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Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Day 214: Masters Of Horror: The Black Cat

Masters Of Horror: The Black Cat
Eye see you

Horror fans almost unanimously love two horror writers: H.P. Lovecraft, who is my personal favorite, and Edgar Allan Poe. Poe is one of the most celebrated authors, not just in horror and the macabre, but in general. His works have been made into countless movies, television parodies, memorabilia, and even video games. There is just something special about his stories, whether it is The Raven, The Fall Of The House Of Usher, or The Tell-Tale Heart. His work is so important that it is even taught in public schools. Up on the big screen, though, his work can be hit or miss. It's not the stories, it's the interpretation, especially when the movie includes Poe himself. John Cusack recently played Poe in “The Raven,” which told the story of a killer using Poe's stories to commit murder. It was an interesting spin and Cusack acted well. Would this Masters of Horror episode be as enjoyable?

Masters Of Horror: The Black Cat is a 2007 episode starring Jeffrey Combs (Re-Animator, FeardotCom) as Edgar Allan Poe. Poe is suffering from writer's block and running low on money. The funds he does receive in advance for his next tale go straight to alcohol. His wife Virginia (Elyse Levesque, SGU Stargate Universe, Smallville) is sick with consumption and begins coughing up blood. Poe is frantic to come up with a new story, but cannot overcome his writer's block. He becomes frustrated with the intrusion of Virginia's black cat, Bluto, who constantly meows and hisses at him. As Virginia's condition worsens, Poe takes his frustration out on Bluto, who has killed their fish and Poe's pet bird. He grabs the cat and cuts out it's eye with the pocket knife. Virginia succumbs to her sickness and passes away. In utter despair, Poe hangs Bluto and sets fire to his house so he can die with Virginia's body. She miraculously awakens and they escape the fire, moving to a small apartment. Their woes continue, compounded by the apparent reappearance of Bluto who died in the fire. Poe's sanity starts to slip due to his writer's block and the return of the cursed cat. What will happen to Poe and Virginia?

Cat's all, folks

This edition of Masters Of Horror puts an interesting twist on the classic Poe story, including the author himself in it. The problem with having a historical figure in movies is that you know how things are going to end. Much like in Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, you know what is going to happen with the main character. The only movie to pull the old switcheroo with an historical figure was Inglorious Basterds, which was a surprise, but didn't make the movie any better. The movie follows Poe's story fairly well, getting in all the important parts. There is a decent amount of action and the fear throughout the movie focuses more on tradition horror than lots of blood or violence. I didn't like the violence towards animals, though. It's hard to watch Poe hurt the cat, even if it is just movie magic.

The performances in the episode really make the story work. Jeffrey Combs is great as Edgar Allan Poe, even trying for a slightly Southern accent. He captures Poe's drunken descent and frantic style very well. Elyse Levesque is quite beautiful and plays Virginia very well. She is a believable sympathetic character and is a good juxtaposition to Combs' manic ways. Director Stuart Gordon (Masters of Horror: Dreams In The Witch-House, Dagon) has a good eye and really brings Poe's world to life. There are some creative shots that add a bizarre feel to Poe's fracturing mind which creates an overall picture of horror. The sets look very good as well as the clothes. For a television show, this episode has a big screen feel.

"This never would have happened with a dog!"

The Black Cat is enjoyable for Poe fans and non-fans alike. Historically, you have a pretty good idea of what is or is not going to happen and that may take away some of the enjoyment. That's the risk you run when having a piece of fiction involving real people. The acting is very good and compliments the story well. There isn't a lot of action, but what we do see is entertaining. The horror has a classic feel to it, which is important considering this is a story from the 1800s. The Black Cat is one of the better Masters of Horror, thanks in part to Poe's storytelling and the solid acting.


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