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The Unofficial Robert Bloch Website

Movies

The Cat Creature

Telefilm
Originally Broadcast: December 11, 1973, on ABC
Screen Gems/Columbia
75 minutes

Not available on video

Director: Curtis Harrington
Teleplay: Robert Bloch
Story by: Douglas S. Cramer & Wilford Lloyd Baumes and Robert Bloch

A Note on Spoilers!

This page contains a number of revelations about the film "The Cat Creature" which may spoil the ending of the film for you. Please do not read further unless you wish to have this information revealed to you.

Contents

  • Synopsis
  • Story
  • Dialogue
  • Plot Inconsistencies
  • Background
  • Commentary
  • Cast
  • Crew
  • Notes

    Synopsis:
    An Egyptian amulet is stolen from a mummy case. One by one, anyone connected with the missing amulet is found murdered, scratched and bitten, as if by a cat, and drained of blood. A police detective and an archeology professor work together to solve the mysteries of the stolen amulet and the murders.

    Story:
    Frank Lucas (Kent Smith), an estate appraiser arrives at the home of the recently deceased Hiram Drake late at night in order to take an inventory of the estate. He eventually heads down to the cellar to examine a "secret collection" of Egyptian artifacts. Tape-recording his notes, he finds a newly arrived sarcophagus, and opening it, reveals a mummy wearing a large golden amulet. The face of the amulet bears the image of Bast, the Egyptian cat-headed goddess. The eyes of the face are represented by two large emeralds.

    When Frank leaves, a thief (Keye Luke) emerges from the shadows, steals the amulet, and leaves. Frank returns, notices that both the amulet and the mummy itself are missing, and is promptly killed by something (seen only in shadow) that looks like a housecat.

    The thief enters The Sorceror's Shop, an establishment dealing in items of the occult, and meets its owner (and former fence) Hester Black (Gale Sondergaard). The thief shows Hester the amulet and tries to sell it to her; Hester insists that she doesn't deal in stolen goods, and angrily orders the thief to leave her shop. The thief does so, but in his confusion, he leaves the attache case in which he was carrying the amulet. Hester closes the shop and enters the back room of her shop, where her clerk, Sherry Hastings (Renee Jarrett) is waiting. Sherry is anxious to be paid and wants to go home. She turns down Hester's offers of dinner and a ride home, but accepts Black's gift of the attache case.

    While walking home, Sherry finds a stray black housecat which she decides to bring home with her. When she arrives at her apartment, she pours the cat a saucer of milk. The cat ignores this and sits on the attache case. Sherry feels the cat's coat and discovers blood. The cat begins to stare a Sherry, who becomes hypnotized. Sherry slowly walks to her apartment balcony, and leaps off the edge to her death. The cat examines the (somehow now open) attache case.

    Sometime later, Rina Carter (Meredith Baxter) notices a "help wanted" sign on the door of The Sorceror's Shop. She is hired by Hester, who doesn't tell her of Sherry's demise.

    Around the same time, archeology professor Roger Edmonds (David Hedison) arrives at the Drake Estate, having been called to help with the identification of some of Drake's Egyptian artifacts which appear to be missing following the murder of the estate appraiser. He meets Lt. Marco (Stuart Whitman), a police detective, and the two examine the sarcophagus, which appears to be defaced by claw marks, as if someone wanted to prevent it from being identified. Roger notices that one of the carvings on the sarcophagus appears to be that of the goddess Bast. He relates to Marco the history of the Bast cult, specifically the cult was wiped out and its priests buried alive in 450 BC because of the cult's belief that human sacrifices would grant them immortality.

    Lt. Marco takes Roger to a number of local pawn shops in hopes of identifying stolen artifacts from the Drake estate. They call upon Hester, who informs them that she has seen the amulet, but refused to buy it. When she mentions that Sherry had been in the back room when the thief was in her shop, Marco mentions that he saw a report that she was dead. Rina, startled by this revelation, drops a statue of a cat she was holding. The statue shatters.

    Sometime later, Roger returns to the shop and asks Rina out to dinner. While at dinner, Rina avoids Roger's questions about her past. Nonetheless, they have a pleasant evening. On the way home, they pass a pet shop with a display window filled with cats. Rina is momentarily spooked by this.

    Based on some mug shots that Marco shows her, Hester is able to identify the thief as former Drake gardener (and wino) Joe Sung. Marco searches for Sung, winding up in a flophouse. The flop manager (John Carradine) informs Marco that Sung is upstairs, just as we hear a man's repeated screams and the snarls of a cat. Marco races up the stairs to Sung's room, but Sung is already dead, his face and body clawed.

