New on Blu: THE UNCANNY Review

One of the more curious tax shelter horror films, Canadian-UK horror co-production THE UNCANNY attempted to bring the British horror sensibilities of Amicus anthologies across the pond. The result–a sometimes-campy portmanteau film built around the unlikely theme of killer cats–is a tad uneven at times but really nothing to get your dander up about. Finally out on Blu-ray from Severin Films, THE UNCANNY will be catnip for fans of outlandish horror anthologies, and the culture clash on display makes it a unique addition to the annals of Canadian horror cinema.

Producer Milton Subotsky was no longer with Amicus when he began work on THE UNCANNY, but the film displays many of the hallmarks of his work there. This time out, Subotsky teamed with a group of genre-minded Canadians, including Astral’s Harold Greenberg and director Denis Heroux. The French-Canadian filmmaker who helped kick off Montreal’s softcore sex movie boom, Heroux had since turned to horror with BORN FOR HELL (1976), which he based on the Richard Speck killings. Shooting in Montreal and at the famed Pinewood studios, Heroux puts an impressive cast through their paces in three stories in which cats take revenge on behalf of their owners across different time periods.

Things get going with a wrap-around story featuring a disheveled Peter Cushing as a neurotic author who offers these tales to convince a skeptical publisher (Ray Milland) that all cats harbour evil intentions. The first story he recounts, which takes place in turn-of-the-century London, is the most memorable. In this one, wealthy dowager Mrs. Melkin (Joan Greenwood) rewrites her will to cut out her ungrateful nephew Michael (Simon Williams) and leave everything to the dozens of cats she keeps. When her maid Janet (Susan Penhaligon)–who’s in love with Michael–tries to steal the new will, she ends up having to kill her boss. The house’s feline inhabitants don’t take kindly to the possibility of losing out on their inheritance, and viciously attack Janet, leading Michael to eventually walk in on a blood-soaked scene that makes it clear who the masters of the house really are.

The wonderfully garish carnage that defines the first vignette is pushed perhaps even farther over the top in the film’s final tale, which is almost as enjoyable. This time, Donald Pleasance puts in a darkly humorous performance as 1930s B-horror star Valentine De’ath, who is terrorized by his wife’s cat after he murders her–and on-set “accident” means that the role she plays in their latest horror movie can instead go to
De’ath’s vapid girlfriend (Samantha Eggar). Skulking around De’ath’s spacious mansion and, eventually, the prop torture devices from the film set, De’ath soon gets his own taste of feline vengeance. Pleasance clearly relishes his campy portrayal of the vain and odious De’ath, and even John Vernon shows up to get in on the fun as the cat drops film lights and generally thwarts De’ath’s attempts to celebrate his wife’s untimely death.

Of the three tales presented, the only one that feels particularly Canadian is also unfortunately the least interesting of the trio. After losing her parents in an airplane crash, Lucy (Katrina Holden) and her cat Wellington arrive to live with her aunt (Alexandra Stewart). But when Lucy’s cousin Angela (Chloe Franklin) gets jealous and starts tormenting her, Lucy uses some witchcraft books that used to belong to her mother to shrink the bullying Angela down to size where Wellington can have his way with her. Explicitly set in modern-day Quebec and featuring an all-Canadian cast and conspicuously dubbed dialogue, this segment most resembles other tax shelter productions, but the sub-INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN effects are sadly unconvincing.

Severin’s new release of the film–it’s first official DVD/Blu-ray release on North America–boasts a fine, colourful inter-negative scan that features a few minor blemishes but nicely emphasizes the bright splatters of blood and shifting cat eyes that the film generously provides. In addition to a trailer, the main extra here is a 12-minute interview with star Susan Penhaligon, who offers an enthusiastic discussion about making the film, including her not-always positive experiences working with Heroux and her other famous co-stars, and her concerns over the treatment of the ferocious felines on set.

While it doesn’t offer a lot of variety between its three cat-focused tales, THE UNCANNY is still good fun, and anyone looking to get an Amicus-like fix will certainly want to pick up this solid effort from Severin. When it comes to doling out gore and camp, this unique Canadian-UK effort certainly doesn’t pussy foot around.