The More Cat In the Brains, The Merrier! (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

Admit it, whenever you first heard the title of Lucio Fulci's Cat In the Brain, you never would've expected this film to actually deliver you the image of a cat in a brain. Whatever criticism you may have of this film, you gotta admit, Fulci delivered. Today's film is a high concept but low shelf entry in the Fulci catalog. It's fun, got of lot of cheesy gore, plus you could say Wes Craven ganked the basic idea for his New Nightmare film years later. And it's been issued a number of times on DVD around the world. But that was capped pretty thoroughly when Grindhouse released a fairly definitive 2-disc set in 2009. But I still hang onto my old, banned Astro-Film DVD, which goes under the title Nightmare Concert. And we're going to find out why as we look back at Cat In the Brain...

Update 3/28/15 - 7/20/16 - 5/29/18: More cats in more brains!  First the Grindhouse blu-ray upgrade, and now 88 Films has just released a brand new edition of this crazy Fulci oddity over in the UK.
So one of the appeals of this film is that Fulci himself stars in it. He's often given himself little cameo roles in his film, as a cop or a coroner with a line or two of dialogue. But here he stars, as essentially himself: a horror movie director played by gruesome nightmares inspired by the scenes of his own films. And what's worse - the murders he's dreaming may actually be happening around him? Is he going insane? Or is some mysterious murderer out there somewhere, copying his films? Find out as Fulci reuses a whole bunch of old movies and stitches them together into one, semi-coherent narrative. That's right, instead of filming new murder scenes for his movie like most people do, he just uses clips of other movies' murders and cuts them into the movie. How cheap! Fortunately, Fulci is charming, and he does put in some genuine effort to match his newly shot footage of himself with the scenes from the old films. So while you'd never rank this anywhere near his best films, it does make for a bemusing watch.
From the opening credits of Bloody Psycho
Specifically, the films cut into Cat In the Brain include two directed by Fulci himself: The Ghosts of Sodom and Touch of Death, and an Andrea Bianchi film he produced called Massacre. But the other four are films he was less officially responsible for: The Broken Mirror, Hansel & Gretel a.k.a. Never Hurt Children - the only film directed by one of Cat's co-writers, Giovanni Simonelli, Escape From Death and Bloody Psycho, both of which were also written by Simonelli.  All four of those latter films were released under the heading "Lucio Fulci Presents," and in two of them, he's listed in the credits as "Supervised by."  So it's hard to say exactly how much of those films he was or wasn't responsible for behind the scenes, but I guess enough that he felt comfortable re-purposing them here.

Oh, and did I say the Astro-Film disc was "banned?" Yes, a bunch of the films they released were banned in their home country of Germany, and the head of the company was even arrested and imprisoned. That's pretty terrible, since they were just releasing old 80s horror movies - bloodier than some, but not exactly shocking snuff films or anything.
1) 2001 German Astro-Film DVD 2) 2009 US Grindhouse DVD
3) 2016 US Grindhouse blu 4) 2018 UK 88 Films blu
Okay, first the DVDs. Both discs claim to present the film in the correct aspect ratio of 1.66:1, but the Astro-disc is really closer to 1.47:1, so you can see the framing is noticeably different in the second set of shots. Almost as importantly, if not more so, the Grindhouse disc is anamorphic and pillarboxed, while Astro's disc is a smaller, non-anamorphic image floating in a windowbox. The image quality shifts around a bit as the film jumps between film clips spliced from other movies; but the Grindhouse's HD restoration is always substantially superior to the Astro disc. I mean, those comparisons speak for themselves. The colors, the lighting, everything. Even the flecks and scratches (like the white mark on the guy's cheek in the top shot) have been cleaned up on Grindhouse's disc.
Grindhouse DVD vs. Grindhouse blu
But now, seven years later, Grindhouse has upgraded their DVD to a new HD blu. It's sharper. Though the grain looks a little blocky and uneven.  And considering this isn't one of Grindhouse's new 4k or even 2k scans, yeah, I see what people have been kvetching about. Still, this is a blu-ray, and doesn't have the muddying compression of SD. So it is a definite upgrade over the DVD (it also squeezes in a pinch more vertical information), just not as big of one as we might've hoped for from Grindhouse. But given that this film is a hodgepodge of old, lesser quality filmstock, I can also understand why they might not've seen much value in paying for a high-end scan. Even with a new 4k pass, I doubt we'd be seeing much new detail or anything. It's not like there's a button you could push to make this film look like Lawrence Of Arabia that they're neglecting to push.

