HOLLYWOOD – As cute and frisky as they may be, not everyone sees cats this way.
After all, cats, are mysterious and mischievous animals that, unlike their attention-starved canine counterparts, aren’t so easily manipulated. They do whatever they want and whenever they feel like it. They stalk, they hunt, they intentionally break stuff, they stare deep into your soul with their all-knowing eyes. And this — that trademark feline independence and unpredictability — actually freaks some folks out.
Sometimes as aloof as they are affectionate, domestic cats are both revered and feared within different cultures. Often viewed as harbingers of death, doom and bad luck, cats — particularly kitties with sleek black coats — have long been at the center of superstitious folklore and macabre works of literature and even art.
All of that said, cats have long played a prominent part in horror films throughout the generations. Usually, their roles are of a malevolent — if not straight-up murderous — nature although some scary movies opt to paint kitties as human-protecting protagonists and even foils to supernatural forces. And while they often appear in horror movies, cats don’t always necessarily like watching them, as the video below shows.
Just below you’ll find nine nightmarish films filled with feline-based frights: zombie cats, evil spirit-possessed cats, demonic spirit casts, mutant cats, even shape-shifting werecats. Obviously, these picks make for perfect Halloween viewing so put down that well-loved “Hocus Pocus” DVD and stop being a scaredy cat already!
‘The Black Cat’ (1981)
The residents of a quaint English village are literally dropping like flies, each succumbing to a death more grisly than the one that came before it. Are these untimely deaths just horrific accidents? Or perhaps a homicidal maniac on the loose? And what’s with that surly black cat running all around town?
Based very loosely on the Edgar Allan Poe story of the very same name, “The Black Cat” is a supernatural revenge tale, which is centered around a nasty old professor who has a knack at convincing evil spirits to possess the body of his creepy pet kitty. Directed by notorious gore-maestro Lucio Fulci (“City of the Living Dead,” “The House by the Cemetery”), this atmospheric British-Italian production is noted by horror fans for demonstrating relative restraint in the blood ‘n’ guts department — surprising for a film which contains graphic car crashes, impalements, a terrifying scene of immolation and even some seriously gnarly feline-induced scratches.
‘Cat People’ (1942)
This paranoia-tinged psychosexual thriller from RKO Pictures isn’t super-scary or swarming with wicked felines. It does, however, have a unique way of getting under your skin. Considered tawdry during its day, “Cat People” is the story of Irena, a beautiful but unassuming Serbian immigrant working within New York’s fashion industry. The conflict of the film revolves around a unique dilemma faced by the deeply repressed Irena: There’s a new and very persistent suitor in her life whom she cares for very much and would like to, well, get to know a bit better. However, if the folklore of her native village back in Serbia proves correct, Irena will transform into a murderous werecat when she is aroused.
Similar to other werecat films (particularly “Sleepwalkers,” which is also included in this list), domestic cats and cat people aren’t exactly simpatico. In fact, they hate and even fear each other. That said, it doesn’t exactly go over very well when Irena’s doting man friend buys her a kitten as a gift. If anything, “Cat People” — remade in 1982 by director Paul Schrader with the kink factor cranked way up — provides one valuable lesson: Be careful about who you pick up at the zoo.
‘Cat’s Eye’ (1985)
You might think that a Stephen King-penned horror anthology film named “Cat’s Eye” might feature sinister Siamese, menacing Maine coons and pernicious Persians — a whole clowder of killer kitties! After all, King is the master of painting the ordinary — dogs, clowns, classic cars, laundry presses, lonely fans of popular fiction — in a most malevolent light. That is nNot the case at all here.
Featuring three vignettes — two of them being adaptations of previously published short stories written by King — linked together by a streetwise grey tabby, “Cat’s Eye” was heralded on its release as the “effectively pro-cat movie of the year” by Vincent Canby of the New York Times. While the titular tomcat plays a tiny role in the first two uncanny tales, in the final segment it gains a name (“General”) and plays the role of hero. After all, who — or what — is better equipped to fiercely protect a young girl (a pre-“Firestarter” Drew Barrymore) from a terrible dagger-wielding, breath-stealing, parrot-murdering mini-troll that lives in her bedroom walls? If anything, the concluding story goes to show that cats’ household pest control abilities may extend well beyond mice.
‘Eye of the Cat’ (1969)
Big hair! Swingers! Really steep hills! — conceived by the same screenwriter as “Psycho” has the requisite shower scene … featuring a cat.
Like some other films on this list, this groovy, San Francisco-set thriller is debatable whether the multitude of unfriendly felines featured in “Eye of the Cat”, are actually villainous. In this case, the kitties may appear to simply be protecting their owner, a wealthy wheelchair-bound matron with animal hoarding issues, from her conveniently cat-phobic nephew and his scheming hairdresser girlfriend. You see, the eccentric old cat lady’s health is quickly deteriorating and she’s apparently left everything in her living will to her tuna-nibbling companions. The nephew and his up-to-no-good female friend arrive on the scene to coerce dear old auntie into changing her will so the cats get nothing. Problem is, the legion of fluffy furballs roaming throughout her mansion know exactly what’s up and will do anything to prevent the greedy interlopers from getting their hands on their owner’s vast fortune.
