Film Review: The Black Cat (1981) - Lucio Fulci's Film Editing Analysis #1

Updated: Sep 13, 2020

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FILE PHOTO: A Poster of THE BLACK CAT (1981 film). ©Selenia Cinematografica S.r.l.
FILE PHOTO: A Poster of THE BLACK CAT (1981 film). ©Selenia Cinematografica S.r.l.

Dir. Lucio Fulci (1927-1996) was and still is the best horror genre filmmaker for his extremely realistic approach to the expression of 'splutter', 'giallo' violence and supernatural horrors during the late 1970s to early 1980s. His best film is the biggest international breakthrough Zombi2 (1979). Fulci was like Sergio Leone (1929-1989) an ex marxist in Italy who studied filmmaking. Their films have actual influences of Soviet films.

Fulci's Aesthetics: Torturing Realism and Art

Fulci's realism is the best among all horror films. He always sticked to reality. Some actors and critics asked him about his brutal torturing realism on acting and special make up, then he answered ''reality is necessary because it is art.'' Reality for art is core of his aesthetics, thus it is ridiculous to separate art and genre efforts.

Under NEP policy in cinema, Soviet enjoyed the various types of filmmaking during 1920s.What I have to do is to analysis and learn more useful creative achievements of their filmmaking. And apply it in our present filmmaking and related cultural activities. Soviet art tradition must continue. Today's Chinese blockbuster films followed and developed the Socialist Realism policy of Soviet Union. It correctly used the power of genre filmmaking under global capitalist environment for their Chinese socialist cause. Exploiting capitalist art achievements is a must.

One of great contributors to his film success was the remarkable screenwriter Dardano Sacchetti who had worked with Fulci since 1977 until 1983. Furthermore, the other one must be the film editor Vincenzo Tomassi (1937-1993) who had edited Lucio films since The Eroticist (1972) to Touch of Death (TVM, 1991). As a professional film editor, I shall analysis some important Fulci films.

The Black Cat (1981) Full Movie

Contemporary film editing is composed by cutting concepts such as Cut, Reverse Cut, POV, Reaction, Insert, Cutaway, Sound Cut, Screen Direction Match, Eyeline Match, Angle Match, Framing Match, Shape Match, Lighting and Colour Match, Action Match, Idea Match, Sound Match, Rope Match, Mismatch, Jump Cut, Crossing the Line, Bad Cut, Dissolve, Fade In and Fade Out, White Out, Black Out, Flash Frame, SuperImposition, Wipe, Green Screen, Matte, Split Screen, Compressing Time, Smash Cut, Expanding Time, Stopping Time, Subjective Time, Flash Cut, Universal Time, Exposition, Flashback, Montage, Parallel Action, Cross Cut and Overlapping Action. Total 44 basic editorial concepts for filmmaking including TV programs, videos, CFs, PVs and MVs.

In The Black Cat (1981), Fulci used one camera for shooting, thus it is a good example of single camera editing in genre filmmaking. From the beginning, analyse some of typical Fulci touch and editorial concepts, then analyse the story structure. Fulci consciously used extreme close ups of eye moves, quick or slow zoom in and outs so many times than Sergio Leone. Eye expressions are key factors of Fulci's films.

The first victim walking from one of legendary English village house is shot by panning, and it follows his action on the street. (Fig.1) It is not a crane, Fulci used the tripod on the street. CUTs to POV handheld following shot of the black cat, it is also Cross Cut (time and space are the same; two or more action lines at the same time and space; it is noticeable with each other) to follow the movement, the joint is dealt with Screen Direction Match, and Action Match. (Fig.2) Fulci's continuity editing concept is prevailed. He is not the one who jumping around the cuts. You have to identify which editorial concept is the major dominant factor to do the edit.


In multi camera editing, single shot is done by one camera. Fulci used single camera on this film, thus cut points are basically made in single shots not two shots. We have to grab his patterned editorial solutions at the beginning. Then we can pick up some specific and irregular patterns of editing.

Italy and Japan are good at single camera filmmaking. The single camera editorial principles are basically common yet the use of close ups and various angles are far different from each other. Japan and Taiwan films are full of wider shots, not good at using close ups.

Principle 1 ''Far Distance'' : In single camera editing, far distanced wide shot can defuse discontinuity if the action itself is matched.

Principle 2 ''Far different frame size'' : If frame size is far different, it can defuse discontinuity.

Principle 3 ''Acute Angle'' : If shot angle is acute like 90 degrees or more, it can defuse discontinuity.

Principle 4: ''Frame in and out'' can defuse discontinuity.

Principle 5: If avoid shooting joints of actions, it can defuse discontinuity.

Single camera editing can not achieve mechanically complete continuity like multi-camera editing but it still can make film look like shot by multi cameras. My conclusion is that in highly indulgent film industry like Taiwan and Japan, it's pretty impossible to conduct multi camera operation due to film crews are not familiar with multi camera ops. and their impatience. However gradually many filmmakers accept multi camera ops. instead of traditional and dogmatised single camera ops.

