The Fat Black Pussycat/Review

From The Grindhouse Cinema Database

< The Fat Black Pussycat
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Amongst the beatniks of 1960’s New York City lurks an alleged bisexual killer…who may or may not share a psychic connection with cats. Confused? So are our heroes - a pair of ‘square’ cops who don’t so much go undercover to infiltrate the hip scene, but rather go on a lost weekend bender in hopes of finding the killer. One gets laid while the other finds praise as a cafe poet and mysteriously the Police Captain’s pet cat appears to be seen at each of the murders. Is this suppose to be a literal occurrence or a visual metaphor? The cat is also referred to as the titular name at one point, but there’s also a strip club bearing the same title as well. So, what does it all mean? I don’t know, but thankfully we have a television newscaster who pops in periodically to explain and help the audience follow this incredibly strange murder mystery.

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Shot on location in Greenwich Village, this authentically NYC indie film experience (complete with an obligatory rooftop chase) is a wild ride filled with humor, wit (“some of my best friends are existentialists”), and loads of bizarre entertainment. From the shocking nude murder title shot of the very first frame to the explanation speeches on psychology and medical science by non-actors who repeatedly can’t stop looking at the camera, this little movie is insanely entertaining. Admittedly, the unusual title attracted me and I was initially disappointed that this wasn’t a blacksploitation picture. Instead we have a gem of the beatnik genre, itself I find to be an offshoot of ‘teensploitation’ pictures and this one easily slides in right alongside Roger Corman’s A Bucket of Blood (1959) or the excellent Beat Girl (1960) from across the pond.

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Although the film does have so much humor, there still is a definite flirtation with psycho-sexual hang-ups - especially crossdressing killers. I like to think Fat Black Pussy Cat takes Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) and carries it toward William Friedkin’s notorious Cruising (1980) via the mind of Ed Wood, Jr. or John Waters with its mad glimpse into the perverted world of homicidal sexual deviants. Like those two movies, this one too features killers who find erotic associations with clothing as a deliberate choice to reinforce their homicidal intentions. This is all very intriguing and quite unexpected for a cheap black and white murder mystery.

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Sometimes this movie is so crudely put together that when a stylish or well-executed sequence does occur, it is surprising and impressive. For instance, all of the murder scenes are incredibly well-edited with rich strange imagery - a stylish motif of physical violence against the nude female form which begs the question of whether or not the filmmakers knew what they were doing at all. Was there deliberate technique or are these simply happy accidents? There are numerous one-way telephone conversations where the audience is not only denied the sound of the other participant, but the actual footage as well. This makes for a very boring scene and it happens more than once. There’s also a sequence or two when we don’t have any sound at all, but rather stock music to carry us through. These faults are all well and done as they are staples of cheap 1960s cinema, like shooting handheld in a public park without sound equipment because the crew doesn’t have permission to be there and speed is of the essence. However, I think there’s much more going on here with this movie than the immediate aesthetic reveals. For instance, the above mentioned newscaster who inexplicably appears halfway into the film (presumably as an economic afterthought in post production to rein-in the plot) could very well be a deliberate storytelling choice as well. After all, a hallmark of classic storytelling is the Greek chorus and is that not what is happening here?

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In summation, this movie’s insanity appears to be equal parts grace and garbage. It feels authentically enjoyable - from its outrageous title and unpredictable wandering plot, to its shocking moments of violence and sexual subversion. Fat Black Pussy Cat is a brief glimpse into the world of underground cinema where anything can happen and more often than not does happen.

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Josh Stephenson was born in Florida, schooled in Chicago, and lives in New Orleans. His mother went into labor while his father and brother were attending a theatrical double feature of EXCALIBUR and BLOOD BEACH. A youth spent in the VHS rental heyday led to a lifelong addiction to movies. He holds a BS in Television Journalism from the University of Florida and a BA in Film Editing from Columbia College Chicago. He continues to work in the Louisiana film industry despite a government-issued tax cap.
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