The Uncanny. 1977. dir. Denis Héroux. Watched on YouTube so you don’t have to.
Okay. I know how this looks. ANOTHER film with You Know Who. AND Donald Pleasence. (By the way, do you have ANY IDEA how long it took me to go back through that last film write-up and change the spelling of Donald’s surname from Pleasance to Pleasence? Yes. A VERY long time. And yes, I DO know about the ‘Find and Replace’ function. So why didn’t I just use that? I DON’T KNOW.
The thing is, as well as having the obvious attractions of Peter & Donald, this film is apparently a portmanteau, which is essentially four short films in one. I’ve always liked these, because if one’s no good you’ve still got a chance with the other three. And if NONE of them are any good, it’s bad luck, and don’t bother getting a scratchcard at the off licence. The other thing is, it’s a film about cats. And if you have a film with Peter Cushing, Donald Pleasence AND cats, you’re guaranteed a hefty pay-out.
I dedicate this write-up to Solly, best cat in the world, flattened by a car on Christmas 2019. If you’re reading this, Sol, I really don’t mind if you come back to haunt me. I miss your funny, Mask of Zorro beard, your crazy eyes, your devastating back paw rake. RIP (which is cat for Runaround in Peace).
Opening: The Rank Man with the Gong. Which isn’t an attractive title for anyone, but the pay was good and he had a pass for the staff canteen.
0:23 A quote from a Ted Hughes poem about cats. Very literary. Beats any of the other title sequence quotes I’ve seen to date. Augurs well (if you like Ted Hughes). And you like the word Augurs.
0:47 A splurge of blood, plucked violins, harpsichords (the most catty of instruments, apart from the oboe), and then the blood morphs into the head of a cat with blood on its fangs. That’s what Solly used to look like when I played hide & seek with him, Solly on the landing, me on the stairs, recklessly jabbing my hand in and out from under the towels we’d put on the bannister to dry. (God – I’m going to be sobbing all the way through this review).
0:50 More pictures of cats, some without eyes. More harpsichord. The director’s right – there’s definitely something baroque about cats. But here’s the thing – I can’t take cats seriously as agents of the devil. These pictures all look so booootifuuuwwl (NOTE: a love of cats can make you speak like an idiot).
1:17 John Vernon’s in the cast! I have a very dull and pointless story about John Vernon! And I shall tell it at the end of this review.
1:44 Favourite name in the credits: Harry Waxman. He should totally work in a beauty salon.
2:07 I’m sorry, but none of this slow-panning across cat pictures makes me feel any differently about cats, despite the spooky music. If you don’t watch the film, tune in for the opening credits. These pictures are lovely! SOOOO cute… and definitely not putting me in the mood for a horror film. Which was rated X when it came out – which I think meant it was for dog lovers only .
2:09 Opening scene is captioned: ‘Montreal – Present Times’. Present TIMES? Wouldn’t it be TIME? Present Times sounds wrong. I’m more on edge now than I was with all the cats.
2:15 Panning along some railings at night – to a black cat! Lying on the pavement by some railings, looking completely lovely & innocent. The soundtrack is someone playing purring noises on a flute. Sweet.
2:40 Cuts between the cat and a lighted window. The cat. The window. The cat again. The window. And I fully expect to see the cat in the window by this point. Yes, they ARE that quick.
2:49 Peter Cushing peers out through the blinds! I don’t know who’s more cute – the cat or the Cushing. (Now THAT’S a title for a film).
3:07 Close-up on the cat’s eyes. Looks pretty healthy to me. Obviously getting enough Omega 7. Doesn’t look possessed, despite the crazy, flutey purring.
3:21 Peter Cushing comes out of the house. The house number is 1310. God but the streets are long in North America.
3:35 He’s carrying a tatty briefcase under his arm. He looks anxiously up and down the street before he opens the gate. That black cat has probably got previous form, going for his trousers or something.
3:49 He turns round when he hears a clattering of dustbin lids. (I confirm – cats CAN be clumsy. I was watching one walk along the top of a fence once. When it noticed me watching it stopped, then carried on walking without taking its eyes off me, missed its footing and plunged with a yowl off the other side).
4:23 Peter Cushing (Wilbur Gray) takes ages coming down a long flight of concrete steps. It could really do with a Joaquin Phoenix Joker dance, but all Wilbur does is anxiously look behind him a few times as he walks down. If anything it’s more like a 70s Health & Safety video. At the bottom there’s a jumpscare when a guy puts his hand on Wilbur’s chest and asks for a ‘match’ ‘I’m so sorry – I don’t smoke,’ says Wilbur, then hurries on. The smoker doesn’t seem bothered. He sprints away up the steps – nailing the lie that smoking’s bad for your chest.
4:40 Wilbur carries on walking the gloomy streets of Montreal – present times. I hope they’ve invested in some better street lighting in the last 40 years, otherwise I’m not going.
4:55 Almost five minutes in and all we’ve had is Wilbur walking and looking anxious. At this rate I’m guessing each little film must be about two minutes action and ten minutes commuting.
Whilst we’re going on a walk with Wilbur, there’s probably time to tell you about something I saw yesterday over the cemetery. I was out in the late afternoon, taking spooky shots – the usual stuff – sunset behind a statue of Jesus, a tree that looks like the souls of the damned etc. I saw a woman walk past, followed by a cat. Its tail was straight up, so at first I thought it was remote controlled. ‘What – are you taking your cat for a walk?’ I said. ‘Not exactly,’ she said, ‘but he’s a total wuss and won’t go out on his own.’
Back to the film.
5:05 Wilbur presses the bell of a gothic looking house numbered 51. So that really WAS a long walk.
5:15 Ray Milland opens the door! So it was worth the walk. Ray’s character is called Frank (thanks as always to Wiki).
5:34 Guess who’s looking up at Frank’s lighted window? That’s it. Lil’ Cutey Flutey. There’s a good girl…
5:49 Wilbur goes through into the living room. A big fluffy white cat snarls at him from the chaise longue. I have to admit, big fluffy white cats can be like that. High maintenance. I’m gonna guess this one’s called Princess. Or maybe The Eviscerator.
6:09 It’s called Sugar. I suppose because it’s white and sweet but too much of it will give you diabetes.
6:55 Frank is the publisher who’s considering publishing Wilbur’s book. It seems that Wilbur’s last book was about flying saucers, so it’s a niche imprint. I’m guessing the portmanteau aspect of the film will be Frank & Wilbur going through the examples Wilbur has used in his book to illustrate the essentially evil nature of cats. But he’ll have to balance it out with a chapter on recommended toys, healthy diet, that kind of thing.
7:17 Close up on Sugar’s apoplectic face as we segue into the first story. Captioned ‘London – 1912’ (not 1912 Times, then )
7:23 Joan Greenwood (Miss Malkin) is examining something through a magnifying glass. Someone knocks and she says ‘Come!’ in that richly fruity voice. Wonderful. (NOTE: If I was casting the perfect voice for a cat, it would be Joan Greenwood. Or Fenella Fielding, obviously. Maybe Eartha Cat… sorry… Kitt). Miss M has a lovely tortoiseshell & white cat on her bed. You don’t see many of them. (The T&W, not the bed. You see a lot of beds. Well, I do. I’ll end there). Beautiful. (I’m SO far from being scared at this point).
7:29 Actually she’s got a LOT of cats. We seem to have dropped into a live action remake of The Aristocats.
7:30 Susan Penhaligon (Janet the maid) shows a Mr Wallace into the bedroom. Miss M is wearing so much white makeup, her nightgown and the bed so white, it’s like Wallace has come to visit a giant talking cake.
7:44 Wallace is a solicitor and has come round with new copies of the will. Janet busies herself with some linen to earwig the conversation. Miss M tells her to go away and feed the cats. Janet picks one up like she’s taking out the trash. She goes down into the scullery (I’ve no idea what a scullery is and I have no intention of looking it up) followed by about a million cats.
9:14 Meanwhile, Wallace asks Miss M if she REALLY intends to cut her nephew out of the will and leave everything to the cats. She does. He’s wasted enough money as it is. He sounds like a cad and a scoundrel and I think I know which way THIS story’s going.
11:47 Janet manages to sneak one copy of the new will from Wallace’s bag, and overhears the combination to the safe (behind a cat portrait, natch) where Wallace is putting the original. For a minute I thought Miss M. was showing Wallace the safe combo on her iphone – but this is 1912. So it would have to be a Blackberry.
12:06 The caddish nephew Michael is played by Simon Williams, which is perfect casting. He’s in a posh restaurant swigging champagne and straightening his moustache with Janet. Well, she’s just swigging champagne. His moustache isn’t THAT big.
13:30 Michael reads the will that Janet gives him – then rips it up – with some effort – even though it’s only two sheets of A4. She tells him there’s the original still – in the safe. ‘But you know the combination?’ says Michael. ‘No – I don’t’ she says. ‘But I know where she keeps it…’ Michael says he’ll marry her and they’ll both be rich. Janet’s eyes widen as big as Sugar’s. And that’s pretty big.
13:55 Janet sneaks into the house. The tortoiseshell & white (god – I wish it had a name – a short one – like Sugar, maybe) watches her from the landing. Janet takes off her outdoor gear (which makes it sound like she’s been skiing or something), her boots &c, then sneaks up the stairs. Miss M is asleep in the cake – I mean bed. Janet sneaks the Blackberry from under Miss M’s pillow, finds the combo, opens the safe… Meanwhile, the T&W (there, that was quicker) jumps on the bed and wakes Miss M., who sees what’s happening and sits up. ‘You’re a wicked, wicked girl, Janet,’ she says. (Which I’m tempted to use as my ringtone).
17:10 But before Miss M can ring the police, Janet puts a pillow over her face. When Miss M stops struggling, Janet turns round to grab the will. Miss M sits up again, touches her shoulder… and that’s the signal for all the cats to rush in.
18:25 Janet is focused on the will, though. When she reaches down for it, a fake cat paw rakes her hand. (It’s so obviously a toy paw on the end of a stick, but I suppose there’s a limit to what an animal trainer can do. With that budget. In these trousers).
19:09 She hurries out of the room onto the landing. There’s a lovely shot of cats peering down at her through the balustrades. That’s TOTALLY what Solly used to do! And it was my own stupid fault if I paused on the stairs and reached my hand through…
20:06 So of course Janet falls to the floor and all the cats pile in. (I’d love to read what Susan Penhaligon thought about shooting this scene. I bet she had to dab tuna juice behind her ears or something. Meanwhile suffering lots of stuffed cats being chucked here and there). But she manages to break free and barricade herself in the scullery (see above).
21:12 Janet moves some tin pots, and for a minute I wonder if she’s going to fashion some cat armour (like in Iron Man – but obviously there were no cats in that as far as I’m aware). Then settles down to bandage her wounds.
22:11 Next morning, all the cats are still staking out the scullery (THEY know what a scullery is. How many exits it has etc). A milkman comes with milk in a watering can or something. Then letters get delivered – by someone else, I’m presuming. The cats rip the letters to shreds. Why? I don’t know. But it’s probably all junk so no harm done.
24:05 Michael arrives in a hansom cab. And he is handsome, so… that’s a fit. His moustache looks more like the kind of oil stain you get when you’ve been working on your motor and inadvertently swipe your mouth (like I’ve EVER done that). A policeman strolls by in a cape. There’s the sound of an owl or something going too-wit too-wit, but maybe that’s the policeman. That’s probably not a cape – that’s his wings. Michael tells the driver to drive on. Don’t blame him. Flying policemen are so unpredictable.
24:40 Janet sees him go. She’s getting desperate, stuck in the scullery with no idea what it does and nothing to eat but stale bread. She starts licking her wounds. Quite literally. Ack. Don’t sculleries have TAPS?
25:16 It’s the following morning. Janet is REALLY hungry now. I’m guessing she’s gonna have to brave the cats to escape. Although – before she does she puts some cat meat on some stale bread to have as a kind of emergency bruschetta.
26:33 Oh dear. It’s now the morning after THAT and Janet is STILL trapped in the scullery. After all that cat food she probably needs the litter tray. Her hair looks amazing, though. They call it Cat Punk.
27:02 A church bell tolls in the distance. Is this a sign from God she should go? Maybe – but she also smothered her employer, so it might have an alternative reading.
27:30 She picks up the bread knife ready to make a run for it.
28:07 Outside the scullery in the … erm … outer scullery? The cats have made a real mess of the place. It’s like they had a cat rave or something. The thing that bothers ME the most is that every single picture on the wall is tilted, which is weirdly methodical. Anyway, Janet heads up the stairs. Is she going to risk getting the will? If she doesn’t, she’ll have eaten all that cat meat for nothing. Let alone the smothering thing.
28:28 Where have all the cats GONE? They’ve even hauled a pair of knickers out of a cupboard. Have they no SHAME? (TV film idea – ‘When Cats Go Bad’)
28:46 She hears an echoey voice in her head – it’s Michael saying they’ll get married and be very, very rich. Which gives her the confidence she needs to go upstairs and get the will despite the killer cats. But she’s got a bread knife, so…
29:09 I mean – seriously – WHERE ARE THE CATS? Janet goes into the bedroom. Not a sign. I’m thinking they’re planning something, like balancing on each other’s shoulders, wearing a tall mac and pretending to be a detective. (You can tell I’ve had LOTS of experience with cats).
29:43 The phone rings! But it’s not a cat – it’s only Wallace, wanting to speak to Miss M. He’s tried texting her Blackberry but nothing.
30:04 When Janet reaches down to get the will, the fake cat paw scratches her again and she drops the knife. That’s when she looks up and sees that the cats have eaten Miss M (which is a fate often talked about and here given bloody proof). It looks like the special effects team took the Turkey carcass from the staff christmas dinner and put it in the bed, but I’m no expert. Janet runs out of the room screaming. A fake cat paw reaches out to trip her up. She falls down the stairs. It’s another cat pile-on. The phone keeps ringing, which the cats interpret as a dinner bell.
31:46 Michael is in the office with Wallace. They decide to go and see why Miss M isn’t picking up – and call in at the police station on the way.
31:51 The police break into the house. They take a step back, appalled at the dreadful special effects – poor Janet, that wicked wicked girl, sprawled like so much cat meat at the foot of the stairs. Michael goes on up to Miss M’s room. Sees her in a similar condition on the bed. Sees the will on the floor, which is much more to his liking. Close-up on the face of the T&W, with an expression like – ‘just you try it, mate’. The soundtrack at this point is a strangely jaunty piccolo. Shrug. But it’s enough to annoy the cats. One of them leaps on his head and takes a chunk out of his neckerchief. And it’s enough to kill him! It took about a thousand cats to put Susan Penhaligon down but only one for Simon Williams! I can only think it’s because she was a working woman and much fitter.
33:49 Final close-up of Wallace, looking in disgust at the cats gnawing the parson’s nose off Miss M on the bed. But c’mon. Wallace is a family solicitor. He’s seen worse.
33:50 And we’re back with Frank & Wilbur. So half an hour in and that’s the first story done. If there are four, they’re gonna have to be a lot shorter. (Do the math, people).
33:54 Ray Milland – sorry – Frank – is trying to explain what really might’ve happened to Miss M. Sugar is sitting on his lap while Frank absent-mindedly strokes it in the way you might play the Irish pipes for the first time. No wonder Sugar looks bug-eyed. Although – turns out – he looks like that because he needs to go outside to relieve himself.
34:32 Long shot of Sugar about to squat by the side of the house. Another cat joins him (the one from the beginning of the film? but this one has white paws…). Wilbur watches from a window, and freaks out when he sees them face off – but by the time he calls Frank over, the black cat has gone. So Frank REALLY thinks Wilbur is crazy. ‘Let’s talk some more about your book,’ he says, wearily. When they sit down to discuss the next short film – sorry, chapter – we see more cats joining Sugar outside…
35:36 This segment is about a girl and her cat, called Lucy. They’re not both called Lucy. The GIRL is called Lucy. I don’t know what the cat’s called. (That was unnecessarily difficult). The opening shot is of a girl (not a cat) in a knitted cap with ear flaps, staring out of a car window, with a cat in a basket on her lap. Caption says ‘Quebec Province 1975’. Which sounds VERY formal.
35:43 Jaunty, jazzy soundtrack. Hope that means this isn’t a ‘funny’ short. But you often get funny ones in these portmanteau films. Think of the feuding golfers in ‘Dead of Night’. Although – actually – even THEY creeped me out.
35:58 Lucy is being driven by her mum, I guess. Her mum’s wearing driving gloves. I immediately distrust her. Although it could be worse – could be surgical gloves.
36:19 They pull-up outside a big house with a bratty looking girl in pink staring out of the window. She would NEVER wear a knitted flappy ear hat, or have a cat in a basket on her lap. Some things you know almost immediately.
36:30 Actually it’s not her mum, it’s Nora Mason, Town Welfare Department. She’s here on official business, delivering Lucy and the cat to Lucy’s aunt & uncle, Mr & Mrs Blake, a pair whose acting is as good as you might expect from two people who stepped straight out of a 70s knitting pattern.
36:51 The cat’s called Wellington. ‘Well – that IS a surprise!’ says Mrs Blake, flashing a sharp look at Nora Mason, Town Welfare Department.
37:22 Angela, Lucy’s cousin, shows Lucy to her room. Lucy asks Wellington what he thinks of it. ‘Well – it’s hardly Un Sanctuaire Inviolable, but I suppose it’ll do,’ he says. No, actually. I made that up. Lucy says that Wellington says he ‘likes it’. Angela gets the best line of the film so far. ‘Cat’s Can’t Talk!’ She delivers that line like Christopher Walken or someone. Puts SO much into it. Edgy stuff. Really makes up for the parents.
37:34 Angela says she’ll show Lucy the room SHE has. ‘It’s bigger than yours. That’s because I belong here,’ she says. I can see they’re going to be besties.
38:00 Downstairs, the parents discuss the whole dead-parents-killed-in-plane-crash-but why-didn’t-you-tell-us-about-the-cat scenario with Nora Mason, Town Welfare Department.
38:14 Upstairs, Lucy unpacks her suitcase – basically a photo of her mum, fifteen knitted flappy eared hats and some hefty books on Magic, Tarot and Ritual Witchcraft.
38:50 Mrs Blake doesn’t like the books, but Lucy says she can’t get rid of them because they were her mum’s.