Following the fist example above mentioned, the POV shot cuts to horizontally angled distance shot in which the man frames in. The joint is excluded, and it defused discontinuity. (Fig.3) (Fig.4)


This CUT includes principles 1 to 5, all of them were practiced in this one cut. A typical single camera operation. Then, he closes the boot of the car. ''Different frame size'' defused the discontinuity of the same action perfectly. The same action between different frame size shots is connected by relatively slow or still moment as a cut point. There is a still moment before he actually closes it. He poses the action with his left hand. This kind of Action match, Angle match cut are easy in multi camera editing. It is not multi camera work because colour and lighting are mismatched. Framing causes colour mismatch due to background. (Fig.5)


Then he drives the car, and camera pans and zooms in to the slightly opened backdoor where the black cat supposed to invade the car from it. (Fig.6) The point is that it does not shoot the man and his actions directly. The next cut is the wider front shot with far distance, thus it can be done in single camera with out any concern of discontinuity. (Fig.7)


From Fig.1 to 7, basically all single camera editing concepts were used. The next car shot is not part of some kind of montage, it can be said as part of exposition. Just CUTs to the next set of shots.

The sets of shots compose sequences and certain expressions. The next set of shots is ''attack of black cat in the car,'' which causes the ''car crush.'' Extreme close ups of eye moves and its ECP's REVERSE CUTs are Fulci's signatures. Extreme close up can defuse discontinuity because it only shows some part of action to avoid discontinuity of joints. Also it can cut to the different scene directly after that. Insert and cutaways are similar to this effect. (Fig.8, 9, 10)


It repeats two times of reverse cuts in the same way. Then, cutaway to his uncontrolled hands on the handle. Cutaway is separated thus it can cut to any shots. In this set, the cutaway is not meaningless it shows paralysation of his hands, a result of the hypnosis of the black cat on him. Meaningless cutaways must be avoided like this. Reverse angle also can defuse discontinuity. (Fig.11, 12)


''Car Crush'' is a set of separated shots. If this is done in multi-camera operation, Fulci would not have used the double zoom outs. Zoom in and out are alternatives to multiple cameras. The high angled full shot of the car crush cuts to the man who pushed out of the front car glass. (very cinematic and shocking for audience than ordinary accident expression that a victim is just sitting or bending on the handle), then cuts back to the wider shot of it, CU insert of the flare, cuts to the side angle shot which is a wide shot from the left side of the car. These shots are separated. Then, Fulci made two different size zoom out shots start from the burning body of the victim. Double zoom outs are rarely seen in films. (Fig.13-19)


Later we find this zoom in and out are POV of the black cat which caused the accident. Fulci's sensitivity on eye expression is superior than any other horror film directors. Different speed of zoom in and outs are even used in POVs and ECU reverse cuts in intensified scenes. This is his most typical solutions to the realistic expression of violence and thriller. Like Kenji Mizoguchi (1898-1956), making single camera editing look like multi camera work is our goal.

The Black Cat (1981) basically not completely follows the original novel Edgar Allan Poe's The Black Cat (1843). Fulci borrowed the situation in which detectives find buried alive victim on the wall however the motif of asphyxia and its suffrage are repetitively used throughout the film.

The Black Cat (1981)'s inciting incident is not the car accident. It is just an exposition. The inciting incident is when couple of young man Stan and his girlfriend Maureen Grayson (Daniela Doria) are asphyxiated in the boathouse. The story really develops when Lillian Gayson (Dagmar Lassander) calls the local police to investigate on their missing case. End of Act 1 is the American photographer Jill Trevers (Mimsy Farmer) finds the the cat scratch on the dead body of local man named Ferguson (Bruno Corazzari) who scared to fall out of the beam in a barn house by the black cat. It reminds her encounter with rambling old house owner Robert Miles (Patrick Magee) who also scratched by the black cat when Jill visits him.

Robert Miles (Patrick Magee) is an owner of the black cat and paranoia who thinks possessed by the black cat. However audience is not allowed to judge the real antagonist between the owner and its cat. Curse of the black cat or Robert Miles' black magic caused everything? In fact, both are the antagonists. Decentralisation among protagonists and antagonists are main feature of this Fulci master piece. Conflict between antagonist Robert Miles and the black cat causes vagueness of responsibility on these murders. however this is alternative to ordinary narrative structure.

Beside this, Jill Trevers (Mimsy Farmer) and newly arrived Inspector Gorley (David Warbeck)'s protagonist roles are also decentralised and both of them are victimised by Robert Miles and black cat. There is no strong and superman-like protagonist in this film as the result, every protagonist shares their weakness and heroic actions.

In ACT2, Lillian Gayson (Dagmar Lassander) asks Miles to find Stan and his girlfriend Maureen Grayson by his psychic power. Later at night, the black cat causes fire at her home and Mrs. Grayson is dead.

Midpoint is the following day when Jill realises major suspect is Miles, she visits and shows him the photos of the cat scratches on victims. Miles clams he is possessed by the black cat. The rest of ACT2 is Miles kills the black cat, then the black cat tries to kill Inspector Gorley (David Warbeck). This is the most intensified moment in the entire film. It marks end of ACT2.

ACT 3 is after the incident of Inspector Gorley (David Warbeck), Jill sneaks into Miles' house and trapped and buried alive in the wall. Finally Inspector Gorley who guesses Jill's whereabouts finds her in the wall when he and his colleagues hear cry of the black cat in the wall.

The Black Cat (1981) actually has its three act structure but it highly depends on guess and supernatural devices. However it also shows audience some alternative narrative to the Poe's original novel and ordinary story telling custom.


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