Ailurophobia, the irrational fear of felines, forms the basis for Eye of the Cat, a nifty little throwaway from the late Sixties. Despite what its trailer suggests, it’s not an outright horror film—it’s a suspense thriller that relies heavily on psychological tension, very much like Hitchcock did. This isn’t surprising: screenwriter Joseph Stefano previously penned Psycho. Those familiar with Hitchcock will notice a slight feel of Rope and The Birds. Plus, the external shots of San Francisco strongly recall Vertigo.
The plot rings familiar: cosmetologist Kassia Lancaster (Gayle Hunnicutt), whose name “sounds like a prison door slamming shut,” mysteriously and abruptly recruits philandering Wylie (big-eyed Michael Sarrazin) to help her execute a plot to get his rich and ailing stepmother, “Aunt” Danny (Eleanor Parker), to put him back in her will as her sole heir—and then kill her. Wylie’s brother, Luke (Tim Henry), lives with Aunt Danny and is getting in the way. There’s another problem: Wylie has a bad case of ailurophobia, and Aunt Danny’s house is loaded with cats.
Eye of the Cat‘s sum is greater than its parts, and overall I enjoyed this one quite a bit. The title and opening sequence are cool: the animated outline of a housecat slinks over scenes of San Francisco and gives way to split screens that start the story. Stefano and director David Lowell Rich are refreshingly frank and downright casual with their attitude toward and treatment of sex and drugs: nothing is merely implied here. In his first scene, Kassia yanks Wylie naked out of bed—away from the naked woman still next to him. There are references to having sex, they say “have sex,” and they actually do have sex in a few scenes. One unsettling scene between Wylie and Danny in the latter’s bed alludes to a past liason. Later, Wylie and Kassia go to a dope bar on a boat and smoke a joint. One of the patrons at the bar makes a joke about his own homosexuality, which may be one of the earliest openly gay characters I’ve seen.
All four actors, even Parker, possess an effortless and elegant allure. Sarrazin and Henry are hot, and they both have shirtless scenes. Hunnicutt is absolutely gorgeous in her smart skirts and big hair. Lowell Rich builds tension nicely, getting the actors to walk a very fine line between serious horror and camp, something most evident in a brilliant scene involving Danny on a hill in her wheelchair. Lalo Schifrin’s ominous score adds greatly to the mood here.
Except for a solitary orange tabby that clearly has Danny’s back, the cats—an overwhelming throng of them—curiously disappear after the story is set up, and don’t return until the climax. The film ends in a ridiculously horrific way—so bad, I laughed out loud with most of the audience. It’s a pity Eye of the Cat is not available for download or on DVD. It’s a fun movie.
(Music Box) B-
Music Box of Horrors