The Cat and the Canary (1978)
If I were to play a word association game I suppose when I hear his name I think of erotic cinema from the seventies. Not sure why as I have never seen any film directed by him (I checked!). Somewhere in my reading I suppose his name like that of Russ Meyer has come up connecting him to the genre.
As for this seventies version of an old standard it’s strictly the old dark house tale where not everyone will be alive when the sun comes up the following day. Might I add I enjoyed it.
Our tale of terror takes place at Glencliff Manor in 1934 where a group of relatives have been gathered following the death of their benefactor twenty years to the day. It’s time for the reading of the will. Making there way into camera range on a stormy night you’ll find Honor Blackman, Carol Lynley, Michael Callan, Peter McEnery and Olivia Hussey along with Daniel Massey.
Serving as the lawyer for the late Wilfrid Hyde-White is Wendy Hiller. Using a black and white film and projector, Wilfrid appears before his guests at the dinner table taunting them from the grave and announcing just who will receive his fortune. I found Wilfrid’s slightly longer than a cameo appearance rather fun and he’s delightfully rude to his greedy clan of wanna be rich relatives.
There’s plenty of bickering amongst the gang and jealousies abound when the heir is announced. Things are about to change when Edward Fox turns up at the estate to announce that a crazed killer known as “the cat” has escaped his care at the local asylum. This puts all those staying at Glennciff manor on alert and it isn’t long before one of our leading players goes missing.
I couldn’t help but think of Michael Myers from the Halloween films after listening to Fox talk of his demented patient who kills and maims as if he was a demon of sorts that even bullets don’t seem to stop. He’s definitely put everyone on edge and the body count only adds to the screams elicited from Lynley and company. For fans of the Giallo category this film easily reminds one of that genre.
Our story was originally adapted from a 1920’s stage play by John Willard. It’s been produced in the past in both silent films and as a Bob Hope funfest. This time out it plays for thrills and reminded me of the Peter Ustinov -Hercule Poirot films of the late seventies. Olivia Hussey actually appeared in the Poirot mystery Death on the Nile opposite Sir Peter the same year as this effort. While there may not be an outright detective involved we know it’s only a matter of time before finding out just which of our shady characters are doing double duty here as relative and killer.
Continuing the game of word association, I noticed that the film was produced by Richard Gordon. Gordon had a long association with the horror genre but it’s two later Karloff efforts that always stood out for me. The Haunted Strangler and Corridors of Blood which were both produced in 1958 and worth a look.
Our ensemble of players are a bit over the top at times but perhaps it’s in keeping with the era the film is to have taken place. Besides, I always enjoy a snooty British take on the expression, “sadistic bastard.”
Lastly the final credits are played out a bit differently and added a bit of originality to the whole proceedings so make sure you don’t tune out to quickly.