Editor’s note: As one of their assignments in Introduction to Film at Oakton Community College, students were asked to attend a film at an alternative venue and write about the value of the experience. Joseph Mikhael attended The Black Cat, a horror film by Lucio Fulci, introduced by Facets staff member Michelle Zaladonis on October 15. For those of us who work hard to present the midnight movies here at Facets, it is nice to hear from the other side of the podium.
So I gave up a cool Friday night to attend a midnight movie at Facets Multi-Media. What did I sacrifice to attend this venue? Well, first I could have gotten together with friends to drink away my paycheck on beer and alcohol at a local bar or dance club. Not to mention the overpriced cover charge I would have paid to walk into the place. Instead I decided to watch The Black Cat directed by Lucio Fulci. Did I make the right decision? Well, of course, hindsight is 20/20, but I got to say I did make the right call. Not only for the possibility of earning extra credit points on my assignment but to experience something that I never have before.
I admit that I watch movies at the multi-plexes almost all the time, and the experience there is not so great. When I usually go, it’s always the same time that the majority of other people go, so a big percentage of the population has chosen the same movie that I have. I guess I just put up with it because the movie is usually a new release, which I so dearly prefer to watch. Well, my experience at Facets Multi-Media had no similarities to the experience I so often have at the over-crowded multi-plex. Facets was just the perfect size, with fewer patrons who attend this venue.
There was an intro lecture before the movie, which you would never encounter at a multi-plex. I have to tell you that by listening to the lecture, I learned a lot about the movie before I even watched it. And, after I watched the movie, I really thought The Black Cat was surprisingly good.
So what did I learn in the lecture? First, Lucio Fulci was an Italian filmmaker who was best remembered for his gory horror films in the late ’70s to mid ’80s. Zombie 2, an unofficial sequel to Dawn of the Dead, has been designated by a majority of people as Fulci’s work of art. When Fulci was growing up he was a medical student before he began his cinematic career as a screenwriter. Then later, he worked with such Italian greats as Visconti and Antonioni and spent years working with comedy director Steno (Stefano Vanzino). Fulci wanted to make more money so he became a movie director himself, but it wasn’t until the late 1960s that Fulci aimed his cinematic career at horror and thriller movies. In moving down that path, critics showed no love for Fulci. He was even banned in some places outside Italy because most of his horror films consisted of possessed nuns, evil priests, and entries to Hell. Criticism aside, Fulci was known to open the gates for many horror directors to follow his same path in the horror genre.
Now, about the movie The Black Cat. I just loved the subjective camerawork in the beginning. If it wasn’t for the title giving it away, I would have never guessed that the viewers were following the victim from the perspective of a killer black cat. The technique was used very well, and it continued throughout the movie.
When the movie first introduced Dr. Miles, Fulci used high-contrast lighting to show that Miles had a dark, mysterious side to him, because his face was lit on only one side, with the other in shadow. I also noticed that low key-lighting was used at the beginning of every shot that began in Miles’ home. From this, I understood that the evil side of Miles was hidden within the diffused shadows. I started to think about it…Was the black cat the real killer? Some things about Dr. Miles made him untrustworthy. First, he was well known in the village for talking with the dead. Then, with Fulci’s obsession for close up shots of the characters’ eyes, I always felt like we were looking at evil whenever we saw Miles’ eyes. From the visual and narrative clues, it was then clear to me that the cat represented Miles’ evil conscience.
Miles attempted to the kill the cat many times, but the cat would just cheat death. After Miles tried to hang the cat, an exact shadow outline of the hung cat showed up a few times to Miles and Jill (the photographer). The cat shadows suggested to me that this was a doppelganger story, in which someone’s dark side must be controlling events. My thesis about the cat was proved correct when I saw the cat under bar shadows that symbolized it was imprisoned by the evil conscience of Miles. At the end, Miles was arrested and the black cat lived on. This is why I thought The Black Cat was surprisingly good. At first I thought I was going to waste my time watching a movie about a killer black cat but then I learned that it wasn’t the cat that was bad but the evil conscience of a human being…wow!
Now that I know where Facets Multi-Media is located, maybe I can experience a similar program again. I advise many people to come out and watch a movie at Facets. I think it’s a nice place to go to actually learn about a movie in addition to watching it for entertainment. It kills me to hear that a lot of people don’t really care about every single detail of the movies they watch. My experience at Facets was not merely the entertainment value of watching a great movie like The Black Cat, but it was a darn good educational one.
— Joseph Mikhael