Countdown: Masters of Horror: The Black Cat

I was discussing the anniversary of Edgar Allan Poe’s death recently, and it was suggested that I should check out this Masters of Horror episode, which I had thus far missed, a failing that I can only attribute to my somehow being ignorant that it starred Jeffrey Combs as Poe himself (and that cover art doesn’t do it any favors). Having now rectified that situation, I find that I’m somewhat at a loss for adequate words. Maybe: Wow.

Not only is this possibly the best Masters of Horror episode I’ve seen (it’s only real competition for the title being Carpenter’s first-season offering “Cigarette Burns”), but it’s also just an absolute tour de force performance from Combs. Maybe the best I’ve ever seen from him, and I’ve never seen him give a bad one. It’s the kind of performance that would have won awards if it weren’t couched in the declining episodes of a gory horror TV series.

The story blends the actual life of Edgar Allan Poe with some of his stories, most notably the titular “Black Cat.” I don’t know how much of it is accurate to Poe’s actual life (not the parts with evil cats and ax murders, I would guess), but it’s hard not to see the whole thing as a warm-up to Nevermore, whether the creators had planned it at the time or whether they realized they were on to something as they were filming the episode.

While Combs’ fantastic performance is what carries the episode, the rest of it is quality, too, with some impressive shooting by Stuart Gordon. I particularly liked the scene where the shadow of the cat followed Poe down the alley.

Unfortunately (and unavoidably, given the story) there’s some rather grisly violence to cats (and people), so if you’re squeamish about such things, I’m afraid you’d probably better give this one a pass. Otherwise, though, highly recommended.

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