Reviewed by Johnny Butane
Starring Jeffrey Combs, Elyse Levesque, Aron Tager, Christopher Heyerdahl
Directed by Stuart Gordon
Released by Starz Home Entertainment
This is the one I’d been waiting for since the first time it was announced that Stuart Gordon would be directing an episode of the first season of Masters of Horror. Originally “Dreams in the Witch House” was supposed to star Jeffrey Combs, actually, but scheduling conflicts prevented it from happening. It was worth waiting to see him knock this episode out of the proverbial park, though.
Combs plays Edgar Allan Poe, famous literary figure that really needs no introduction. Gordon had the idea to take the idea that is in Poe’s titular story, which has been filmed before many times but never close to the source, and incorporate elements of the man’s life into the overarching tale. The result is arguably one of the best things to come out of the Masters of Horror franchise and something every horror fan should seek out.
The story starts with Poe being assigned to write another ghoulish story like “The Tell-Tale Heart” which was a big hit for the Pennsylvanian newspaper he was being published in at the time. The problem is that Poe is striving to be seen as a respectable poet rather than a horror writer, so when he agrees to attempt the story, despite the fact that he has no idea what it would be about because he needs the money, his self-loathing is amped up to a level at which he just can’t stop drinking.
The problem with that is historically it’s known that Poe couldn’t write when he was drunk. His young wife is soon diagnosed with TB, coughing blood everywhere and suffering a very slow death, which just adds to his disquiet and makes it even more difficult to come up with a useable tale. Insanity soon begins to reign in his small life, especially so when his wife passes away and it just gets worse and worse as he starts to see his wife’s cat as the cause of all his problems and feels he has no option other than to end its life.
Gordon and long time writing partner Dennis Paoli do such a brilliant job making the story of “The Black Cat” run concurrent to actual events in Poe’s life. You can really tell these two did a ton of research to get it right and it’s hard to tell what’s based on his life and what’s from the story if you’re not familiar with it, which to me is just another sign of how great a job the duo did.
Of course, extra attention needs to be paid to Jeffrey Combs as Poe. His study of the man is as spot-on as we could imagine is possible (since no one living actually knew him) but his look is just amazing. The only thing they really did was add a prosthetic nose (which is, unfortunately, pretty obvious makeup) and give him a wig, more for control than anything else. The mannerisms, the speech, the internal turmoil that is nearly constantly running across his face; this really is one of Combs’ best roles to date and I sincerely hope he’s given due recognition for it someday.
All right, so what about the DVD? Like the rest of the discs from the second season of Masters, it’s a bit bereft of extras but what there is is hearty enough.
”The Tell-Tale Cat: The Making of The Black Cat” is a 20-minute behind-the-scenes look at the filming of the episode, featuring interviews with all the stars as well as Gordon (no Paoli, sadly). Nothing too groundbreaking is revealed, but it’s a fun time-waster if you’re looking to learn a bit more about “The Black Cat”.
”Bringing Down the Axe” is a 7-minute glimpse at how most of the digital and makeup effects were done. Again, nothing too fun but it’s always great to see Howard Berger discuss how the makeup works, since he’s like a kid in a candy story most of the time.
But the gem of the disc is the commentary; Stuart Gordon and Jeffrey Combs talking up Poe (for the most part) and the episode for nearly an hour is worth the price of the disc alone. The two have known one another for so long that their rapport is totally natural and has the air of just two good friends discussing something they love doing. More of this, please.
Other features include the original script and some trailers for upcoming AB releases.
So what more do you need to know? “The Black Cat” is a great episode, filled with nightmarish imagery and the kind of bloodshed you expect from Stuart Gordon, while at the same time maintaining a sweeping love story and an examination of one of the literary world’s greatest writers. What’s not to love?
5 out of 5
4 out of 5
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