Very rarely is there a movie that is just “bad”. I mean, sure, there are “bad-bad movies”; however, just as often, there are “good-bad movies”. Heck, I’ve even seen “bad-good movies”. We know this is a thing. So, sitting down to watch The Shadow of the Cat, I wondered what I was getting into. Well, read on. You might be surprised at what you find.
The Shadow of the Cat begins with the murder of an elderly woman (Catherine Lacey). This is Aunt Ella. However, there’s one problem the murderer didn’t factor in, Ella’s cat Tabitha saw everything, and she’s not pleased.
The family comes together in the wake of their aunt’s mysterious “disappearance” and the complicated dynamics in the toxic group bubbles to the surface. There’s inheritance issues, faked wills and a pleasant niece (Barbara Shelley) set to inherit everything. Despite all this though, Tabitha has other ideas. André Morell, William Lucas, Freda Jackson and Conrad Phillips co-star in the movie. John Gilling directs the film from a script by George Baxt.
A review like this is a hard one to craft. I do have to override the film critic part of my brain in some way. However, I’m just going to start with this: The Shadow of the Cat is a heck of a lot of fun, particularly once the it gets deeper into the second act.
The early acts are a bit of a slog as the movie attempts to lay the correct structural groundwork. There are a lot of characters here and alot of conflicting motivations, all of which have to be established. While the actors are all doing their darndest, particularly Morell and Shelley, there’s just not enough to solidify any real feelings towards these people. There’s just not enough of anything here for the two legged humans to sell much beyond the basics.
The film does lay the groundwork for some interesting character drama, particularly an examination of the murder and resulting effect on the human conscious. In truth, there are tantalizing hints of this heavy psychological subject matter throughout the first two acts, but the narrative is largely dropped as the story reaches the height of act two.
Ultimately, where this film finds its footing is in the final act and a half, which is, in a word, bananas. I mean, it’s a bit of a challenge to determine just what the story is going for. The Shadow of the Cat is tremendously enjoyable and brings some absolutely delightful moments; however, it’s hard to assume this is the what the filmmakers intended. After all, it is billed as a horror movie. As I watched the conclusion, I legitimately struggled with how to think about this picture. Is the cat Tabitha supposed to be seen as a monster? I’m not really a cat person and even I was rooting for this plucky and crafty little feline. She’s the hero of this story and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
That being said, it’s difficult to pass any real judgment on The Shadow of the Cat thanks to Gilling and his creative team nailing the production, both stylistically and tonally. Gilling enjoyed a fascinating career directing in the United Kingdom with a list of credits which I’m officially questing for now, namely: Vampire Over London (1952), Double Exposure (1954) and Fury at Smugglers Bay (1961). The director worked steadily throughout the 1950s and 1960s, specializing in genre work of the most delightful nature.
Visually, The Shadow of the Cat oozes “Hammer Horror” from each and every pore– no pun intended, I promise. And it is this, I suppose which is the most surprising element of the film. It very closely resembles the style of some of the greatest horror movies to come out of the legendary studio. It’s a spooky, moody and atmospheric, ‘Old Dark House’ narrative. As you watch, it feels very plausible these people could be battling against ghosts or the darkness of mankind (or something of an equally intense nature), so the shift in the action as the second act comes to a close is a bit jarring if you aren’t expecting it. All I can say is, embrace it.
Ultimately, a film like The Shadow of the Cat largely depends on your perspective going into it. A movie might look “bad”, but it isn’t always that simple. Sure, I can’t tell you if what I picked up from The Shadow of the Cat is what director John Gilling would have wanted, but I had an absolute blast watching this movie and you should too.
MeTv is airing The Shadow of the Cat as part of Svengoolie on March 20th.