Pussy Riot… EYE OF THE CAT Reviewed.

BD. Indicator. Region B. 15.

It often occurs to me, while I’m removing the disease ridden excrement with which other people’s cats have kindly adorned the tomb-strewn garden of Oak Mansions, that there are two kinds of folk in this world. Those who adore these furry little psychopaths… and the sane ones among us who positively loathe them. Beats me why somebody feels comfortable sharing their living space with creatures that, they freely admit, would regard their owners as food if they were big enough to do do something about it. Luckily for our misguided feline admiring friends, they aren’t… and there lies the rub for film makers intent on scaring us with them. Jacques Tourneur came closest in his sublime Cat People (1942) by suggesting (with a miaow miaow here, a shadow there) the presence of some malevolent moggy but nobody in their right mind is going to be scared just by the appearance of some cat or cats.

Of course potential viewers who might be cat phobic aren’t exactly in their right minds, hence the allure of Ailurophobia for screenwriter Joseph Stefano, who penned Eye Of The Cat (1969) for director David Lowell Rich. Most of Rich’s 113 directing credits were racked up in TV, but here he deploys an admirable array of Cinematic techniques in attempting to render cats frightening, kicking off with the title sequence’s split screen shenanigans (this at a time when Brian de Palma, notably, was performing wonders with that particular gimmick), slow motion, extreme close ups, fish eye lenses (I guess if you were a fish you would find close ups of cats pretty frightening)… all to no avail. Scares the bejesus out of ailurophobic antihero drifter Wylie (Michael Sarrazin), though, when he’s recruited by conniving femme fatale Kassia Lancaster (Gayle Hunnicutt at the very apogee of her physical magnificence) to persuade his doting, ailing Aunt Danny (Eleanor Parker) to change her will in his favour (really pushing on an open door, here, as Aunty is already and quite inappropriately fond of the prodigal nephew) with the intention that they’ll both clean up after they’ve arranged her demise. A simple plan but needless to say, the complications soon start multiplying. What were the odds on the increasingly eccentric Danny having given over large sections of her mansion to a tribe of feral cats? Just what is Wylie’s brother Luke (Tim Henry) up to? And does Aunty have some warped agenda (over and above the blatantly incestuous one) of her own? Rich skilfully keeps you guessing throughout and although you’ll see some of the twists coming, the final one may well elude you… particularly as it doesn’t make a (cat’s) lick of sense.

Yep, we’re talking Clouzot’s Les Diaboliques (1955), relocated to scenic San Francisco, with added cats. There’s obviously a touch of the Hitchcocks going on (Stefano had famously adapted Robert Bloch’s Psycho for Hitch almost a decade earlier) and the plot point of a preening, allegedly sexually provocative male being (re)introduced into a dysfunctional family set-up recalls Pasolini’s Theorem, released the previous year… even more so when you learn that Sarrazin was a late substitute for Terence Stamp in the lead role. Do we buy Michael Sarrazin as a substitute for Terence Stamp? Well, there are two kinds of folk in this world…

Extras: You won’t be surprised to learn that in this characteristically lavish limited edition (the film’s first UK outing on Blu), Indicator present both cuts of Rich’s film (the TV version compiled from understandably unpristine elements) and a featurette explicating the differences. The TV edit gains two new scenes which add little to the mix (aside from continuity errors) but which keep the running time close to the original 102 minutes after the excision of various sexual / druggy scenes and references. It also cuts the pack of cats down from their initial appearance to one measly moggy by the time the denouement rolls round. All of this plays up a supernatural element that gets almost entirely lost amid the screwing and scheming of the theatrical release and is, I suppose, actually more in keeping with the film’s title, so nothing like the swindle you’ll feel has been perpetrated after the paucity of pussies in e.g. René Cardona Jr’s Night Of A Thousand Cats (1972). You also get Kim Newman’s typically erudite take on this film and the whole feline fright flick fur ball, an audio commentary plus radio spot, trailer and image gallery of promotional and publicity material. Exclusive to the limited edition, there’s an exclusive 36-page booklet with a new essay by Kasandra O’Connell, extracts from the original press book, an archival interview with Gayle Hunnicutt, overview of contemporary critical responses and full film credits.

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