Ratings Key

= Excellent. The best the genre has to offer.
1/2 = Very Good. Perhaps not "perfect," but undoubtedly a must-see.
★★★ = Good. Accomplishes what it sets out to do and does it well.
★★1/2 = Fair. Clearly flawed and nothing spectacular, but competently made. OK entertainment.
★★ = Mediocre. Either highly uneven or by-the-numbers and uninspired.
1/2 = Bad. Very little to recommend.
= Very Bad. An absolute chore to sit through.
NO STARS! = Abysmal. Unwatchable dreck that isn't even bad-movie amusing.
SBIG = So Bad It's Good. Technically awful movies with massive entertainment value.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Cat Creature, The (1973)

Directed by:
Curtis Harrington

In a cheeky bit of casting, Kent Smith (star of the Val Lewton-produced classics Cat People [1942] and The Curse of the Cat People [1944], which this deliberately pays tribute to) shows up at a gloomy mansion late one night to do an appraisal of the late Hiram Drake's "secret collection" of Egyptian artifacts. He goes down to the cellar, cracks open a sarcophagus and finds a mummy with a large, solid gold medallion that has a cat's face on it and emeralds for eyes. Unbeknownst to the appraiser, thief Joe Sung (Keye Luke) is already hiding in the mansion. He swipes the medallion and takes off; awakening an ancient evil in the process. The appraiser  is promptly attacked and killed by what appears to be a domesticated cat. Joe immediately goes to "The Sorcerer's Shop;" an occult-themed antique store, to try to sell his new acquisition. The shop's owner, Hester Black (Gale Sondergaard), suspects it has been stolen and passes on a purchase. After Joe leaves, Hester's sales clerk Sherry Hastings (Renee Jarrett) heads out the door and begins to walk home when she runs across a black cat. She takes it home with her, where it passes on milk and then hypnotizes her and makes her jump off her balcony.

Lt. Marco (Stuart Whitman) is put in charge of investigating the appraiser's death and calls a local university for help. Instead of the Egyptologist he wanted, he gets archeology professor Roger Edmonds (David Hedison). Both the mummy and the amulet are missing from the crime scene, but claw marks are found on some of the artifacts and autopsy reports reveal that the victim died of a throat wound made by teeth and claws and that cat hair was found on the body. Roger notices that symbols on the coffin belong to a sect of ancient Egyptians who worshipped "Vaast, the great cat goddess." Rumor has it their priests even had the ability to turn into cats themselves. Meanwhile, at Hester's shop, shy loner Rena Carter (Meredith Baxter) shows up looking for work and is hired on as Hester's new sales girl. Roger becomes involved with her while more people mysteriously turn up dead... and curiously low on blood.

This seldom-viewed made-for-ABC-TV movie (which has never seen the light of day on VHS or DVD here in America) has some things going for it, including a reasonably good cast and a fairly interesting plot devised by writer Robert Bloch (of Psycho fame), which draws many parallels between mummies and vampires. Both must drink blood to sustain their lives and remain immortal, both can transform into animals (a bat for the vampire, a cat for the mummy) and the amulet around the neck functions much like a stake through the heart would a vampire; remove either and you resurrect it. Of course, a small domesticated cat attacking and killing people is a tough thing to pull off without causing chuckles from the audience, so the director decided to show most of that in shadow only, which turns out to be a wise decision.

In small roles are Milton Parsons as a cadaverous coroner, John Carradine (in just one brief scene alongside a dwarf prostitute!) as a hotel clerk, John Abbott as a librarian and Virgil Frye. Also turning up as a pawnbroker who gets stabbed is a guy who called himself "Peter Lorre Jr." Born in Germany as Eugene Weingand, Lorre Jr. emigrated to America at age 20 and was not in any way related to famous actor Peter Lorre. He went to court to try to change his name legally, but was denied his request. After Lorre died, Weingand began using the name professionally anyway and even went around claiming to be the late Lorre's son.


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