I recall coming home one night to find our cat Eddie encircled by several other neighbourhood felines as if attending some sort of “cat council”. They scattered pretty quickly upon my arrival, but I’ve always wondered what they happened to be discussing. If you ask Peter Cushing in Denis Héroux’s 1977 anthology horror The Uncanny, they may very well have been planning the business of the devil himself.
In a framing segment that probably enabled the producers to secure the Hammer star at a bargain price, Cushing portrays the timid writer Wilbur, who is attempting to convince publishing magnate Frank Richards (Ray Milland) to take on his book about why cats are actually evil. While he’d likely have little trouble winning over the dog people in the audience, Richards requires a little more convincing so Wilbur relates three separate incidents of cat carnage.
First is London 1912, where a dying widow (Joan Greenwood) is determined to leave her vast fortune to her daring felines and cut off her greedy nephew Michael (Simon Williams). Unfortunately for her, Michael is dating her maid Janet (Susan Penhaligon) who has grown weary of looking after the old crone and her cats. When Janet finds out that Michael is out of the will and any hopes at a comfy future for both of them dashed, she resolves to destroy the only remaining copy. But when her heist unexpectedly morphs into a murder, she’ll have more than cat fur to clean up when the vengeful cats are through with her.
Next, we shift to the province of Québec circa 1975 which sees young Lucy (Katrina Holden Bronson) move in with her aunt and uncle (Alexandra Stewart and Donald Pilon) with her beloved black cat in tow. She’s also been saddled with the most unpleasant cousin this side of Dudley Dursley in the form of satan-spawn Angela (Chloe Franks) whose sole purpose in life seems to be making Lucy’s existence a living hell. But Lucy has brought her mom’s old witchcraft books along and Angela may soon find herself on the wrong end of a pentagram as well as an enlarged ferocious feline.
Lastly, we shift back in time to 1936 Hollywood which easily features the most reprehensible humans in this anthology cast. Laurence Oliver knock-off Valentine De’ath (Donald Pleasence in a new hair-piece) has had his wife Madeleine (Catherine Bégin) killed in an on-set accident to swap her for newer model Edina (Samantha Eggar). And he would’ve gotten away with it too if it wasn’t for his late wife’s meddling pussy (cat) who after having her new litter of kittens drowned by the loutish thespian, is determined to see the curtains drawn on this sordid affair in the most macabre manner possible.
Uncanny maintains decent momentum in the first two thirds with its decidedly dark and bloody tales with the Québec segment being the standout as easily the most disturbing yarn on display. The ball gets fumbled in a rather shoddily directed third act however. I suspect the filmmakers were aiming for a slightly heightened reality given the Hollywood-setting but the efforts come across as more cringeworthy than terrifying. It should also be noted that none of the stories really help Wilbur’s case about all cats being evil since most of them are just killing nasty humans out of revenge.
A curious, if rather uneven frightfest, The Uncanny provides easily digestible Halloween entertainment via its under-utilised theme. Evil cats in cinema seem few and far between. One wonders if the cats themselves have conspired to halt any horror-themed propaganda against them?
The Uncanny can currently be streamed on Tubi