Monday, April 26, 2010

Night of the Cat (1973)

Directed by Jim Cinque
Starring Kathy Allen, Bob Pierce, George Oakley

"What do you think this is, a strawberry festival?"

The 70's were littered with oddball outsider musicians - reckless dead-enders like The Shaggs, Rodd Keith, and Wildman Fischer, whose enthusiasm far outweighed their talents. Quite often, this collision of far-out ideas and sub-par musicianship would result in exquisitely awful performances, so bad they would transcend the very notion of taste and quality and become something else, entirely - a sort of sublime anti-music that only the truly enlightened - or the extremely patient and generous - could really 'get'.  And so it was with low-budget cinema in the 1970's, as well. Although many examples have been lost to the ages, that heady decade spewed up a number of dizzyingly inept feature films from various non-Hollywood locales, many of them in the south - Florida, Tennessee, North and South Carolina - wherein big-dreaming would-be moguls picked up cameras, hired local riff-raff for crews, and trolled the local dinner theaters and summer stocks for fledgling talent to bring their fevered visions to life. Witness the singular thrills of home-brewed nonsense like Crypt of Dark Secrets, Pick-Up, and the immortal Bat Pussy for a few unforgettable examples.

 The frequently head-spinning Night of the Cat is firmly in that Outsider Cinema camp as well. In fact, it may be the most outside of 'em all, simply because it seems to have no idea at all that it's failing on nearly every level. I have no idea where director Jim Cinque is these days or, indeed, if he's still walking the Earth. But if he is, I'll bet that he's still telling people about that awesome film he made on that one lost weekend in 1973. And goddamn it, he's right. It may not be for the reasons he intended, but Night of the Cat is, quite literally, awesome.

 Kathy Allen - a compact, moon-faced blonde with a blank-eyed stare - stars as Claire, a dopy chick with a missing sister and nothing better to do but wander around looking for her. Sadly, her sis was gunned down by local thugs when she ran afoul of their drugs and prostitution ring, and now it's up to Claire to avenge her sister and bring down the notorious Charlotte, North Carolina mob.

 First, though, Claire has flashbacks to better days with her sister. I believe that these are supposed to be childhood flashbacks, since they're frolicking in the park and riding on swings, but these scenes were clearly shot the same day as everything else, since they're wearing the same clothes and hairstyles as they were five minutes ago.  But, you know, it's a dream. Anything goes in dreams.

 Cut to: evil Mr. Demmons, who gets a call from a certain Mr. Salvatori while lounging around by himself in an empty restaurant/strip-club. A topless chick hands brings the phone in for him. It' clearly not attached to anything, but ok. Sal wants to know if the hit went ok. Demmons assures him that Janet is dead, and they won't have any further problems because "the cops are in my pocket." And then another topless girl shows up to take his unplugged phone away.

Oh, and then there's a pretty sweet strip scene, but it was clearly shot for a different movie entirely.

 Tom (George Oakley) is a local news reporter (and, apparently, a swinger, since he's got two girlfriends) who's been trying to bust Demmon's crime ring wide open. Seems they kidnap young women, take them to some secret 'clinic' to hook them on drugs, and then force them into prostitution to pay for their habits. Janet was one such victim, but she escaped, briefly, and was working with Tom to get enough evidence together the nail the dastardly duo. Unfortunately, they figured it out and snuffed her. Undaunted, Tom vows to fight on, and reveals Demmons' secret weakness - cats. He can't stand 'em.

 Demmon's goons bust into Tom's place and slap his galpal Jenny and the other chick around. Then they drag them upstairs to, presumably, do horrible sexual things to them. Tom shows up later, discovers them, and makes an "Oh no" face. Then he goes back to work. You'd have to, eventually. Meanwhile, Claire learns Karate. And also ballet. And she does some calisthenics.

And then Nick, a short, loud-mouthed, mustachioed dude - flanked by a bunch of weirdos, including a very fat man in a too-tight t-shirt named Doug - shows up at Demmon's place. He wanders around his living room looking at furniture and going "Wow!" for 10 or so minutes.  Then he yells at  Demmons about the reporter. They're both in the same mob, apparently. Seems valid.  Then he gets on the phone and starts yelling at some guy about antiques.

 Demmons is pretty pissed about all of this, as evidenced in the scene where he randomly pushes a girl into the pull and then yanks her back out. Then he starts yelling at his henchmen:
"What are you doing about this reporter?" He barks. "What do you think this is, a strawberry festival?"
Haha, what?

 Right after his tirade, he spots a kitten and freezes, like Eric Von Zipper in the Beach Party movies. Doug - the fat guy - picks up the cat and chokes it to death! Yikes! Then he goes over to Tom's house, drags him into the bathtub - in his PJ's, no less - and drowns him.

The end.

 No, it's not the end, because Claire shows up in a brunette wig and a black jumpsuit, presumably to scare Demmons with her sorta-kinda cat-like looks. Doug nabs her first though, and punches her right in the face. She wakes up tied to a bed as one of the goons menaces her with a switchblade, while uttering every cat-related pun he can think of: "Enjoy your nap?", "This kitty seems rather tame", "Time to skin a cat", etc. What a cut-up!

She manages wriggle free - it takes her forever - and she karate-chops a couple of the bad guys and makes her escape. Then she goes over to Tom's house to find his notebook full of evidence,but she runs into Bob the cop, who's there for the same thing. They tussle, and Bob threatens to spank her, which seems a little sexist. Then there's a very long, screechy, and pointless car chase. I'm not even sure who the guy is. I can tell you that, at one point, he throws his gun at the cops. Classic.

 Meanwhile, Claire busts into the "clinic", roughs up and evil nurse, and frees all the druggy chicks. Then she burns the place down. This is demonstrated by a brief shot of a fireplace. Then she heads over to Demmons' joint to lay down some more justice. She kung-fu's all of his toadies, including that tub o'lard Doug (she kicks him down the stairs!), and then she squares off with the boss for an extremely awkward battle royale.

How's it all end? Magnificently.

With its hilariously wooden acting, random insert shots, chainsaw editing, badly synched sound, washed-out color, cock-eyed camera work, ridiculous script, and non-existent production values, Night of the Cat bares no resemblance whatsoever to a good, or even a 'real', movie. It's more like a boozy lost weekend caught on film. Still, there is something compulsively watchable about the whole mess, a can-do spirit that lifts this travesty out of the cinematic gutter and transforms it into some kind of primitive folk art. It's good-natured ineptness makes otherwise grievous errors in logic and coherence forgivable, and eventually, all that flat delivery, all the awkward moments, and all the incorrect camera angles develop into a seamless, perfectly imperfect movie-watching experience. Even if you hate it, you'll love it.

- Ken McIntyre


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