    Roger returns to The Sorceror's Shop to see Rina, who turns out not to be there. Instead he speaks with Hester, who reads his tarot. The final card she turns over is the death card, indicating that death awaits Roger.

    Roger finds Rina at her home. They have coffee. He again asks her about her past, and specifically, her parents. She replies that she is on her own, and avoids the rest of his questions.

    Marco arrives at The Sorceror's Shop looking for Roger. He telephones Rina's house and informs Roger that he found a pawn ticket on the thief's body, and that the Egyptian government has offered a $50,000 reward for the return of the amulet. Hester overhears the discussion.

    Marco and Roger proceed to the morgue first, where they are informed that the thief's body has been drained of blood, and then to the pawn shop. At the pawnshop, the owner stumbles out of the back room with a knife in his back, and dies. A black cat is seen in the window of the pawnshop.

    Marco goes back to The Sorceror's Shop to look for Hester. When he doesn't find her, he asks Rina to keep the shop open into the evening until Hester returns, and promises to post a police guard outside. Later that night, a black cat shows up and hypnotizes the police guard, who falls asleep. In the Shop, Hester emerges from hiding and starts to collect money from desk. A black cat attacks her. Marco rushes in after the cat has left. Hester croaks "The Cat!" and expires. Rina then rushes in. Upset by these occurences, Rina asks Roger to take her away. Roger agrees and they kiss.

    Marco discovers the amulet sewed into Hester's cape. He loans it to Roger for further analysis. Roger meets with Dr. Reinhart. They determine that the amulet is from 450 BC, and that it was used for holding people captive, not in conjunction with the worship of Bast. The inscription on the amulet is translated: "Beware the seal of Carnaset. For he who does remove it will open the gates of hell."

    Roger puzzles this out. He thinks of Rina's actions over the past few days and her secret past. He then goes to meet her.

    At Rina's house, numerous howling cats have gathered on her patio. Clearly unnerved, Rina has packed her bags and prepares to leave when Roger arrives. Roger informs her that Marco is on his way to arrest her, accusing her not only of the murders, but also of being a priestess of Bast who was buried alive. As Roger explains, removing the amulet caused her to awaken with her thirst for blood renewed. Rina verifies what Roger believes, and offers him eternal life with her. Roger rejects her violently. Rina screams "I won't let you go!" and falls to the floor. A cat leaps at Roger; they fight, and Roger slips the amulet around the cat's neck.

    The cat changes into Rina, now dressed in the robes and headgear of a priestess of Bast. She struggles with the amulet, staggers towards the door, opens it, changes into the mummy we first saw, and is swarmed by the cats who attack her. She falls to the ground, and (except for her skull and a few wrappings) turns to dust. Marco and a uniform police officer arrive. Roger shows them Rina's remains, and the credits roll.

    Dialogue:
    In order to give the reader a flavor of the dialogue in the script, I have reproduced one of Bloch's more interesting passages below, that of Roger's confrontation of Rina.

    Roger: That amulet is placed on the mummy's throat for the same reason that a stake is driven through a vampire's heart, to keep it from rising and resuming an unnatural life, nourished by blood.
    Rina: So when the thief removed the amulet the mummy revived?
    Roger: That's right. Vampires seek their prey in the form of bats; the follower of Bast took the shape of a cat to kill for blood and track down that amulet; and once that amulet is destroyed, this creature can live forever.
    Rina: <turns away> So the cat creature is really the mummy of the high priest of Bast?
    Roger: No Rina. Not a priest. The inscription on the amulet identifies that the mummy as a priestess. No wonder you're afraid of cats; they recognize you for what you are, a priestess of Bast!
    Rina: No, you don't know what you are saying --
    Roger: <interrupts>Of course you have no past history. All you know of today's world is what you drained from the mind of Hester's clerk, when you hypnotized her and sent her to death.
    Rina: <turns to face Roger> How can I make you understand? You don't know what it's like to be buried away, alone in the darkness, century upon century of blackness; paralyzed, unable to move, or breathe, yet conscious of every crawling moment. And when I revived, I had to protect myself, to get to anyone who might have that amulet, and that was self-preservation, not murder!
    Roger: What ever it was, those people are dead!
    Rina: But I'm alive! Don't you see what that means? Able to see, and touch, <touches Roger on the face> to love, to feel joy, desire. Now I meant what I said; we could go away together. We can be together always. That'll be my gift to you, the secret of immortality. <embraces Roger and kisses him on the lips>
    Roger: <pulls away, reluctantly at first, then more forcefully> You're asking me to become what you are, to kill for blood!
    Rina: I'm offering you eternal life!
    Roger: <angry> No, what you offer is eternal death!
    Rina: <desperate shouting> I won't let you go! <Roger shoves her away; Rina falls out of camera>

    Plot Inconsistencies:
    Given the editing that the project underwent (see Background below), it is surprising that plot inconsistencies do not abound in "The Cat Creature." A few unanswered questions do remain, however.

