Would your cat take revenge for your death?
Watching this movie, you’ll see why Shadow of the Cat (1961) has fallen into obscurity. It features one of the most preposterous setups in the history of film, which is a cat getting revenge for the death of its master. A family of murderers kill their grandma for their inheritance, but a cat sees what they did, so it goes after them Rambo style. Most of the murderers stumble around trying to kill the cat for most of the movie, although I’m not sure why they were so obsessed. A man literally destroys a basement trying to swat at the cat named Tabitha. Insane, much?
Tabitha is a black cat straight out of Edgar Allan Poe. It leaps out of the dark and scares people at every opportunity, nearly giving a heart-attack to one man. The murderers have killed their grandmother because I guess they’re just too lazy to wait for her to croak. They must have money problems or something. The grandmother’s whole murderous family moves into her house, where they are terrorized by Tabitha, who saw them do it. Why don’t they just go home? This is never explained.
The cat has no supernatural properties and wrecks havoc on accident, which is about as contrived as it gets. The cat is not a metaphor for the family’s conscience and it isn’t an allegory for anything. It is just a cat. An annoying cat, but it’s still a regular cat. They show several close-ups of it as it scurries about the house in the shadows. It seems to hate everyone, even the butler.
Clara the Maid calls the cat an evil demon, an evil, evil demon. She likes the word evil. She organizes the murderers to catch it. They catch the cat in a trap, but they don’t stomp on it or stab it or smother it, but put it in a bag for safe keeping. What? Why? ? A man tries to take it to the swamp to drown it, but it gets away and he falls into a quagmire while chasing it, where he dies. Conveniently. Pretty stupid.
The man in charge of Grandma’s murder is her husband Walter, played by Andre Morell. He was a regular in other Hammer horror films, along with many others on the cast. They are all pretty good complementary actors and work well together, but not one of Grandma’s relatives are trustworthy. Not her husband. Not her family. Nobody. I don’t get the point of this movie.
I think it might have been a better idea to use the cat as a supernatural threat or a symbol for a person’s conscience, driving them mad with guilt, as in Poe. But this doesn’t happen. The only thing they become mad with is murderous intent for killing the cat. That’s it. They want to kill it. They don’t regret anything, so the metaphor really doesn’t work like it does in Poe.
As the movie goes on, the family becomes even more motivated to kill the cat and get away with what they did. They go on and on with their need to kill the cat. That’s all they talk about after a while. I just didn’t get it.
This movie is not suspenseful and it’s not tense. That’s what it comes down to. It’s well-acted and has good atmosphere, but it’s just so boring. There’s no blood. No suspense. No over-the-top characters. I was waiting for Peter Cushing to rush into the room and shout, “You’ll never kill the cat!!! Muhahahahaha!”.
Barbara Shelley plays Beth, who arrives at the house to visit and tries to figure out just what is going on. She is the only sympathetic character in the whole movie. She wonders why the others are trying so hard to kill the cat. Finally, the cat does something heroic and knocks one of the murderers down the stairs, killing her. I guess that answer’s Beth’s question. The cat kills the rest of the murderers each in turn, making the movie into a literal game of cat and mouse. The end. The cat wins and they sell the house.
This movie was directed by John Gilling, who was responsible for such b-movie classics as The Plague of Zombies (1966), The Flesh and the Fiends (1960), and The Reptile (1966). They’re so classic I’ve never heard of them before. He was a small time director and Hammer horror regular, but never achieved any great success. His shots are pretty stilted and traditional.
My question is: Would your cat take revenge for your death? It’s a pretty absurd thought. Would it stalk the murderers and scratch their eyes out? The cats I know can’t even let strangers near them, much less stalk them or jump on them. I would have to balk at the realistic notion of this movie.
This movie was shot in black and white, not color, perhaps to save money. It was released as a double-feature with The Curse of the Werewolf (1961), an equally obscure movie. It is only 70 minutes, so was designed for that format back when double-features were still around. This mundane movie shows what happens when you have a whole mess of character actors and no star. The fact that the movie doesn’t deliver any true Edgar Allan Poe horror makes matters worse.