Good evening children of the night. Welcome back to Terror Tapes; the only Horror Squad weekly feature that the FCC warns may cause seizures. Every week I scout plots in the wastelands of forgotten formats hoping to strike a wealth of great films. While I have tapped a few fantastic relics, the majority of the fare' have seen would be most aptly categorized as sewage. But still, I greet each square, transparent box with unbridled anticipation. I live for the chase; the hunt. Will today's film, The Uncanny, represent another completely wasted afternoon, or have' finally found my ultimate strike?
The Uncanny is a collection of stories centered on the inherent evils of cat ownership. Peter Cushing plays a researcher who is frantically pitching his new book to a publisher. The book uses anecdotal evidence of three separate events to articulate his theory that cats are waiting for their chance to rise up and enslave the human race. The publisher, understandably, thinks Cushing is loony and dismisses each tale. While he has every reason to doubt the author's fanatical ravings, the publisher's pessimism may prove a fatal flaw.
I'm a big fan of anthology horror. I have seen some incredible titles: Asylum, Tales from the Crypt, Vault of Horror, Twilight Zone, Creepshow, and Trick-r- Treat to name a few. The first three on that list were released by the British company Amicus; my second favorite horror studio from merry ol' England after Hammer. The Amicus stuff is generally pretty amazing and the thread line stories that weave the segments together are often just as interesting as the segments themselves. As this film is also British and stars Peter Cushing, a regular of both Amicus and Hammer, I readied myself for a similarly engaging 90 minutes.
Unfortunately this tapestry of terror is of a strikingly poorer craftsmanship. None of the segments come close to packing the wallop of any given story in even the most mundane of Amicus titles. I also don't find the encompassing setup story with Cushing interesting at all. The biggest problem conceptually with The Uncanny is that it takes a lot to make housecats scary. They thematically paint themselves into a corner and have little to no idea how to navigate. The first segment has shades of quality, but it is followed immediately by a story that is antithetical to the entire concept; i.e. the cat is not the instrument of evil at all. And the only good thing I can say about the final segment is that it features Donald Pleasence; a personal favorite over-actor.
Overall The Uncanny is far too silly. There are moments so goofy that you have no recourse but to laugh out loud. When stuffed cats are being held to the actor's throat by the actor himself to make it seem as if he's being attacked, you've officially entered Ed Wood territory. There is also a scene where a cat supposedly closes a door in what is supposed to be a creepy, intimidating moment. Unfortunately the tiny little cat manages to slam the giant door but it immediately cracks back open and it is clearly visible that this guy could leave at any moment. Needless to say, anything in the way of tension is completely absent.
This film may feature the greatest unintentional fourth wall break I have ever seen. Peter Cushing will bring up a famous case of murder by cat and use some photo or newspaper clipping of someone featured in the next segment as a segue. The photo they use for Donald Pleasence? A publicity shot of him in You Only Live Twice. It's like they didn't have a recent picture of him so they grabbed one off the wall of the local movie theater. Being that Pleasence's character in this is supposed to be an actor from the 1930's, it is jarringly anachronistic and thoroughly bone-headed.
Add to all that the fact that Cushing looks like they dragged him out of the gutter after a two week binge and you start to get the gist. There are some decent moments in this film but they are few and far between. Cats, as they are used in this film, are just not scary. The one thing I will say for this film is that it has instilled in me a desire to seek out other killer cat movies; ones about which I've heard great things.