The cult section of the literary world

Bizarro World Cinema 2: A CAT IN THE BRAIN aka NIGHTMARE CONCERT (Un gate nel cervello – 1990), directed by Lucio Fulci

“Sadism, carnage, brutality, lust and utter psychosis delivered as only Fulci can!” 

– CLIVE BARKER on A CAT IN THE BRAIN. 

From Fellini to Sergio Leone and beyond, Italian cinema has had a great tradition of gloriously visceral, grandiose and stylish storytelling.

When it comes to the genre of Italian horror cinema there are two names that tower above the rest – Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci.

Mr. Fulci is commonly known as the goriest filmmaker who ever lived.

With a wicked, pitch black sense of humour, he achieved notoriety for his early cinematic attacks on the Catholic church (which he hated with a passion) and then again with his later gore epics of the 70’s and 80’s. He was briefly blacklisted and despised in his homeland and worked amidst controversy his whole career for going places no other horror film director had gone before him.

Infamous for his use of flamboyant imagery, graphic gore/sexuality and moody atmospherics, Fulci was often labelled a sensationalist. His films were both hailed and reviled. Yet not unlike his main competitor Argento, Fulci’s works were actually intelligently crafted and displayed a fearless technical experimentation. They also made effective use of vivd imagery and pure cinematic style even if this often meant the complete abandonment of logical narrative structure and basic storytelling conventions.

Today I’m going to be talking about Lucio Fulci’s late demented opus to the genre he mastered over a career that spanned thirty years and produced over fifty seven films.

1991’s A Cat in the Brain aka Nightmare Concert, is a pitch black gore comedy presented within the meta framework of a film within a film.

Made only six years before his tragic death, A Cat in the Brain is definitely his most personal film and probably his most bizarre.

The story is very much ahead of its time for what is essentially a cheap gore flick.

A splatterfilm director (Lucio Fulci, playing himself, an adorable performance really) is stalked by a crazed serial killer who is modelling his gruesome murders after gory death scenes from Fulci’s own films.  Poor Lucio begins to be haunted by blood-soaked nightmare visions that slowly cause him  to question his own sanity and the morality of the gruesome art he is compelled to create. Fulci runs to his psychiatrist for help but it seems the good old doctor has even more problems than our favourite horror film director. It’s not long before dead prostitutes begin to show up with missing body parts and Fulci begins to suspect the German producers of his latest film are actually Nazis. Things quickly (very quickly) unravel into a nonsensical barrage of visceral splatter and nightmarishly sexual murder set pieces.

The title of the film is a play on Dr. Seuss’ “The Cat in the Hat” and refers to Fulci’s perceived madness and is explicitly illustrated within the film over the title credits displaying an obviously fake cat munching away on human brains. The original script was only 49 pages long and contained no dialogue. It consisted only of descriptions of bodily mutilations and imagery and the sound effects that would compliment them on screen. This loose approach to storytelling is obvious in the almost completely nonsensical structure of the film. Essentially this is a movie composed of a number of loosely connected montages of Fulci showing off what he does best.

A Cat in the Brain is absolutely bug-shit crazy. If you’ve ever seen a Fulci film you probably know what to expect from the man. All of his infamous tropes are on full display here but he has ratcheted everything up another level. I get the feeling that this movie in particular is a response to the constant criticisms aimed at Fulci throughout his career. It’s a maggot covered middle finger to all of those who denounced his work as utter trash.

It’s by no means his best film, but the sheer weirdness of it all almost makes it one of his most enjoyable. Amongst other outrageousness he stages there is a gestapo-orgy (complete with a Nazi shooting a billiard ball between a naked woman’s legs), a cannibalistic chainsaw murder, a grotesque fat man nibbling on a woman’s breasts (lots of blood covered breasts actually), a zombie in a wheelchair being thrown down stairs in slow motion, many, many beheadings (including that of a child), a head in the microwave explosion and the aforementioned cats eating human brains.  Apparently many events in the film are based on his experiences as a filmmaker. This has me slightly concerned.

A lot of footage was recycled from other Italian horror films and this somewhat dampens the experience as these scenes stand out horribly amongst the originally shot footage. The added scenes come from Fulci’s own Il fantasma di Sodoma (The Ghosts of Sodom, 1988) and Quando Alice rupee lo specchio (Touch of Death, 1988) as well as Mario Bianchi’s Non aver pair della zia Marta (Don’t be afraid of Aunt Martha, 1988), Leandro Lucchetti’s Bloody psycho (1989), Andrea Bianchi’s Massacre (1989) and Giovanni Simonelli’s Hansel e Gretel (Never Hurt Children! 1990).

As I said earlier, I don’t think this is his best film by far (for his masterpieces see Don’t Torture a Duckling (1971), Zombi (1979), City of the Living Dead (1980) or The Beyond (1981)) but for one hell of a bizarre film experience you can’t go past A Cat in the Brain. It’s shlocky, non-sensical and tasteless but these are the very same things that make it an original and outrageous entry into Bizarro World Cinema. One more thing to note is that there is a brilliant scene in which Fulci somewhat recreates the infamous finale of The Beyond (1981) complete with awesome theme music by his frequent collaborator Fabio Frizzi.

Frizzi also did the theme music for A Cat in the Brain and like most Italian horror films this one has an incredible soundtrack. For fans of such things I’ve included a link to the theme music below.

Luci Fulci only directed three more films before passing away on March 13, 1996 at the age of 68. He was a serious diabetic most of his adult life and he inexplicably forgot to take his insulin before going to bed. Some consider his death a suicide, others an accident, but his many fans consider it to be a tragedy. Whether he was a hack or a genius theres no denying he was an original and provocative cinematic voice who changed the world of horror cinema forever.

A CAT IN THE BRAIN TRAILER – 1990

A CAT IN THE BRAIN THEME MUSIC – Fabio Frizzi.

-Billy Hysteria

Melbourne, Australia

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