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MOH: THE BLACK CAT
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Reviewed by: Dave Murray

Directed by: Stuart Gordon

Starring:
Jeffrey Combs
Elyse Levesque
Christopher Heyerdahl

Movie:  
star star star star
Extras:  
star star star star
Overall:  
star star star star
What's it about
In this fictionalized tale that mixes the sordid life of famed horror poet and writer Edgar Allan Poe (Combs) with the events of one of his more famous stories, he battles against alcoholism, writers block, his young wife's turberculosis, and a demonic black cat who just might be his biggest inspiration in a hellish disguise! Jeffrey Combs and director Stuart Gordon (Re-Animator) re-unite for this grisly entry into the increasingly more terrifying series Masters of Horror!
Is it good movie?
I like this show, I have since the first episode. Mind you, some of the episodes have been lame, but overall Masters of Horror has pushed the envelope for what can be done with genre entertainment on the small screen. While not the most extreme example of what this show can do (that prize still goes to Takashi Miike), Gordon's The Black Cat is one of the more interesting and entertaining I've seen in what has been a great second season.

As always, Combs performance is an excellent mix of insanity and pathos, with moments of emotional intensity and mad glee. His singleminded obsession with the bottle, and with that hateful black cat, are at times scary and at others hilarious. Much like Bruce Campbell's turn in Bubba Ho-Tep, Combs pulls a chameleon job, and looks so much like poe that he is almost unrecognizable until he opens his mouth. Elyse Levesque does a passable job of playing Poe's young cousin/wife, who suffers much as Virginia Poe did in real life. The period sets of Richmond and New York are nicely done, showcasing Gordon's style of oddly angled shots and moody interiors. The cat, too, is very well done, going through the same tortures at the hands of Poe that the demonic feline does in his story.

And story is where this episode really shines, and the story here sets this adaptation of Poe's work above many others. While not only retelling one of his better stories (as countless others have done in the past), it ties them into Poe's life in a dramatic and highly entertaining way. It has elements of the later years of Poe's life: his excessive drinking, his financial woes and massive debts, his problems with being taken seriously as a poet after the popularity of his more macabre tales. Even the death of his wife is woven into the tale, with the notable example of the depiction of the first signs of her illness, when blood gushes from her mouth all over the keys of the piano she is playing. These true life elements are interwoven with the events of Poe's story "The Black Cat", which include the descent into madness by the main character, the maiming, murdering and inexplicable resurrection of the immortal cat, the supposed murder and concealment of the body in the cellar, and the discovery by the poilice of the cat-eaten corpse behind the wall, all because of the wail of the cat itself, which sounds like the cry of a young woman. All of the chilling bits of the story are there, eventually played out as an alcohol induced fever dream that inspires Poe to write the gruesome and famous story.

While I wasn't exactly thrilled with Gordon's first entry into the Masters Of Horror series (an adaptation of Lovecraft's Dreams In The Witch House), this episode is much more graphic and tight, very well scripted and nicely shot. The actors themselves carry this character driven piece, and as always it's great to see horror icon Jeffrey Combs sink his teeth into anything. This episode is indicitive of the entire second season, which raises the bar considerably higher than the first season did, and makes me hope for the future of horror on the small screen.
Video / Audio
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen - 1.78:1.

Audio: English (Dolby Digital 5.1), English (Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround) and English Closed Captioning.
The Extras
There is a very excellent Audio Commentary by Gordon and Combs, and listening to these two together shows just how well they work together. Besides I'd listen to Combs if he was reading my local newspaper, he's got such a twistedly infectious voice! Aside from a small Photo Gallery and the Script on dvd-rom, there are two Featurettes - The Tell Tale Cat: Making of the Black Cat and Bringing Down The Ax: A Look Behind The Effects. As well, there are some Trailers for other MOH and Stars releases, and the dvd cover art is gorgeously painted and fits the mood of the episode very nicely.
Last Call
While I wasn't happy at all about Anchor Bay's original decision to release the series as single episode DVD's (which they've since changed their minds about...we're getting a boxed set of Season One later this month!), what I have seen of the presentation of the episodes, with the commentaries, features and such, has been impressive. Let's hope this trend continues with the boxed sets (which, at 14 discs for one season, should be action packed as well as pricey!). The Black Cat, much like the story that inspired its madness, is a well told tale that serves as a great addition to a series that just keeps getting better and better. I'm just one of many who are eagerly waiting for another season, and possibly some more episodes from other directors, like Stuart Gordon, and of course the venerable actors like Combs, who are real Masters of Horror.
ARROW IN THE HEAD'S RATING SYSTEM
star star star star I'D BUTCHER MY FAMILY TO SEE THIS AGAIN
star star star HANG ME BUT I DUG IT A LOT
star star AN OK WAY TO KILL TWO HOURS
star JUST SLING AN ARROW IN MY HEAD AND LET ME DIE IN PEACE

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