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Black Cat, The (1965)/Fat Black Pussycat, The (1963)

Directed By Harold Hoffman/Harold Lea
Something Weird DVD

THE FILMS
“The Shoes Of Nude Murder Victim Are Still Missing!” That’s a newspaper headline from The Fat Black Pussycat. I should mention that this particular scene appears only in the outtakes. The outtakes. Do I have your attention yet?

You may have passed up this obscure double feature a few times, thinking to yourself, “It looks just great, but there’s so much I want to see.” Sound about right? If so, we’re in the same boat. Like an imbecile, I figured that a deuce of kitty-cat horror would come off as average at best. Big mistake. While The Black Cat is a stylish little curio on its own, the magnificent beatnik-gore pastiche known as The Fat Black Pussycat is a divine secret from the gods, just for you.

Although it’s second billed on the disc, Pussycat necessitates first dibs. The entire film works a little like this: an incredibly simple plot (mad killer on the loose) gets thrown through the ringer with dozens of off-the-wall tangents and eccentricities, making for a thoroughly entertaining melting pot of beat-era haze. Edie Eichorn is dead, “attacked by a sex fiend!” Two detectives, Dave and Ed, are hot on the trail, making their first stop at The Fat Black Pussycat Cafe, where poetry-flaunting hipsters all make the scene. That’s the basic jumping-off point. From there, the detectives chase after leads as murders pile up. Dave falls for an anthropologist named Janet Lynd and Ed substitutes his parking laws for some throw-down improv. We meet lots of unrelated characters and witness some outrageous kill scenes, complete with Hershey’s Syrup gore. Could this be the very first appearance of a killer’s-point-of-view-while-breathing-heavily shot? I think so! The cigarettes burn, the music never stops, and the beatnik over-acting will have you on the floor. Eventually, things tie up in a ludicrous, psycho-sexual babble that’ll put circles under your eyes.

You’ll be happy to know that Pussycat unravels like some kind of demented laundry list, ultra-low budget and tinged with artsy-because-we-don’t-know-any-better editing. So it’s not just the “plot” that deserves heaps of applause, but distributor M.A. Ripps’s “fixer-upper” filmmaking methods as well. Ripps acquired the film, cut it to shreds, and reassembled it from scratch. Cut and paste never looked better. The sets are microscopic and everyone seems to be playing themselves, adding a most welcome off-the-cuff feel. There’s a brief inkling of intentional humor that bucks the usual eye-rolling of such intentions and actually makes things weirder. Most of the time, I wasn’t sure which way was up and I loved every minute of that confusion. Even the longer scenes of dialogue were totally engrossing, if just for bewilderment alone.

We’re not through yet. The Black Cat is no slouch. This take on Poe is just more linear and typical than Pussycat, but certainly above average. Picture a mid-period H.G. Lewis production, just with more girth and excellent photography. Plus, there are fake ‘n’ nasty scenes of kitty-cat mutilation. You won’t get that from Lugosi and Karloff.

Growing up with parents that were “nothing but trash,” Lou resides in his inherited mansion with wife Diana and their housemaid. Due to a bad childhood and daddy issues, Lou begins devoting more hours to drinking and club-hopping, and less minutes to Diana and work. Lou eventually snaps, lashing out drunkenly at his wife and their exotic pet collection. Pluto, the black cat, gets the short straw, with a gory eye gouging, hanging, and electrocution. A monkey gets coffee poured on him. An awesome mersey-beat cover band performs with eye patches. Inevitably, Lou takes things too far and is committed to Bellevue, where he undergoes unsettling shock therapy scenes. That is, if it weren’t for the hilarious over-dubbed moaning. Released from the loony-bin, Lou attempts to get back into the groove. Unsuccessfully.

The Black Cat hovers halfway between slick horror seriousness (excellent cinematography, interesting camera placement) and cheap weirdness (terrible miniatures, mismatching eye-lines, ridiculous acting). Thankfully, the inconsistencies are what make it work. For every gruesome hatchet chop or seemingly real needle injection, there’s a solid dose of generic go-go music and/or bizarre incidental music cues straight out of a Tom and Jerry cartoon. Intentional sensationalism or inspired ineptitude? Either way, I wasn’t bored.

AUDIO AND VIDEO
The prints for both films look great. The Black Cat is in widescreen and Pussycat is full frame. Aside from an initial beat-up prologue, The Black Cat lacks any serious film noise and contains rich blacks, crispy-grainy picture quality, and overly-contrasted photography. The mono sound was a bit “in the red” and muffled. Pussycat looks even crisper — a perfect example of how I’d like a low budget obscurity from 1963 to look. Nice and even, with very little scratching or blemishes. The mono sound for this one was stunning.

EXTRAS
Kicking things off, we’ve got the always appreciated Something Weird gallery of drive-in posters and ad mats, accompanied by authentic trash film radio spots. This particular gallery features spots that I hadn’t heard before and maybe even a few different posters. But don’t quote me on that. Next up is a 3 minute striptease short entitled “Margie La Mont, The Cat Girl.” Is that cat-faced underwear?! In addition to theatrical trailers for each feature, there are seven additional trailers included — all cat-themed and ranging in scope from international sexploitation to K. Gordon Murray kiddie nightmares.

Now you’re in for a treat. Remember when I mentioned the cut and paste production of Pussycat? Well, now you’ll have a chance to check out what was excised from the film in over thirty minutes of outtakes, including alternate opening and ending scenes. Most of the footage consists of boring dialogue sequences, but the alternate ending is the real gem. It’s a slow-boil trip through an abandoned old wild west amusement park called “Culver City,” climaxing with a completely different outcome. Capping everything off is an amazingly detailed insert written by Frank Henenlotter, which focuses on Pussycat’s history. A fascinating little read.

FINAL THOUGHTS
If you pass up The Fat Black Pussycat, you’re crazy. It’s an amazing slash-sex-ploito head scratcher and totally unique. Since The Back Cat certainly holds its own and the disc is packed to the whiskers with catty extras (most of them pertaining to Pussycat), this is one to add to your shelf. Immediately.