The Uncanny (1977) [31 Days of British Horror Review]

Hot on the heels of his “31 Days of Hammer” in January and the “31 Days of British Horror” in March , Jules is at it again in May, treating us to the continuation of his chronological run through the classic era of British Horror, from the late ’50s to the end of the ’70s, with one review every day for the entire month.

You can check out the rest of our “31 Days of British Horror” by CLICKING HERE.

Starring: Peter Cushing, Ray Milland, Donald Pleasance, Susan Penhaligon
Director: Denis Héroux

“It’s here – years of research – evidence from all over the world – proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that cats have been exploiting mankind for centuries! We think we’re the masters and they’re merely pets, but we’re wrong. They’re the masters!”

With Amicus sadly a thing of the past, producer Milton Subotsky still felt there was a desire for chilling portmanteaus in the changing market of the late 1970s. There possibly was, but we’ll never really know as for some unfathomable reason, he decided to make one with a vague idea about cats being the devil in disguise or taking over the world or something. Anyway. Cats.

Three years after the Texas Chainsaw Massacre and four after The Exorcist and he’s making a horror film about house cats being a bit spooky.

Modern day Montreal. Wilbur Gray (Peter Cushing) is an author of the real-life weird and fantastic who visits his publisher Frank Richards (Ray Milland) with his latest manuscript, one where he makes claims of a feline conspiracy to take over the world. His proof? Three different case studies…

In 1912 London, Miss Malkin (Joan Greenwood) is an elderly rich woman who plans to leave her entire estate to her extensive collection of cats, save one expensive dinner for her spendthrift nephew Michael (Simon Williams). Her maid Janet (Susan Penhaligon) is also Michael’s lover, so tips him off to her employer’s plan as they hatch one of their own to steal the will, but forget about Miss Malkin’s cats…

This is a straight up murder/revenge tale like the ones Amicus used to do so well, but instead of having the victim seem their revenge from beyond the graves it’s a bunch of clearly disinterested cats and a fake paw setting about poor Susan Penhaligon. It doesn’t sound great I know, but it’s also maybe the best story in this collection. The sets are nicely opulent, Upstairs Downstairs’ Simon Williams is perfectly cast in a proper cad role and Penhaligon gives good distress, even if the central conceit is a tad on the daft side.

Back in the present day, but over on the Quebec Province (this is a Brit/Canadian co-production after all), orphan Lucy (Katrina Holden) goes to live with her aunt Mrs Blake (Alexandra Stewart), husband (Donald Pilon) and her cousin Angela (Chloe Franks), who takes an instant dislike to both Lucy and her cat Wellington. After engineering the cat’s extermination, Angela thinks she has won, but Lucy has her mothers book of black magic and Wellington isn’t as dead as she thought…

Well, this one is awful. Katrina Holden (daughter of Charles Bronson and Jill Ireland fact fans) is one of the most wooden child actors I’ve ever seen and her cousin isn’t much better. It takes an age for anything to happen over some nasty bullying and by the time it does you just want it to be over.

Things improve slightly in Hollywood 1936, purely by dint of the presence of Donald Pleasance, who plays Valentine De’Ath, a horror actor who arranges for the accidental death of his wife Madeleine (Catherine Begin) under the blade of a prop pendulum so he can be with his aspiring actress mistress Edina (Samantha Eggar). Unfortunately Madeleine had a cat, who will not let her murder go unpunished…

Pleasance does his best here and there’s some nice “film within a film” stuff going on, but at the end of the day the plot is resolved by someone throwing a cat at him from behind the camera for an “oops” moment. Urgh.

The concept of The Uncanny is ropey enough, but you have to question the wisdom of only having three stories. Obviously a budget thing, but when the ideas you have are cigarette-paper thin, you really don’t want to stretch them out any further than you have to.

Subotsky would have one more portmanteau in him, but it’s clear from The Uncanny that the format was circling the drain. Weak.

Rating: 1.5/5.

JULESAVThe Writer of this piece was: Jules Boyle
Jules tweets from @Captain_Howdy

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