    What's the deal with Hester and the Pawnbroker? When we first meet Hester, she refuses to purchase what she believes to be stolen goods, despite the fact that she was (or is) a fence, and that she could tell that it was made of gold and emeralds. When she is killed, however, the amulet is found sewn in her cape. From this, we can conclude that it was Hester who killed the pawnbroker who had the amulet (Marco believed that the pawnbroker wouldn't give the amulet to Hester because she didn't have the claim ticket).

    However, if Hester was concered about the repercussions of buying stolen goods, doesn't murder cause her any headaches? Furthermore, she would be the prime suspect in the killing, as Marco discussed the $50,000 reward in front of her. Perhaps her greed got the better of her?

    What's that cat doing in the pawnshop window? A red herring perhaps? Maybe she got there too late. And if it is Rina, who's watching The Sorceror's Shop?

    What's the deal with those cats? Rina, our erstwhile cat priestess, is attacked at the end of the film by a swarm of house cats. Other than providing a handy end to the story, what is the motivation of the cats to do so? Rina's living burial was presumably for her practice of human sacrifice (or blood drinking), but as an acolyte of Bast, wouldn't cats help her once she was freed? Either Rina has somehow offended Bast, or the cats are under someone else's control, or the cats have some hidden motivation. It is interesting to note that in her working girl garb or as a black cat, Rina can go about her business without being attacked by cats.

    Background:
    Made-for-television movies ("telefilms") have been largely ignored by film critics. Even authors who pen treatises on episodic television tend to give these films little attention.

    With the majority of recent made for television features seemingly fixated upon the romance and women-in-peril genres, it is generally forgotten that a number of telefilms produced in the 1970s were of the science fiction, horror, and fantasy variety. While the quality of many telefilms was beneath that of feature films, many nonetheless compare favorably with (or in many cases surpass) the features produced by American International Pictures or other similar low budget studios. This period saw such telefilms as The Night Stalker, The Night Strangler, and Trilogy of Terror.

    Most of these films are unavailable on video, and are seldom seen today. It seems likely today that these sorts of films will continue to disappear, given (a) the tendancy for television station libraries to rotate out their older stock, (b) the poor quality of the transfers of many existing prints, (c) a disdain for the limitations of the medium (mini-climaxes to accomodate commercials, strict limits on running time and subject matter, etc.), and (d) the amount of product currently available for public consumption. "The Cat Creature" is not available on video, and one day may truly be a "lost" film.

    "The Cat Creature" grew out of the desire of producer Doug Cramer to create a telefilm that would be an homage to classic horror films. Cramer and director Curtis Harrington decided on an update of the 1942 Val Lewton film Cat People. In fact, Harrington's first film, the 1961 Night Tide had been heavily influenced by the films of Val Lewton, especially "Cat People." Robert Bloch help to convince Cramer and Harrington that a straight remake wouldn't work, and instead suggested a plot based on Egyptian cat goddesses and reincarnation. A script was prepared, tailored for a leading role by Diahann Carroll. By the time the script was approved, however, Carroll had exited the project, and the script was re-written.

    Harrington has stated in interviews that the ABC's choice of a (presumably post-Carroll) lead was Patty Duke. He was instead able to talk them into casting Meredith Baxter in the role of Rina. David Hedison, who had enjoyed success as a regular on the series Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea was cast in the role of Roger. The role of Marco went to Stuart Whitman. At Harrington's request, Bloch re-wrote a tepid male villain's part into Hester Black; Harrington succeeded in securing Gale Sondergaard (who was notable for being an Academy Award winning actress, an established cinematic villianess, and a victim of the blacklist) for the role. A number of the supporting roles in the film went to character actors with horror film ties, notably, Milton Parsons, John Carradine and Kent Smith (who played the character of Oliver Reed in the original "Cat People").