39:11 Downstairs in the kitchen, Mrs Blake puts out some food for Wellington. There’s a great deal of twittering from somewhere. Maybe it’s a policeman.
39:31 Actually – no. It’s birds in a birdcage. You’d never get a birdcage big enough for a policeman. Although there’s always prison, I suppose.
39:48 Angela is jealous of the fact that Lucy has a cat. ‘But Lucy hasn’t got a mummy, and you do,’ argues Mrs Blake. Good job that Nora Mason, Town Welfare Department, wasn’t there to see the look Mrs Blake gives Angela at this point.
39:53 ‘If you and Daddy were killed in a plane crash, could I have a cat then?’ Like mother, like daughter.
40:00 Back upstairs, Angela smiles mysteriously at Lucy, whilst twirling the propeller on a toy plane. Then she snatches Wellington from Lucy. But Wellington hisses at her and runs back to Lucy. (Fast moving scene, this).
41:24 The two girls are in the summer house painting Wellington. I mean – doing paintings OF Wellington. Although I wouldn’t put it past Angela. Lucy takes the paintings and goes to show Aunty Joan, leaving Angela alone with the cat. The soundtrack? Sneaky bassoons.
42:16 Angela chases Wellington round the summer house. ‘I won’t hurt you,’ she says, in the tone of voice someone would use as they levered shells into a shotgun. Wellington spills some red paint on the floor, just as Mrs Blake comes in. Which doesn’t seem too bad, except Mrs Blake is obviously someone who can’t stand mess of any kind, especially when it looks like blood. ‘If he does it again we’ll just have to get rid of him,’ she says. All of which goes some way to explaining Angela.
43:16 Angela is up in the playroom taunting Lucy with the toy plane, swooping it down on her saying ‘You haven’t got a mummy! You haven’t got a daddy!’ Good job Nora Mason, Town Welfare Department doesn’t see any of this.
43:55 Cut to: Later – Lucy running outside in a happy mood cuddling Wellington. Angela is staring down from an upper window. She’s maddened to see her dad play with Lucy. So after he’s gone inside to iron his cardigan and learn his next lines, Angela opens the window and revs up the model plane – which turns out to have something like a motorbike engine on the front, and not quite the innocent wind-up affair you first thought. Actually it’s more like a Reaper drone.
45:34 She uses it to attack Lucy & Wellington. Lucy runs into the summerhouse just as the plane crashes into it.
46:47 Lucy tries to tell Mr & Mrs Blake what happened, but Angela interrupts and says Lucy was just playing in the mud. Mrs Blake orders Lucy upstairs to change. ‘It wouldn’t have happened if it hadn’t have been for that cat,’ she says. Mrs Blake lights a Dunhill International. ‘Why don’t you go outside and play?’ she says, trembling. ‘I have something to discuss with your father.’ I’m guessing it’s not soft furnishings.
47:00 Mr Blake perches on the back of the sofa. He’s wearing the cardigan. They discuss getting rid of the cat. ‘The vet gave me the address of a place in town where they do it quietly and painlessly,’ she says. The Quebecian Cat Mafia, or something.
47:37 Heartbreaking shot of Wellington being driven away. He’s holding a placard up to the window. HELP! (or may as well). Lucy looks for him. Angela explains where he’s gone. ‘To be made into dog meat.’ Honestly – that girl. She’s MUCH worse than Janet. (I bet you’d forgotten about Janet. ‘You’re a wicked, wicked girl, Janet,’ – sorry, that’s my phone).
48:31 That night, Mrs Blake sneaks into Lucy’s room and takes away all the magic books. Takes them downstairs to burn in the fireplace, along with the picture of Lucy’s mum. None of this augurs well.
49:36 Lucy wakes up. Hears Wellington crying. Lets him in. ‘Angela will tell her mum! What are we going to do…?’ Wellington goes to the book of spells that Lucy keeps under her pillow. Opens it for her – to the page with the talisman free gift. Taps it and winks at her (I might be wrong about that bit). ‘Of course!’ says Lucy.
51:08 She goes downstairs with the spell book under her arm, Wellington runs on ahead, rubbing his paws (which makes running difficult, but he’s a cat, so…).
51:30 Angela is in her bedroom watching people get shot on TV. Is bored of that, so turns it off and goes to find Lucy to torment. Wanders outside. Policemen – sorry, OWLS – are too-witting in the trees. Sees a light on in the summerhouse and heads for that. Finds Lucy drawing a pentagram on the floor with Wellington back from the dead sitting by her. (It’s at this point I’d hurriedly re-evaluate my whole idea about Lucy and try to make friends, but Angela being Angela…)
53:25 ‘Don’t step into the circle,’ says Lucy. So Angela smiles and steps into the circle. Lucy makes an incantation and suddenly Angela can’t leave the circle. Wellington is almost clapping his paws at this point. Lucy carries on the incantation. Angela shrinks. Wellington licks his lips.
