[movie review] The Cat and the Canary (1978)

The Cat and the Canary: a movie that turns out to have a long history, having started out as a theatrical play.

Luckily (maybe) I haven’t seen any other version of The Cat and the Canary so this review is going to be as unbiased as an unbiased thing.

The premise: 20 years ago, eccentric Cyrus West died. Only now will his lawyer reveal the contents of his will. Thunder rolls. Lightning strikes. One by one the potential heirs arrive at a surprisingly clean and brightly lit mansion to find out if they will be the lucky one (or ones). The lawyer plays the will (on very well preserved home cinema).

Cyrus C West - a character in The Cat and the Canary (1978)

One person inherits. But the script says they must spend a night at the house. You know, something about checking for insanity (I mean, how you’d be able to reasonably prove that after just one night… well, whatever).

Oh, and a passing director of a mental health institution leaps through a window (yes, really) to warn people that there is an escaped and violent lunatic on the loose, who styles himself “The Cat”. I guess that’s the Cat part of “The Cat and the Canary (1978)” taken care of?

Let the horror and comedy begin!

Yes. Yes, you read that right. This is both a horror AND a comedy. Sadly, as a result of this brutal necessity, this movie is neither one nor the other. The clean shots, the bright lighting, and the gullible characterisations defuse all the classic moments that could be hammed up for the horror element. Should a movie that involves finding a hideously tortured corpse behind a secret door ever have to be forced to consider itself as a comedy? I’m as deeply conflicted about that as the movie is.

Once you lean into this very particular style, though, there are some good things. The set is great, though underused. There are a couple of characters with depth, though lost in the melee and underused. There are a few really outstanding camera shots that we could have done with more of. Overall, it’s a jolly enough jape if you pretend the category of ‘horror’ was badly assigned. Which is entirely possible.


The Cat and the Canary (1978) 1h 38min | Comedy, Mystery, Horror | 1979 (UK) Summary: A group of potential heirs gather in a forbidding old house to learn which of them will inherit a fortune. Later, they learn that a flesh-rending maniac is loose.
Countries: UKLanguages: English

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