered making-of featurette Gordon, Mick Garris and Jeffrey Combs all add their perspectives on Poe. Everything in the show is either from the Poe story, or something that happened in his life (for example, his consumptive wife really did burst a vessel while singing for houseguests, and spewed out blood). The filmmakers talk about their color scheme, as well — while the blood is red, the canary is yellow, and the cat's eyes are green — everything else is de-saturated to the brink of black and white.


In the Bringing Down the Axe featurette, effects master Lee Wilson ruins all the secrets. I didn't watch it for very long; I don't mind these kinds of featurettes, but sometimes I prefer to get lost in the dark fantasy without knowing exactly how it was engineered.


The commentary is by Gordon and Combs and it starts right off with a funny and upbeat vibe. The two, who first worked together in the 80s and have continued their relationship, are obviously very familiar with each other, which makes for good listening. Gordon recounts his tale of reading The Black Cat for his daughter's students, and mentions that the story isn't taught in schools.


They talk about the aspects of animal abuse in the story, and why it was decided to include the scene in which a cat's eye is carved out (it looks pretty CG, so feline fanciers needn't be too concerned). They give kudos to Animal Trainer Bonnie Judd, and her seven cats, each one of whom did a different thing.


The pair also talks about how they strove to duplicate Poe in every way, going from the photos of taken of him – right down to his white poet's shirt front peeking through the gap in his vest. Combs wore a false nose and a wig, but most of the look (including the mustache was all him).


Gordon mentions that the action takes place in 1843, and he each go into the back story of Poe's real life: How he was a man of the south living in Philadelphia, and his feeling of not fitting in with the swankier literary crowd — Combs even offers that perhaps Poe was seen as "southern white trash". They also go into the fact that he was an orphan, how he lost all the women in his life from his mother to his wife, his problem with alcohol and so on.


It's a truly educational commentary — and best of all are Combs' "ugh!" sounds in the gory spots which seem born of genuine squeamishness!


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Reviewed by Staci Layne Wilson

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