Hugo A Go-Go: NIGHT OF A THOUSAND CATS Reviewed

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DVD. Region 1. 905 Entertainment. Unrated.

Why would Trump wanna build that fucking wall, anyhows? Perhaps to repel the wave of Mexican monster movie outrages perpetrated by successive generations of the Cardona family (most of whom seemingly bear the Christian name Rene, to the ongoing consternation of trash filmographers). In 1962 the Cardonas launched Las Luchadoras (“The Wrestling Women”) upon an unsuspecting world with Wrestling Women Vs The Murderous Doctor, in which the eponymous heroines were called upon  to enforce the Hippocratic oath with drop-kicks, headlocks and forearm smashes. In 1963 they knocked out a couple of entries in the Santo series (Santo being a fat man in a mask, who has enjoyed innumerable punch-ups with monstrous and megalomaniacal adversaries), namely Santo Versus The Strangler and, in a much anticipated rematch beyond the grave, Santo Versus The Ghost Of The Strangler. But these were merely tune-ups for the Cardonas’ masterpiece, which came the following year – Wrestling Women Vs The Aztec Mummy in which, you won’t be surprised to learn, the Wrestling Women took on an Aztec Mummy that was getting ideas above its station, also taking time out for a tag team confrontation with Mexico’s answer to Fu Manchu and his kung fu-kickin’ sisters. Not content to rest on their luchadoral laurels, the Cardonas made The Invisible Killer that same year.

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In 1966 Las Luchadoras were clipping the wings of The Bat Woman and in 1967, Acapulco’s local favourites The Fish Monsters came unstuck against our indefatigable heroines. Treasure hunting was in, big time, for 1968’s Santo brace Santo And Dracula’s Treasure and Treasure Of Montezuma and in the following year’s Wrestling Women Vs The Murderous Robot, those feisty wrasslin’ gals kicked ass when one of their number was kidnapped by a mad scientist (mad scientists apparently being ten-a-penny down Mexico way.)  Also in 1969 the Cardonas pitted Santo Versus The Headhunter and still had time to make Los Jinetes Del Terror, in which leper gunslingers made Santo’s day. This latter film is known in English language markets as either Santo Vs The Terror Riders or, rather more memorably, The Lepers And The Sex (!?!) 1971 saw Santo In The Mummy’s Revenge, in which the Mummy fared no better against Santo than he had against Las Luchadoras. Hereafter this tranche of tacky taco terrors went into terminal tailspin, though Rene Cardona Jr had already perfected the horror wrestling sub-genre in 1970 with Night Of The Bloody Apes, a hysterical dollop of maniacal Mexican monkey business that ended up, inexplicably, on the dreaded “video nasties” list in the UK, more than a decade after it was made.

It’s difficult to imagine now what the DPP took such active exception to… the phoniest scalpings and eye gougings in film history? The way a kidnapped Orang-utan transforms, by the miracle of not-so-special effects, into a dude in a shabby gorilla suit? The surgery scene which splices together medical footage and original material so ineptly that more mitts are seen paddling around in a patients chest cavity than could possibly belong to the people conducting the operation? Dr Kraumann’s pronunciation of the word Leukaemia (as “Loose-seam-ia”)? Possibly it was the risible scripting and woefully inaccurate lip synching during the priceless scene in which a police chief dismisses the protagonist’s speculation about mutating killer apes, thusly: “It’s absurd, the proofs are insubstantial… it’s more probable of late that more and more you’ve been watching on your television many of those pictures of terror!”

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To some of us, this is the very stuff of movie magic. Indeed, the only fault that I can really pick with Night Of The Bloody Apes is that it scandalously short changes the viewer vis-à-vis plasma drenched simians, delivering only one when its title promises… well, at least two! The same director’s similarly titled (why mess with a winning formula?) La Noche De Los Mil Gatos / Night Of A Thousand Cats /  (1972… “Alone, only a harmless pet… One thousand strong, they become a man-eating machine!”) gives you considerably more title characters for your buck but I seriously doubt that we get anything like Mil Gatos… and 905’s obscure R1 edition kind of confuses the issue by going out as “Night Of A 1000 Cats.” You do the math…

… but if you can stop fixating on pussy dimensions for a cotton pickin’ minute, you’ll discover that the flick itself is a genuine laugh riot. For starters, it “stars” charisma bypass victim Hugo Stiglitz. If you found Thunderbird puppet Hugo less than convincing as a firebrand investigative reporter in Umberto Lenzi’s lamentable zombie bandwagon jumper Nightmare City (1980), check out herein his hopeless attempts to portray an irresistibly smooth, murdering  fanny magnet with the mandatory musclebound, kaftan-clad lame brain sidekick (“Dorgo”), those caged cats and a castle crammed with medieval weaponry and torture devices. Driving around Mexico City on his motorbike in a cowboy hat and leathers, sucking on his pipe and sporting Noel Edmonds patented facial fuzz, Hugo usually has no problem attracting senoritas. If he does strike out though, he simply climbs into his helicopter and flys over swimming pools in the choicest part of town, taking his pick of whatever easily impressed bikini clad lovelies he has thus drummed up.

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When he gets them back to his gothic shagpad and everybody’s loosened up with a few cocktails, he shows them his pride and joy – his collection of pickled heads in jars. Needless to say, his horrified dates’ bonces soon get added to the collection, while their minced bodies are thrown into the pussy pound by Hugo and Dorgo. All of this Bluebeard stuff is very jolly as far as it goes, but unfortunately the picture is heavily padded with travelogue shots of Mexico city and helicopters, to the point where you start wishing Los Luchadoras or a stray bloody ape would turn up to enliven the proceedings. Sensing that his “plot” is going nowhere fast, Cardona throws in a flashback wherein Hugo becomes emotionally attached to Paulette, a potential victim, and instructs Dorgo to spare her life. Acting on his own initiative, Dorgo kills her anyway, for which act of disobedience he too later becomes cat food and the least comely addition to Hugo’s bottled head collection. For no better reason than Cardona having topped the hour of footage he was obviously contracted to deliver, Hugo’s latest date escapes and so do those cats, to dole out poetic justice and demonstrate conclusively that eight out of ten feral felines prefer Noel Edmonds-style Whiskers…

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In an age when home cinephiles are debating the merits of 4K HD and curved screens replacing the flat screens that replaced curved screens, it’s safe to say that this is something of a cheapjack release. The “special features” promised on the box include “Scene Selection” (from all of 4 chapters!), “Digitally Mastered” (apparently from a fuzzy VHS copy) and “Full screen Presentation”… yep, the fact that the film isn’t even presented in its original screen dimensions is considered a “special feature” by 905! Nor do they  have any qualms whatsoever about revealing the film’s meagre running time (63 mins!) prominently on its poorly executed sleeve…. talk about a soft sell! Presumably if you were trying to shift copies of this today your sleeve and merchandising would concentrate more on the fact that Stiglitz is one of Quentin Tarantino’s favourite actors. Anybody fancy re-releasing it? Arrow? 88? Severin, maybe? On a double bill with Ted V. Mikels’ The Corpse Grinders, perhaps? Nah, didn’t think so…

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