The Uncanny (1977)

Uncanny Covers


by Steve Kirkham

Blu Ray – Single Disc. Severin Films

With a cast headed by Peter Cushing and with Milton Subotsky as a producer, plus the fact this is a multi-part story you might be forgiven for thinking that The Uncanny was an Amicus anthology. However by the time this came out in 1977 Amicus was no more and Subotsky was busy trying to set up several films of the likes of Thongor.

This was a production made under the aegis of an Anglo Canadian Production treaty (basically a tax dodge) which explains why it was directed by Canuck Denis Heroux, the brother of Subotsky’s production partner Claude Heroux. According to several write ups I looked at whilst researching this piece it was based on an anthology called Beware of the Cat supposedly written by Subotsky – though this is not credited on the opening titles and I could find no evidence of such a book. However I did find upon Googling a publication of the same title which was edited by Michel Parry – who is the credited screenplay writer – which features short stories by the like of H.P. Lovecraft, Ambrose Pierce and Ramsey Campbell. If anyone knows whether there is a book of short tales by Subotsky out there I’d love to clarify.

Originally to be called B-R-R! until saner minds took hold, this posits that cats are evil and taking over the world and then proceeds to fail in convincing us of this fact. A slightly over acting Peter Cushing plays Wilbur Gray who is convinced that our feline friends are up to no good and rushes to his publisher (played by an imperious Ray Milland) to persuade him by telling him three tales from his files.

First up, and the best of a fairly mediocre bunch, we have London 1912 – Susan Penhaligon (who is interviewed on the Blu Ray extras) plays Janet, the maid of a rich old dear Mrs Melkin (Joan Greenwood). She overhears her telling her lawyer to change her will and cut out her nephew Michael (Simon Williams) – her only surviving relative – and leave her fortune to the multitude of moggies that live with her. As Janet is secretly dating the former inheritor they plan for her to open the safe, where the new will has been deposited and destroy it. Caught in the act she kills poor old Mrs Melkin… and then the cats, who have seen what has happened, attack – though really it is painfully obvious that the tabby terrors are being thrown at Penhaligon from off screen as she gamely tries to look frightened. All the cutaways to the supposedly scary kitties look like they are largely indifferent to the proceedings.

Uncanny CoverOur second tale Quebec Province 1975 (and the worst one) was so unmemorable that I had forgotten what it was about by the time I came to write this and had to have quick rewatch! A young girl Lucy (Katrina Holden) has to move in with her aunt as she has recently been orphaned. Her cousin Angela (played by Chloe Franks who had previous in respect to portmanteau movies having appeared in Tales from the Crypt and The House that Dripped Blood), becomes jealous as this new incumbent is allowed to also bring her cat Wellington with her, despite the fact Angela has never been allowed to have any kind of pet of her own. Before long the feline has been banished from the house as the conniving cousin gets Lucy and her mog into trouble. Of course the cat returns (because they are evil remember!) and revenge is meted out by shrinking Angela to the size of a toy. As you do. The effects work is as unconvincing as this tall tale.

Our final delve into moggy mayhem is apparently a comedy – though there are few laughs to be had in Hollywood 1936. Donald Pleasence chews the furniture as the ridiculously named Valentine De’ath, an actor who, having disposed of his wife, has new girlfriend Edina (Samantha Eggar trying her best to out ham Pleasence) given a role in his new film – which despite this being set in 30s Hollywood looks more like they are filming one of Roger Corman’s Poe pictures. Celebrating their good fortune back at his house they are spied on by the cat of his now dead wife. You can guess where this is heading!

Inevitably the wrap around with Cushing and Milland also has a sting in the tale.

Sadly despite the best efforts of a good cast this is a remarkably dull affair and never convinces of its central tenet that cats are about to take over the world – mostly these stories show our feline friends taking revenge for acts outside of their control and much of the time they look like they could care less. Movies about scary kitties are a well worn theme in movies but few, if any, really show that they are frightening in any way (recently I watched another entry in this small genre subsection called Strays which also failed to make felines fearsome).

Well presented on Blu Ray by Severin Films this was taken from a recently found internegative – it has not been restored as far as one can see and exhibits some print damage throughout though it is not too distracting. As previously mentioned there is also a short interview with Susan Penhaligon and a trailer

For an alternate take on this film check out Kevin Nickelson’s write up in our book Son of Unsung Horrors.