In “House,” a clutch of bubbly teenage schoolgirls are eaten — yes, completely eaten — by an assortment of household furnishings: a piano, a grandfather clock, light fixtures, futons. And while she doesn’t devour anyone, a demonic white Persian named Blanche also factors quite heavily into the story.
Basic plot aside, it’s may be impossible to describe this surrealist roller coaster of a movie. “House” — “Hausa” in its native Japan — is loud, offensive, garish, disturbing and a whole lot of fun. it’s an assault on the senses, it also doesn’t make a lot of sense. The hallucinatory debut feature film of TV commercial director Nobuhiko Obayashi, “House” was originally supposed to be a straightforward summer blockbuster of a horror film. Studio executives envisioned Obayashi as being a Spielberg-like auteur who would deliver Japan’s answer to “Jaws,” which was released just two years prior. Obayashi took a decidedly different route and consulted with his 11-year-old daughter, asking her just what she thought was frightening. Emerald-eyed fluffballs and blood-spewing cat portraiture apparently ended up topping the list. The resulting narrative is based on the “eccentric musings” of Obayashi’s young daughter. Largely forgotten after its release, “House” found a new and enthusiastic audience in 2010 when it received a limited stateside theatrical release to coincide along with its inclusion in the Criterion Collection.
‘Pet Sematary’ (1989)
Father buries family feline in accursed Native American burial ground after it is hit and killed by a semi-truck on a rural Maine highway. The cat then comes back. Father buries young son in accursed Native American burial ground after he is struck and killed by a semi-truck on a rural Maine highway. The son also comes back. Father buries mother in accursed Native American burial ground just after she is viciously murdered by the young son’s reanimated corpse. The mother then comes back.
Reportedly portrayed by seven different blue British Shorthairs, the feline in question, whose name is Church, plays a somewhat minor role in this critically panned but popular-with-audiences adaptation of a 1983 Stephen King novel which depicts what happens when the grieving process and “sour ground” mix. Still, the resurrected kitty serves as the all-important harbinger of really worse things to come. It’s worth noting that everyone and everything in “Pet Sematary” — snarling zombie cats and Fred Gwynne’s thick Mainer accent included — are very much overshadowed by Zelda Goldman, who is a tangential character with only brief screen time that managed to traumatize a whole generation of young moviegoers.
‘The Uncanny’ (1977)
Starring a slew of scary movie luminaries including Peter Cushing and also Donald Pleasance, “The Uncanny” is just one of an umpteen number of horror anthology films which were produced by Milton Subotsky during the 1960s and 70s. While this late-period entry from Canada features a whole lot of the same — screams, suspense, and a lot of gratuitous bloodletting — it does stand apart thanks to a uniquely feline framework. That is three standalone tales of the macabre plus a spooky wraparound story — concerns exceptionally evil cats.
Well, the evilness of that cat featured in the middle vignette — a revenge fantasy concerning a young girl whose name is Lucy and her loyal black kitty, Wellington — is debatable. After her parents die in a plane crash, Lucy is then sent to live with her aunt, uncle and an incredibly rude cousin named Angela who is hell-bent on making her life miserable. It’s a good thing that poor, orphaned Lucy is in possession of her mother’s book of black magic, which, as luck would have it, just so happens to contain a spell for shrinking bullying cousins down to mouse-sized morsels. Says Lucy to her miniaturized cousin right before she lets Wellington have a good go at her: “You’re not such a big girl anymore, are you Angela? Why you’re no bigger than a mouse!”
From the 1950s through the 1990s, you couldn’t shake a radioactive sludge-dipped stick without hitting a horror movie starring some sort of a horribly mutated animal: Bears (“Prophecy”), bees (“The Swarm”) and even bunnies (“Night of the Lepus”) have all gotten the murderous mutant treatment along with the standard creepy crawlies.
Cats have largely somehow avoided the mutant animal craze. After all, malevolent pets are the most nightmarish when they’re presented in a subtle, semi-realistic manner, not when they’re spewing toxic slime and/or inflated to the size of a compact car. An exception is the film “Uninvited,” a late 80s schlock-fest about an otherwise cute kitty who escapes from a nefarious research lab and later finds its way aboard a Cayman Islands-bound private yacht filled with scheming criminals and assorted women in bikinis. It’s not too long before the feline stowaway is revealed to be harboring a rabid mutant-parasite which, when angered, pops right out of the host cat’s mouth. Coming off as a sort of ultra-low-budget homage to the movie “Alien,” “Uninvited” features some of the most inadvertently hilarious puppetry work ever committed to the screen!
Disclaimer: All the tinsel town buzz aside, cats are adorable creatures that over time, become like family to their humans. There is absolutely nothing evil or spooky or creepy about cats!