REVIEW: THE SHADOW OF THE CAT / CERT: 12 / DIRECTOR: JOHN GILLING / SCREENPLAY: GEORGE BAXT / STARRING: CONRAD PHILLIPS, BARBARA SHELLEY, ANDRÉ MORELL / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
Opening with a recital of Edgar Allan Poe's The Raven, the mood and atmosphere of this overlooked and forgotten entry to the Hammer canon is set out clearly. Now, thanks to its first DVD release, fans can enjoy this deliciously macabre tale in all its monochrome glory.
Almost as soon as she has finished the poem (a Poe-m?), elderly Ella Venable (Catherine Lacey) is murdered - by her own husband, Walter (Morell) and aided by their trusted servants, Andrew (Crawford) and Clara (Freda Jackson). They don't count on the old woman's cat, Tabatha, seeing everything and taking it on herself to avenge Ella's death. This leads to the trio manically chasing the pussy around the house and grounds in an attempt to kill it; "I'd like to brain it", spits Walter at one point. They report Ella missing, but when Elizabeth (Shelley) arrives and finds out she has been cut from Ella's will she becomes suspicious, particularly as they seem more preoccupied with catching and killing the cat.
While the thought of a malevolent kitty may be ludicrous to some, it's no laughing matter for those with a genuine fear of the furry beasts (ailurophobes of the world unite!), particularly when they are filmed in the chilling fashion as they are here. Cue plenty of close-ups of staring feline eyes and dashing lithely across the sets. We also get a startling view of the cat's POV, shot through a distorted lens, which emphasises the sinisterness of the stalking animal. It's not really the cat who is the villain, however, as it is merely an avenger, although it perhaps works better as a horror staple to believe it is. There'll be cat lovers who will no doubt cringe at the glee the antagonists display when they think they've caught the feline, but fret not, she does have the last purr, looking particularly smug in more than one scene.
The Shadow of the Cat is as much an 'old dark house' film as stalk-and-scratch, its plot being a family attempting to corrupt for an inheritance, along with a romantic subplot involving a dashing, if ineffectual, Phillips. It works well as a glorious piece of low-budget, but entertaining, cinema. Gilling's direction is spot on, making full use of the Bray location despite the obvious financial restraints and it's very much a Hammer film despite the studio's name not being present (which is discussed at length in the extra features).
The DVD by Final Cut, who are doing a great job releasing some of the more obscure Hammer catalogue on Blu-ray, looks wonderful. Apparently the lack of a HD master prevents a Blu edition, but they do manage to include a couple of decent extras. A twenty-five minute documentary features interesting talking head comments from the likes of Marcus Hearn, Jonathan Rigby and Denis Meikle, and a short but entertaining audio recording of special effects assistant Ian Scoones is enlightening, particularly for those concerned about the cat's treatment!
Extras: Shadow Play: Inside The Shadow of the Cat documentary / Trailer / Stills Gallery / Catastrophe - an audio recollection from Ian Scoones / English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing / Double sided sleeve (we recommend the alternate one with the original poster!)