And 88's blu?  Clearly they're using the same master, but that doesn't mean the transfers are strictly identical.  They're both presented in 1.65:1 and the quality of detail and all is the same, but even without clicking through to see the screenshots full-sized, the difference in color-timing should be clear.  Grindhouse leans more greenish/ yellow, whereas 88 goes to the more blue/ red end of the scale.  Actually, 88's color-timing is similar to Grindhouse's DVD rather than their blu.  And I think I might slightly prefer it.  A slim distinction to be sure, but Grindhouse's blu looks a little overly orange to me compared to 88's new edition.

At least the blus mean we've gotten an audio upgrade from Dolby 2.0, which both the Astro and Grindhouse DVD had, to the original mono in DTS-HD (Grindhouse) or LPCM (88) tracks. And both blus and the Grindhouse DVD give you the option of English or Italian audio (Astro only has English and a German dub), with English subs.
Now when Grindhouse came out with their DVD, they only stepped it up with the transfer, but they brought us a whole second disc worth of extras, mostly in the form of some very in-depth interviews. There are two 40+ minute interviews with Fulci (which are really one long interview split into two parts) and a 46 minute one with Brett Halsey, who wound up in this film only by way of his starring in Touch of Death. There are also three very brief interviews with Jeofrey Kennedy, Sacha Maria Darwin and Malisa Longo, all of which are taken from the Paura: Lucio Fulci Remembered Volume 1 DVD. Besides those and a collection of trailers (including Cat In the Brain's), there are a couple easter eggs with additional footage of Fulci at conventions and clips of Halsey commenting on some of his other films. It also comes with a substantial booklet and a very cool lenticular 3D cover.

But Astro-Film has a 35 minute unique extra of its own, which is why I hang onto it. Basically, it's a menu screen with links to a clips from the films that were cut into Cat, showing you a reminder of how it was seen in this movie and then showing you how the scenes played in their original context immediately after. Unfortunately, they only use the German audio, bu this is still a very cool feature, and I'm surprised Grindhouse didn't attempt something like this on their disc. Because the clips inserted into Cat weren't just dropped in as whole chunks that play exactly like they did in the old films. Fulci edits himself into these scenes (well, some more than others), so they're new and different. And even if Grindhouse couldn't actually show you the long portions of the other films like this disc does (understandable... something tells me Astro pulled it off only because they were operating outside copyright law), they could've at least done something to talk about which clips were edited into Cat and what those films were about. That just seems like a very essential issue for understanding and appreciating Cat In the Brain that really ought to be in a special edition.  And to be fair, Grindhouse does this in text in their booklet.  But obviously that's nowhere near the same as actually seeing all the footage.

Oh, and the Astro-Film disc has the trailer, too.
But while Grindhouse's new blu-ray may've been underwhelming in the transfer department, they did step things even further up in the special features department. First of all, everything from their DVD is back, including the Easter eggs, Paura clips, everything. It has an equivalent booklet (which does a nice job covering each of the film's Fulci inserted into Cat), but instead of a lenticular cover, in comes in a glow in the dark slipbox [right], and also includes the soundtrack CD and a bonus portrait of Lucio. But besides the superfluous, they've also added some substantial new content to the second disc of extras. Because this is such an unusually constructed film, the interview I was most looking forward to was with co-writer, Antonio Tentori, and he does not disappoint. He talks for 27 minutes, answer many of our long-held Cat In the Brain questions. Then there are all new interviews with cinematographer Sandro Grossi, Fabio Frizzi, They also uncovered another vintage Fulci interview, this time a 1987 radio one with Tentori. And there's a clip of Frizzi performing Cat's main theme live in Hollywood in 2015. And finally, there's the familiar round of Grindhouse bonus trailers. Interestingly, they again included Pigs, even though that wound up coming out from Vinegar Syndrome.

