Shadow of the Cat (1961)
A missing film from many Hammer Films’ filmographies, The Shadow of the Cat is 100% Hammer. Released under Hammer’s pseudonym, BHP Productions, The Shadow of the Cat gives the same gleefully eerie pleasure as Hammer‘s well known hits.
At the film's opening, a family murders their wealthy matriarch for her money. They think they can get away with the crime, as no one saw the murder take place - except the cat., Tabitha. Slowly, Tabitha starts playing with the murderers’ minds. Does Tabitha really have supernatural powers? Or is it simply their conscience weighing down on them?
The film is paced perfectly. Kicking off a horror movie with a murder of an old, wealthy lady is almost always a surefire start, and the film never loses momentum. The conclusion, though predictable, was absolutely delightful (including the nice semi-ironic tag right before the credits roll). A solid film on most accounts.
Shadow of the Cat's concept behind is overdone and perhaps a tad dumb, but the movie jumps in with both feet and makes it as fresh and believable as it could. Most of the traditional Hammer aspects were there, starting with Barbara Shelley. I’ve always considered her as one of the more talented Hammer girls as she rarely “overacts”. She is simple, subtle, and very real - absolutely perfect for a horror movie maiden.
The mood of the film was typical to Hammer’s style. There was a subtle creepiness running through the entire film, minimal camera movement (this is actually an advantage in a Hammer movie), and they managed to get some guy who looks like Peter Cushing. Ultimately however, the mood was due to the rather low-brow-Hammer director, John Gilling (who later directed Hammer’s The Reptile, Plague of the Zombies, and The Mummy’s Shroud) and the writing talents of George Baxt (Vampire Circus, Revenge of Frankenstein). They executed the Hammer style to a “T“. Fine, fine job, boys.
What clinched the Hammer-esque feel was that many of the outside shots were shot outside of Bray Studios, one of Hammer’s most recognizable locations (and ultimately considered Hammer‘s home base).. The change from Hammer to BHP was a legal move (probably as the film was distributed by Universal Studios). This is one of the three times BHP (British Hammer Productions? British Horror Philms? British Have Peter Cushing?) has been used in association with Hammer. Perhaps, the most notable was their blockbuster hit, No Sex Please, We’re British (notice tongue firmly imbedded in cheek). Needless to say, The Shadow of the Cat was perhaps the sleeper hit of the BHP trinity enterprise.
Unfortunately, this film is difficult to find as it remains a forgotten Hammer Film. I have never seen it on any Hammer Film fan site. My version is from a 1980 television broadcast, so you can imagine how stellar the quality is. A shame too, because this is one of the better “unknown” Hammer Films. Your best bet to find it would be at a horror convention or a comic book convention. An important film for Hammer fans and all other fans of black-and-white horror, The Shadow of the Cat will turn into one of your favorite films that no one has ever heard of.