We suggest to you that while felines may look cute and cuddly and playfully mischievous, our suggestion is that you feed them a bit of milk and get rid of them, because cats are and always have been Satan’s familiars.
~ Rod Serling’s Night Gallery, “She’ll Be Company For You”
In a fantasy world rich with exotic and terrifying creatures, there’s a reason that cats are the unofficial mascots of the entire Halloween season…
Plain and simple.
They do what they want, when they want, how they want, for whatever reason they want. They knock things over just because they feel like it. And one second they’re all rainbows and cupcakes, purring and rubbing their face against your palm… then in the blink of an eye, you’re left nursing 37 bleeding lacerations on the back of your hand. For no good reason at all.
If you couldn’t already tell, I’m not a cat person. As Serling said, sure, they can look quite cute and cuddly, but when it comes right down to it, they can’t be trusted. I suppose no animal can entirely, but cats are something quite different than dogs. It’s in their very nature to be a**holes. Sorry, but it needed to be said.
They have no interest in pleasing anyone but themselves, they have zero respect for life, often catching and torturing smaller animals when they have no intention of eating them. This is something that goes beyond “instinct”. Animal instinct is to kill and eat to survive. Cats kill because they can and because it’s fun. They choose to behave in the manner they do, and because of this, *I* choose not to like them.
Which brings me to today’s horror-ific Halloween feature, fiends: A horror anthology/portmanteau film from 1977, this time coming out of Canada (yay, us!), called “The Uncanny”.
A joint venture between Canada and Britain, “The Uncanny” actually never saw theatrical release in the United States. It was filmed in Quebec, and stars — who else? — my favourite actor, Peter Cushing.
I recently watched this unusual and unexpected devilish dish, and you know what? It was pretty good! Not that I doubted it would be. I mean… Cushing, so…
Cushing was no stranger to horror anthology films. By the time he had lent his terrifying talents to “The Uncanny”, he’d already appeared in numerous phantasmic portmanteau pieces for Amicus Films:
- Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors (1965)
- Torture Garden (1967)
- The House That Dripped Blood (1971)
- Tales from the Crypt (1972)
- Asylum (1972)
- The Vault of Horror (1973)
- From Beyond the Grave (1974)
He stars in “The Uncanny” as Wilbur, an author who is desperately trying to get published. Because he wants to be famous? No. Because he dreams of riches and wealth? Nope. No, this shy, nervous little man believes he has discovered something that everyone needs to know: That cats are plotting to take over the world.
The publisher, Frank Richards (played by another popular British actor Ray Milland) spends an evening listening to Wilbur’s sales pitch, mildly amused by what he perceives to be the man’s eccentricity. And we, the viewers, come along for the ride. Cushing is still the consummate gentleman, presenting Richards and us with three separate tales from his book, each supposedly based on actual occurrences which the author believes are proof that felines all over the world are communicating with each other, and have controlled, manipulated and even killed in order to get revenge, either on behalf of their owners, or themselves.
And of course, Richards too has a cat, much to Wilbur’s dismay.
If you’re not familiar with what a “portmanteau” or anthology film is, it’s simply a series of separate stories told within one larger, overlying story. And I really enjoyed how well this film’s segments came together as a whole.
In this post, I’m going to spoil how the film ends, so if you aren’t into that sort of review, you’ve reached the point of no return. Consider yourself warned.
This particular anthology film has three segments, a trilogy of terror, if you will. Though instead of story titles, each one is named by location and date. The first is set in London, 1912.
This was personally my favourite segment. It’s the tale of a crazy, old, rich cat lady who is in the process of changing her will. Previously, her nephew was to be heir to her fortune. But he’s proven himself unworthy in her eyes, hence the new will: Cutting out her nephew almost entirely and instead, leaving everything she owns to her cats. Yes, to her cats. Her many, many cats. *shudders*
As it turns out, her maid is romantically involved with her nephew, and the two hatch a scheme to steal and destroy the new will. It falls on the maid to do the stealing, and of course, it goes terribly awry. Once she gets caught, the maid panics and murders the old woman in her bed.
The entire rest of the story is about how the cats take revenge on both the maid, and eventually the nephew as well — by terrorizing and then killing them both. Perhaps the best part is the gruesome (yet also glorious… no, “gore”ious? Too much? No? Yes? Probably? Okay.) shot of the old woman’s corpse after the cats have, well, eaten it. I guess they had to after trapping the maid in the pantry with all the food for three days!
In the second segment, the location shifts far west to Quebec Province, 1975. This story co-stars young actress Chloe Franks, who looked very familiar to me — six years earlier, she played in another horror anthology, and one I’ve talked about before, Amicus Films’ “The House That Dripped Blood“, this time alongside Christopher Lee in a segment titled, “Sweets to the Sweet”.
In that film, she seemed the picture of innocence. But this time, she was Angela: A raging teenage beo-tch.
After the death of her parents in a plane crash, a young girl named Lucy (played by Katrina Holden) comes to live with her aunt and uncle — Angela’s parents. Angela is immediately jealous because Lucy has a pet cat, Wellington. I guess it’s a credit to Franks’s acting abilities that her character is so mean and obnoxious in the segment that I wanted to reach through the TV screen and strangle her with my bare hands. She torments her cousin Lucy relentlessly, and does everything she can to convince her parents to get rid of poor Wellington — which they do. “The vet gave me the address of a place in town, where they do it quietly and painlessly.” When Lucy wakes up the next morning….. Wellington is gone.
This segment is SO badly dubbed that it almost makes Twilight Zone’s “The Bewitchin’ Pool” sound positively glorious by comparison. But in all honesty, the not-surprising-but-still-shocking ending more than makes up for the bad audio.
You see, Lucy’s mother dabbled in witchcraft, and some of that has rubbed off on the daughter. When Wellington magically turns up alive and well, he helps Lucy exact revenge for the cruelty she’s suffered. Lucy traps her cousin in a chalk pentagram and then proceeds to shrink her down to mouse-size. I fully expected the cat to eat her, but was pleasantly surprised when she meets her fate in a rather UNexpected manner — Lucy stands over her and very slowly crushes her underfoot. The sound effect was spot on. Crunch with just a hint of “wet”. I mean, I’m just sayin’…
The third and final segment is set in Hollywood, 1936. This one features actor Donald Pleasence, just one year before he was immortalized in a very different sort of horror film, John Carpenter’s “Halloween”.
As a fun side note, Pleasence wasn’t Carpenter’s first choice for the role of Dr. Sam Loomis. Peter Cushing was.
At 9 years old, Carpenter saw Cushing embody Victor Frankenstein in Hammer’s breakout horror film, “Curse of Frankenstein”, and he wanted Peter to play the lead protagonist in his new film. Unfortunately, Cushing’s agent was unimpressed and he turned down a role in what would become one of the most famous horror pictures of all time. Bonus fun fact: Carpenter offered the role of Dr. Loomis to Christopher Lee as well, but he also turned it down. Later Lee would say that it was the biggest mistake of his career.
Personally, I could imagine Cushing as Loomis, but definitely not Lee.
Donald Pleasence’s role in “The Uncanny” is about as different from Sam Loomis as black cats are to werewolves. He plays the ultra-dramatic silver screen star Valentine De’ath. He and his young mistress Edina have plotted to kill his actress wife by staging an on-set “accident” involving a swinging pendulum that’s straight out of Poe. Madeleine’s death means that Edina can take over her marriage AND her leading role. Valentine is thrilled, but Madeleine’s cat? Oh, not so much.
A slight pet peeve with this story… Edina keeps calling Valentine by his initials, “VD”, at one point mewling, “VD, I love you…” The problem is that every time she says it, all I could think of was “VD: Venereal Disease”. I know that’s just a “me” problem, but still, VD, really?? :P
This is without a doubt the weakest of the three stories, pushing Pleasence into a near-slap-stick performance at times.
There’s also a rather uncomfortable suggested scene where after discovering that Madeleine’s cat has had kittens, the sound effects and implications suggest that Valentine has flushed them down the toilet. Which was a disgustingly cruel and disturbing thought that I never needed to have, honestly. “As I am, in a manner of speaking, their step-father, I shall have to find them foster parents.” He takes them and walks into another room. “And baptize them by total immersion.” And then the sound of a toilet flushing. We never see or hear of the kittens again. Very distasteful, I think.
The mother cat takes great exception to this and follows the two actors to the studio where they’re rehearsing. I love how they filmed her creeping along beams, and peering down at them, watching and waiting for her moment to strike. It was shot in such a manner that the cat did look for all intents and purposes like she was stealthily stalking them, and consciously plotting out her revenge. They even show her chewing through a rope which is suspending a heavy lamp. It comes crashing down onto the stage, narrowly missing Valentine.
I was obviously rooting for the cat in this one, and in the end, she successfully kills them both.
The scene shifts back to the publisher’s house, where Cushing’s Wilbur once again implores Richards to publish his book.
“It’s here, years of research. Evidence from all over the world, proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that cats have been exploiting the human race for centuries! We think we are the masters and they are merely pets, but we’re wrong! They are the masters! And some day….”
Cushing is insistent that his book must be published to warn people of what’s going on, before it’s too late.
He leaves his manuscript for the publisher to mull over and heads home, citing that he doesn’t like to be out after dark as there are, “Too many of THEM about.”
“Years ago, people used to believe that a cat was the devil in disguise. I’m beginning to think they were right.”
He doesn’t make it far, however. Soon, every cat in the neighbourhood has him cornered and attacks. Poor Wilbur winds up dead and bloody in the street.
Meanwhile, back at the publisher’s house, as Richards is perusing the manuscript, he suddenly becomes aware of his own cat’s intense gaze. After a few moments, his eyes glaze over and under the hypnotic suggestive power of the felonious feline, he gets up and like a will-less zombie, gets the manuscript and tosses it directly into the fireplace. He then fetches the cat’s dinner, and as the spell wears off, he smiles and quips, “I can’t deny you anything, can I?”
With Wilbur dead and the manuscript destroyed, once again, the diabolical cat kingdom is safe from discovery.
So the next time you walk past a cat in an alley, or see a cat sitting on a step, or witness a small gathering of these plaguing pusses, just consider for a moment that maybe poor Wilbur was right. Maybe they’re not just thinking about yarn and fish and knocking things off your shelves. Maybe, just maybe, they’re plotting to take over the world.
You’re speechless, dahlings, I can tell. What’s the matter?
Cat got your tongue…?
Until next time, unpleasant dreams . . .