53:51 NOTE: During all this cod-Latin, I’m sure Lucy says ‘Angela naughty nose’. But I’m not a wizard. Maybe that’s a real thing, and not to be read out loud, please.
55:02 ‘Why! You’re no bigger than a mouse!’ smiles Lucy, nodding to Wellington. Angela tries to run away but a giant fake paw knocks her back. She shelters under a giant candlestick. Then runs under the couch. The giant fake paw swipes at her again, knocking her towards a mousetrap set with cheese. (I’ve seen better special effects at the local panto). She picks up a paintbrush to defend herself – all the while dangerously close to the mousetrap (just sayin’). Fights Wellington quite bravely, I think, given how small she is, and how big he is, and how blunt the paintbrush is.
56:31 Mrs Blake comes back (from seeing the Cat Mafia people). She sees the light on in the summerhouse and heads there.
57:17 Angela scores some blood with the paintbrush. But Wellington hasn’t given up. He pins her down with his giant fake paw.
57:40 Mrs Blake is fast approaching, so Lucy decides to finish Angela off by stepping on her. There’s a sound effect I’m guessing they created in the foley studio by recording someone eating celery.
58:10 ‘Why can’t you be more like Angela?’ says Mrs Blake, wiping up the blood. ‘She never puts a foot wrong…’
58:20 Back to Frank and Wilbur. Frank is basically trying to say that Wilbur’s book doesn’t seem to be a good candidate for the non-fiction section of the bookshop. Wilbur is getting even more twitchy. Sugar yowls outside and he jumps so high he almost leaves his tweed. ‘It’s only Sugar!’ says Frank. Try telling that to the endocrinologist.
59:10 Frank lets Sugar in. Tells it to go on a diet (well that’s rich). ‘They prowl about just as they please,’ says Wilbur, whose book is all about cats, by the way. So…
59:38 Now we’re into the Case of Valentine De’ath. Which I happen to know involves Donald Pleasence. So we’re into the BIG cats finally. ‘It was the cat that did it!’ says Wilbur. Spoiler alert.
59:48 Cut to: A skull, and the caption ‘Hollywood 1936’. Which seems harsh, but I know things were difficult then.
59:59 A woman in white (Marilyn) is strapped to a table in a dungeon. Medieval people stand around whilst a sinister figures comes down the steps in slippers, just like me when I’ve had a few, i.e. heavily and slowly.
1:00:13 It is Donald Pleasence as Valentine De’ath! Dressed in fabulous garb (sorry, I couldn’t stop myself using the word GARB – it’s the clothing equivalent of ‘scullery’). He’s wearing stripy puff sleeves, a leather skull cap and sniffing a rose. Only DP could pull that one off.
1:00:22 ‘Now.’ he says. ‘Do you consent to be my bride?’ (I wonder if this is where they got the idea for Love is Blind?)
1:01:01 She doesn’t consent, so VD lowers a swinging blade onto her – slowly, of course. He needs plenty of time to emote. Just when it draws blood, the director says ‘Cut!’ Which is hugely funny of course. I bet the screenwriter punched the air at that point. Yes! Finally hitting my stride…
1:01:26 John Vernon plays Pomeroy (dreadful name for an actor of the calibre of JV). I’m guessing Pomeroy is the producer or something. Italian, anyway. He wants the director to re-shoot, because Marilyn wasn’t authentic enough. That’s rich, coming from Pomeroy, who looks about as authentic as standing a sofa up on its end and giving it a line (sorry, JV).
1:01:42 Hang on! It looks like poor Marilyn really IS dead! (She was such a bad actress she couldn’t even make dying for real look…erm… real).
1:01:45 A detective interviews Pomeroy in his office. The detective says there was a mix-up in the props department. (What? They used a genuine Giant Pendulum Blade instead of a Fake Giant Pendulum Blade? How big IS that props department?)
1:02:10 The detective lets them off the hook. It’s an easy mistake. Now all they need is a new leading lady. VD sneaks in the office – now dressed in a three-piece pinstripe with polka dot tie and a rose in his lapel. (Just so you know). Turns out, the leading lady who got filleted was actually VD’s wife. VD has a little speech at this point. Does what he can with it. Dear Marilyn…yaddah yaddah…. always the professional… yaddah yaddah…. Meanwhile, Pomeroy and the director stand left and right looking at him as if to say ‘Even Donald Fucking Pleasence can’t lift this script.’ I’m guessing. There’s even a little moment’s silence when he finishes, to mark the passing of their careers.
1:02:53 VD suggests a replacement: Miss Hamilton (Samantha Eggar). Pomeroy looks at her with his monocle in. (He’s wearing the monocle; she hasn’t borrowed it off him). ‘The likeness is amazing!’ says Pomeroy. ‘Only younger,’ says VD.
1:03:42 ‘She looks GOOD!’ says Pomeroy. ‘But can she ACT?’ (I don’t know. Can YOU?)
1:04:35 Cut to: Miss H. arriving at VD’s house. ‘Alone at last!’ he shouts, waving his arms and crossing his eyes in that wonderful way DP has. They cosy up. Miss H reveals that VD switched the rubber blade for a real one. Then she sees his cat. She loves it (you can tell because she says ‘puddy cat’). Turns out it used to be VD’s ex’s cat. Which doesn’t augur well for Miss H. (I know, I know. I’ve overused the word AUGUR. But this is a film that has a lot of augurs. In fact, it’s got more augurs than cats. And THAT’S not a sentence I thought I’d ever type).
1:05:42 ‘What’s his name?’ says Miss H. ‘I don’t know!’ says VD. ‘I call him Scat!’ Then he shouts at it… ‘Scat! It’s the cat gut factory for you tomorrow…’
1:06:16 VD carries Miss H upstairs to bed. Scat puts its paws over its ears & eyes. About five minutes later, Miss H is trying on the ex-wife’s clothes whilst VD lounges in bed lubricating his moustache with the tip of a finger. (His own finger). ‘Oh VD,’ says Miss H. ‘I love you!’ Which is pretty broadminded of her.
1:06:46 Outside the house, a policeman too-wits in the trees. VD & Miss H are sleeping in bed, VD with an eye mask on. A cat cries out downstairs. VD gets up to investigate. He’s wearing pyjamas monogrammed V.D. It’s probably got a special velcro pocket for antibiotics.
1:07:11 Downstairs, he finds out that Scat has given birth to lots of kittens – or a scattering. When VD reaches out to touch one, he gets swiped with the fake paw. He carries the basket out of the kitchen. ‘What are you going to do with them?’ says Miss H. ‘I shall find them some foster parents’ says VD. Maybe he’s going to phone Nora Mason, Town Welfare Department.
1:08:01 …but offstage we hear the sound of a toilet being flushed, so I’m guessing he didn’t. ‘What about the mother?’ says Miss H. ‘I’ll see about her tomorrow when I get back from the studio,’ he says.
1:09:04 VD is on set doing a swordfight whilst Miss H reads a comic. Meanwhile, Scat has infiltrated the building, creeping along a beam. Scat judges the angle between a winch and VD’s head. I wonder if we’ll see a couple of fake paws untying a knot at some point. Or maybe drawing a complicated plan of the security system.
1:10:12 Actually what we DO see is the cat nibbling through a rope holding a lantern. The rope obviously has cat meat smeared on it (I could totally be an animal trainer in the movies).
1:10:35 The lamp falls, missing VD. The fake cat paw clicks its fingers. Aw snap.
1:10:41 Back at VD’s house, he sees Scat and chases it round the house, falling over, tumbling head first into plant pots, the music very Keystone Cops, Miss H waving her hands about. Apparently this film ‘didn’t do well at the box office’. Hmmm.
1:11:52 Miss H uses a clockwork mouse to tempt Scat out so they can catch her. VD stands on a chair ready with a giant net. But he fails. (I’m sorry – that sounds a bit flat. But what can I say? This scene is more of a wind-up than the mouse).
1:13:00 They both drive off to the studio again, leaving lots of traps around a saucer of milk. Scat notices a vial of poison on the side. Shakes his head and tuts (he didn’t, but he totally shoulda).
1:14:00 Miss H is in costume on set, ready to shoot a scene where she goes into an Iron Maiden. VD has to hold the rope that stops the door swinging shut. If I was Miss H I’d ask SOMEONE ELSE to do that job. And if I was the studio’s insurance agent, I’d DEFINITELY ask someone else to do that job. But the scene doesn’t work as Miss H can’t scream realistically enough. ‘They’re real spikes!’ says the director. ‘Yeah – but the back of it pushes out, so…’ It’s like she’s arguing to make the set more dangerous so she can be more authentic. Which is dedication, I suppose. Emphasis on DEAD.
1:15:20 A guy holds up a clapperboard ready to shoot another scene. Apparently this is a Hemorrhage Productions movie called Dungeon of Horror. The clapper board is bigger than the guy, just so we get a chance to read it.
1:15:55 Miss H screams in the middle of the scene. She’s noticed Scat wandering around in the background. Pomeroy takes VD aside and says he wants to recast. VD says he’ll stay behind tonight and go through some scenes.
1:17:00 Whilst VD takes off his makeup in the dressing room, Scat wanders around backstage, figuring out how to rig the Iron Maiden. That degree in mechanical engineering wasn’t wasted, then.
1:17:59 It’s time for VD to re-rehearse the scream scene. She gets in the Iron Maiden. VD says remember ‘…the spikes are coming for your EYES!’ He starts to close the door. ‘EEK!’ says Miss H. She’s been reading too many comics. ‘You sound like a mouse’ says VD. Which ties in with Scat (you can tell I’ve done media studies – I’m all over this shit). He tells her to come out so they can swap places. ‘Now! I shall show you what terror means!’ he says. Scat watches from overhead, rubbing his fake paws. VD gives a masterclass in looking horrified (I think I’m ready to take that class). They swap places again. She sees the cat – screams! ‘Perfect!’ says VD. Scat jumps on his face, he lets the door swing shut. Pulls the door of the Iron Maiden open again (sound effect – like punching a bucket of hair cream…and I should know… )
1:20:48 VD chases Scat around with a halberd (I bet you’re impressed! Halberd! I don’t know what a scullery is, but…). There’s the sound of a distressed cat off screen, so I’m guessing he caught Scat with the halberd. (What language am I even SPEAKING now?)
1:21:19 Pomeroy comes onto the set in the morning. ‘How did your rehearsal go, eh?’ he says. VD is sitting in his makeup chair with his back to him. ‘What’s the matter? The cat got your tongue?’ says Pomeroy – then takes a breath. Because he can see Scat backing off with a prop very much like a tongue. So the halberd WASN’T effective. (Stop saying HALBERD).
1:21:45 Back to Frank & Wilbur. Frank’s even more dubious about the project. He thought he was getting a nice little Christmas HOW TO book about cats. But THIS? Wilbur is totally wired about the book, though, says it’s all here… ‘Years of research… evidence from around the world that cats have been exploiting the human race for centuries.’ Wilbur leaves his manuscript with Frank and says he must get home as he doesn’t like to be out after dark. (Newsflash – it was dark when you started, mate).
1:22:52 Frank stands to get Wilbur his coat, leaving the manuscript perched on his chair by the fire – something that Sugar notices straight away.
1:23:36 Wilbur leaves the house, watched by a tree load of cats. He hurries down the road. Cats pop up everywhere. They must all be on some WhatsCat group or something. He gets mugged on the steps, wrestles with a fake one at his neck, falls back down the steps. Close up of his face. DEAD.
1:25:10 Back at Frank’s place. He’s pawing through the manuscript (sorry). He keeps looking down at the pages, up again slowly, down again… a low growling noise … I’m not sure if it’s Sugar or Frank’s bowels. He carefully folds the manuscript, puts it back in the briefcase, and throws the briefcase on the fire.
1:26:44 Close up of Sugar – who looks so cute & cuddlesome I don’t CARE if he’s part of a worldwide cat conspiracy.
1:27:05 Frank fetches a saucer of milk and puts it down for Sugar. ‘I can’t deny you anything, can I?’ he says.
Closing shot of Wilbur’s dead face out in the street – with cats dancing around in the background. Then a quote from a poem by Lytton Strachey – ‘you can’t trust cats’ (I’m paraphrasing) – and that’s it!
So what’ve I learned?
- If your surname is De’ath, don’t make it worse by calling your son Valentine.
- Never hide in the scullery. No-one knows what it is or does and no-one cares.
- If you must keep cats, why not keep a dog instead.
- If you think your deceased sister was a witch, don’t make it worse by burning her magic books.
- Don’t let Donald Pleasence work the rope.
Now – as promised – my boring John Vernon story.
I found a book on acting, back of the shelf. It belonged to an American girlfriend of mine. We used to live together, but eventually split up. When she was younger she used to live next door to the Vernon family, and they lent it to her when they knew she was learning to act. And she never returned it. It was ‘An Actor Prepares’ by Konstantin Stanislavski. A tatty paperback, of no great value, except – the inscription on the flyleaf. ‘To my great friend John Vernon. Long may his talent reign’. Or something. I felt uncomfortable having such a family heirloom in my possession. And I couldn’t send it back to my girlfriend as we’d broken off contact. I knew that John’s daughter Kate was also an actor, so I contacted Kate’s agent, asking if I could send the book to them, to be passed on to Kate, because I thought she would appreciate it. I made it clear I wanted nothing back. They said fine, send it. So I did, and that was it. To this day I don’t know if they got it or it was lost in the post. In retrospect I should’ve said can you send me an email just to say you got it, but by that time it was too late to ask without sounding weird.
(Maybe it needed a few cats…)