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A woman and her daughter-in-law are raped and murdered by samurais during the time of civil war. Afterwards, a series of samurai returning from the war through that area are found mysteriously dead with their throats torn out. The governor calls in a wild and fierce young hero, to quell what is evidently a ghost. He encounters the two beautiful women, in an eerie, beautiful scene. After spiritual purification, he meets the demon in a thrilling fight. Written by
Eerie and atmospheric masterpiece from the director of Onibaba
Director Kaneto Shindô is most famous for his 1964 ghost story Onibaba; and anyone that enjoyed that film will certainly enjoy this one. The two films are very similar in style, and that's a good thing for both as the thick and surreal atmosphere created by the director creates a perfect atmosphere for a horror story to take place in. The title of the film translates in English to 'The Black Cat' - a staple of the horror genre ever since Edgar Allen Poe penned his classic story; although this film has nothing to do with the writings of Poe and is an original story written by the director. The film takes place in feudal Japan and our focus is on a mother and daughter-in-law living alone in the swamp. Its war time and all the samurais are out fighting. However, one day a group of them happen on the pair and after eating their food, the samurai's rape the women. Shortly thereafter, many samurai are being found dead in the area; they are drained of blood with their throats ripped out. Naturally the lord of the land comes to the conclusion that a monster is behind it, and sends a young hero to deal with the problem.
Kaneto Shindô is keen to fill his film with rich symbolism and striking visuals; but also finds time for some visceral horror. The opening scenes are shocking and later the films builds into some truly memorable and surreal sequences that, when combined with the atmosphere, do manage to be quite frightening. The swamp location is a really great place for the film to take place also; and the director makes the best of it, especially during the parts in which the younger of the two women is leading the stray samurai's to their death. The film is more than just the central story; and we also follow things going on around it; such as the eventual hero's fight that earned him the right to seek out and kill the demons. The central story is definitely the most interesting, however, and while the sub plots are not boring; I did mostly find myself waiting for the film to get back on track. The way that the story builds into the end, which really brings all the stray subplots together, is really good and the film ends on a very strong note. Overall, The Black Cat is not quite as great as the director's masterpiece Onibaba; but it's certainly a very good horror film.
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