Peter Cushing (Wilbur Gray), Ray Milland (Frank Richards); Susan Penhaligon (Janet), Joan Greenwood (Miss Malkin), Simon Williams (Michael), Roland Culver (Wallace); Katrina Holden (Lucy), Chloe Franks (Angela Blake), Alexandra Stewart (Joan Blake); Donald Pleasence (Valentine De’ath), Samantha Eggar (Edina Hamilton), John Vernon (Pomeroy)
Director – Denis Heroux, Screenplay – Michel Parry, Producers – Rene Dupont & Claude Heroux, Photography – James Bawden & Harry Waxman, Music – Wilfred Josephs, Music Co-ordinator – Philip Martell, Special Effects – Michael Albrechtsen, Makeup – Brigitte McCaughry & Tom Smith, Production Design – Wolf Kroeger & Harry Pottle. Production Company – Cinevideo/Tor Productions. Canada/UK. 1977.
Wilbur Gray is an author who travels to see his publisher during the night. He wants him to print his novel as soon as possible because he fears he doesn’t have long left to expose the sinister truths behind the novel. He has uncovered the fact that cats are in fact supernatural creatures who are really in control and has written three stories, each he claims are true, in which cats prove to be more than just pets. The first charts the story of a greedy relative who gets more than they bargained for, the second about an orphaned young girl whose only real companion is a cat and the third about a horror actor who kills his wife but doesn’t count on her cat taking revenge for her.
Horror anthologies were ten a penny in the 70s after British horror studio Amicus channelled most of their effort into making them. This is one of the few non-Amicus and non-Hammer British horror films of the time and it’s quite a refreshing change to see another studio attempt to muscle in on the genre, even if The Uncanny is mostly hit-and-miss stuff. It looks reasonably good with some decent sets and the camera man knows how to use a camera to zoom in for claustrophobic shots. Like its more famous counterpart studios, here the first job of the film has already been finished. If it looks good, it’s a solid start. The wrap around story is excellent though and the cats are really made to look sinister. Peter Cushing is excellent as always – a little more nervous and paranoid than we’re used to seeing but it makes a great change. These wrap around stories usually don’t add up to much but here it is essential and the three stories actually link reasonably well.
The first one, London 1912, deals with an old woman who decides to leave her fortune to her cats, much to the chagrin of her nephew who was originally in the will. But the maid, who is dating the nephew, overhears the combination to the safe and attempts to destroy the will so that she can live with him in riches. However the cats have other ideas. The cats are the ‘stars’ here or at least they should be but they’re about as menacing as a dead stick insect. A lot of cats growling and snarling have been dubbed over these cute felines which seem to be playing with the characters, never mind attacking them horribly. They even manage to force one character to lock themselves in a pantry and practically starve them to death by keeping them pinned inside. It’s a bit predictable but if the cats had been more menacing, then the whole thing would have been more believable.
The second story, Quebec Province 1975, is about Lucy, a young girl whose parents were killed in a plane crash, moving in with foster parents. She brings her cat, Wellington, with her but runs into trouble when the bitchy step-sister takes a disliking to them both and has her father take Wellington to the vet to be put down. But that doesn’t stop Wellington from coming back from the dead and helping Lucy take revenge. A pretty weak story for the most, this one has some lame acting from the two young females and some overly nasty bullying just to make us boo the step-family (think pantomime-esque cheap boo tactics) . However it’s got a killer ending and one which completely underlines the nasty nature of the entire piece.
The third one, Hollywood 1936, is mainly played for laughs as Donald Pleasance assumes the role of a horror actor who is filming a scene with his wife when the prop blade turns out to be real and kills her. He switched blades to kill her in an ‘accident’ but her cat decides to avenge her death. Starting with a great sight gag (we see a photo of Pleasance as Ernest Blofeld in You Only Live Twice, stroking the trademark white cat) this one could have been better had it not been for the insistence to turn it into a comedy piece. There are a lot of intentionally bad puns like “I twat I taw a puddy tat” which will have you groaning and wondering what the characters will say next. But Pleasance is having fun hamming it up as the bad actor and his hairpiece for his character has to be seen to be believed.
The Uncanny is yet another decent horror anthology from the 70s which doesn’t set the world on fire but doesn’t fall into the bad film category either. If you like the oldies like me and don’t mind watching another horror anthology, check it out.
Images: Marcus Brooks