You’d think a movie about a house full of cats who’d kill to protect their crazy sick old lady owner from a murder-inheritance scam would be a great movie, but alas… this one fell way short.
I was surprised I’d never heard of this one before last week, and it went right to the top of my considerably long to-watch list. (I know how most men brag about the length of their to-watch list, but mine really is huge.)
Eleanor Parker was only in her late 40s when this got made, yet she plays the crazy old dying-of-emphasema aunt living in a big ol’ San Francisco mansion filled with hundreds of cats. (I guess that’s where you end up after being so thoughtlessly used by Stephen Boyd in The Oscar). Michael Sarrazin plays the free wheelin’ free lovin’ wayward nephew recruited by Parker’s hairstylist (Gayle Hunnicut, pictured above) to return home, get the will changed in his favor away from the cats, and then to knock off the Aunt for the money, to be split with said hairstylist.
But he has a DEATHLY AND PARALYZING FEAR OF CATS dating back to childhood, so this will…
Oh Gawd…. this movie took what was a decent basic concept and blew its potential in so many ways, I don’t know where to begin.
The story offers all sorts of hints at character backstory that (1) are never fully explicated and (2) MAKE NO SENSE WHATSOEVER. Why does Aunt Catlady dote so much over Michael Sarrazin despite his f-you attitude and frivelousness? Is there any history to the incestuous overtones she gives him? Might that explain a few things? Does it connect to the singular flashback he has of his father’s death, or what he says about his mother’s broken heart, or why his aunt would have the house that was presumably his parents, or why his creepy younger brother lives there with the aunt, tending to the cats, or why the aunt hates the younger brother for NO APPARENT REASON or any of the other items from a list as long as my to-watch queue that also make no sense at all? None of these questions are ever answered.
Gee, precisely the sorts of things and clues those of us who enjoy watching murder mystery movies like to think about and out-guess throughout the film! When they make no sense, it’s like we’ve wasted our time, isn’t it?
And then consider the other large audience segment who would enjoy watching a movie like this one, where the “hook” is the hoard of cats in the house who, sooner or later, are gonna go the full Willard rat-army, full Hitchcock Birds, full Night of the Lepus giant rabbits or whatever, and kill various human characters. We’re talking CRAZY CAT PEOPLE LIKE ME.
That means we’re ROOTING for the animals to kill characters we don’t like. And when those animals are treasured house pets of audience members, we’re rooting for them PERIOD, and want the animal-killer-movie-porn of scene after scene of adorable kitties shredding the faces and jugulars of every dickhead human who crosses the screen.
That’s not the direction this movie goes in, unfortunately. The cats DO gang up and gang maul attack one character (yay!), but then don’t continue. But what the hell is THAT? My cat would keep pestering me to play well innto the wee morning hours once she got revved up enough. In one of the few other highlights, Parker’s wheelchair struggles to climb a dangerous Frisco hill, and a well-timed piece of kitty work keeps Sarrazin from saving her AND ensures her chair goes a rollin’ towards some heavy traffic before disaster is averted.
The major problem with the film’s structure is that the cats are merely objects to be overcome. They’re never given any sort of character development. No actual patterns of cat behavior are discussed or used in the plot. We only get the characters discussing old wives’ tales about cats coming back or stealing babies’ breath. Parker never shows any affection towards them, no reason for hoarding so many, no comparison of how she feels about them versus creepy brother Luke’s caretaking of them, etc. The cats don’t even have NAMES, fer chrissakes! Different cats are not given different personalities or skills for us to spot later on. This prevents the potential for an identifiable leader of the cat army, like Ben the literate rat in Willard, as well as the endless opportunities for the sick humor of body after body turned into mangled bloody cat meat by the likes of Mittens, Tinkerbell, Cuddles and the like.
This movie needed some stodgy British cop played by someone like John Williams to come in, examine some horribly shredded cat victim and say “My God! A trace of calico! This was the work of Mr. Whiskers!” But I guess that would only be if the leader of the cat army destined to be devoured by them in the end when he took away their catnip was played by Vincent Price.
Sarrazin was odd casting. In 1969, he was in the middle of the high period of his career, too. He’d come off a series of roles that’d lead up to his most prestigious in They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?, was runner-up to Jon Voight for Midnight Cowboy, before some box office disappointments and critical pans by the mid 1970s would keep him working, but reduce him to background parts, really crappy movies, and some television work. (Then again, we’ll always have Josh Ramsey, VD Caseworker). His big puppy dog eyes made him a natural to play the innocent caught up amongst more experienced sleazebags. He’d play this a lot, too – in Flim-Flam Man or Harry In Your Pocket, even to some extent as the monster in Frankenstein The True Story. But here, he’s supposed to play the cynical amoral hedonist willing to kill for, well, really no reason since he doesn’t care about the money. Like I said, this film makes little sense. Maybe if the script (surprisingly by Joseph Stephano, of Psycho and Outer Limits fame) had any friggin idea of his character, he could have played it all better, who knows?
To put it simply: an army of cats should have killed & eaten everyone involved with this movie.