And what does 88 bring to the table?  Well, this is interesting, actually.  They don't have all of Grindhouse's stuff, but they do have an all-new, original 45-minute documentary.  It's primarily critic-driven instead of participant-driven, but you can hardly fault them there, considering some of the key players are no longer with us.  Like, getting Simonelli to talk about the merger of his own work into this new script he wrote would've been great, but sadly, he passed on in 2007.  And 88 does get the most important person they could've: Tentori.  Then the critics/ scholars on hand are Calum Waddell of course, Mikel J. Koven, the very controversial Allan Bryce and the ever endearing Kim Newman.
But what's also interesting about this doc is that it's not just about Cat, but Fulci's later-period films in general.  This means we get to hear some pretty interesting stuff, not covered in other pre-exisitng special editions.  We get serious discussion of films like Door To Silence and Sodoma's Ghost.  Unfortunately, no, they don't take the time to cover all the "Lucio Fulci Presents" films, which would've been perfect here since they're all featured in Cat In the Brain.  But it means we get to hear Tentori talk about his work on Demonia (for instance, he points out some interesting Lovecraft influences I'd never noticed), which again, is only covered here, since there are no Demonia discs with Tentori interviews on them.  There's some good Aenigma talk, too, which is a little odd that 88 didn't use that for their Aenigma disc; but we've got it now, so it's all good.  And yes, there's plenty of Cat In the Brain coverage, too.  This isn't one of those features like the Caroline Munro interview on 88's The Last Horror Film, where The Last Horror Film isn't even mentioned and they just slapped it on there because they happened to have it.  You'll learn plenty about Cat In the Brain here.  My only wish is it could've been longer to include Fulci's TV movies (I kept waiting for House of Clocks) and his "Presents" titles; and you know you've got something good when you're when your only complaint is that you want more.

Besides that, 88's release (#39 in their Italian Collection line, by the way) features the same video of Frizzi performing the Cat theme that was on the Grindhouse blu, plus the theatrical trailer.  It features reversible artwork, a booklet with notes by Calum Waddell, which quotes the doc and takes some serious jabs at giving a more intellectual understanding of the thinking behind this film.  Plus, the first 300 copies pressed come in a limited edition slipcover.
I think the difference in color timing is just going to come down to a judgement call of personal taste, so essentially either blu will present you with a definitive viewing of the film.  So it really comes down to the special features.  For me, Grindhouse's blu-ray extras made it more than worth double-dipping on the Grindhouse DVD for.  And 88's combines with Grindhouse's to make an even more satisfying, full special edition (since 88's doc covers so many of Fulci's other films, there's not a lot of repetition between each label's extras) if you're a big enough fan.  If you're just more casually interested in the film, either blu will probably do just as well, so you can just get whichever is more convenient in your region.  But I have to say, it's pretty damn having the ultimate Astro-Grindhouse-88 mega edition of this crazy flick.  😸

3 comments:

  1. Saw this crazy flick some years ago at an arthouse theatre playing weird stuff for Halloween. Basically it was just a slasher flick spoofing other slasher flicks---it was also weird with some disturbing scenes (like the one where this guy crawls into bed over a woman and smacks her for absolutely no reason.) I also remember a scene where some dudes were walking around in Nazi costumes, and it seemed like every time I'd briefly nod off and wake up, someone was screaming and getting their head chopped off over and over again. It wasn't all that great, but not having seen many Fulci flicks, of even a lot of Italian horror flicks made after the '80s, it was really a crazy-ass making-no-sense flick to watch.

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    1. I think I might have seen a cat in the film too, but I don't recall one being in anybody's brain or anything like that,lol.

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    2. Ha ha! The cat in the brain image actually does appear in the film, though they don't try to suggest it's literally happening.

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