    Before shooting began, however, Bloch was informed by Cramer that his script was twelve minutes too long. Bloch judiciously edited his script, attempting to preserve the suspense of the narrative, as well as the touches of humor and horror that he had built into the script. After the filming of this revised script was completed, and a rough cut assembled, it was discovered that the film was in fact now twelve minutes too short. Bloch was asked to create new scenes from scratch to fill this time; he was further constrained by the fact that most of the actors had gone off to other roles, and that a number of the interior sets had already been demolished. Despite these problems, Bloch completed the necessary work (in less than five days), and the film was completed.

    Bloch later expressed some disapointment over the final product, regretting many touches deleted by the twelve minute edit could not be restored when those twelve minutes were added back into the film. Nevertheless, Bloch would reunite with Cramer and Harrington a short while later for a second television horror movie, this one called "The Dead Don't Die."

    Commentary:
    While not the classic that the 1942 film "Cat People" is, "The Cat Creature" succeeds on the level for which it was intended. While the film could not really be called light-hearted, it is nonetheless an affectionate return to the types of horror films that Hollywood turned out in the thirties and forties.

    Horror films can sometimes be divided into two categories -- those films that shock by a sudden jolt of the grotesque (the mad killer leaping out at the protagonist), and those films that unnerve by creating tension or otherwise disturbing the emotional state of the viewer. Many films attempt to use elements of both categories, but often the former overpowers the latter. There was an attempt to capture the more disturbing type of horror in "The Cat Creature." Harrington is able to capture a claustrophophic dread with the estate appraiser's journey through the darkened house. Likewise, Sherry's walk home the night of her murder is a similar homage to "Cat People." After these scenes, the film rapidly becomes more of a standard mystery (Who's got the amulet? Who's killing all of these people?).

    In terms of the characters, Roger comes across as a fairly likeable all-purpose scientist, although he seems too dispassionate for someone who has realized that his girlfriend is a 2400 year old mummy; Marco, on the other hand, is a typical brusque cop character.

    Bloch's female characters are far more interesting than his male characters. Hester Black is a well drawn combination of mystery and malevolence and, as portrayed by Gale Sondergaard, possesses a welcome reserve. It would have been quite easy to draw Hester as an over-the-top villainess (imagine the Joan Crawford or the Bette Davis of this period in the role); the film benefits from the subtleties of her character. When Hester and Jenny are introduced, Hester's concern for Jenny's well-being seems at once both maternal and sinister. While a coolly confident character who remains in control of the situtation when dealing with both the thief and Lt. Marco, Hester also seems repressed and conflicted.

    Rina is also fairly complex. Meredith Baxter's performance as Rina holds up well today. Although neither Bloch nor Harrington appear to have been overly enamoured with her performance, Baxter was able to convincingly portray Rina as a woman (and not a creature) haunted by her secrets and damned by what she has become.

    It is unclear to what extent Rina is cognizant of who (and what) she is; for example, she appears very startled when she learns of Jenny's death (although, in cat form, she actually killed Jenny). She also seems at times to be shy and unsure of herself. Although she commits most of the murders in the film, Rina seems neither evil nor a villainess. She doesn't kill for pleasure or (like Hester) for monetary gain; instead she is simply trying to survive. It also appears that she actually loves Roger, and is not simply manipulating his affections. Indeed, it is his rejection of her at the end of the film that results in her taking her final bestial form. It is at this point, where Rina first transforms into a cat, then into a hissing human in Bast priestess garb, then into a mummy, and finally into a pile of rags and dust, where the film goes completely over-the-top. Although one suspects that Meredith Baxter may not wish to have this moment on her career highlight reel, Rina's transformation and death are quite jarring. One is left to wonder if Rina's final stumbling through the doors is an attempt by her to escape or, in light of Roger's rejection, to commit suicide.

    In the final analysis, "The Cat Creature" is an uneven but enjoyable film, and for the horror buff is well worth watching.

    Cast:
    Meredith Baxter .... Rina Carter
    David Hedison .... Roger Edmonds
    Gale Sondergaard .... Hester Black
    John Carradine .... Hotel Clerk
    Stuart Whitman .... Lt. Marco
    Renne Jarrett .... Sherry Hastings
    Keye Luke .... Thief
    Kent Smith .... Frank Lucas
    John Abbott .... Dr. Reinhart
    Virgil Frye .... Donovan
    Peter Lorre Jr. .... Pawnbroker
    Milton Parsons .... Deputy Coroner
    William Sims .... Bert
     
    Crew:
    Douglas S. Cramer .... Producer
    Wilford Lloyd Baumes .... Associate Producer
    Charles Rosher .... Photography
    Leonard Rosenman .... Music
    Ross Bellah and Carey Odell .... Art Directors
    Stan Ford .... Editor
     

    Notes: