Sunday, October 2, 2011

HALLOWEENAGE #6: THE CAT AND THE CANARY (1927)

Silent horror is perhaps the most shunned house in the horror neighborhood.  Even foreign horror about little girl hair is more palatable to Joe/Jane Average modern horror consumer, because who wants to go to a movie to read or alternately to parse exaggerated Roman-theater grimaces buried under greasepaint?  Silent films often seem so distant from modern sensibilities.  Nothing blows up, there are no sex scenes, and the horror, as such, often seems arch and awkward.  Well, smart aleck, perhaps you should watch THE CAT AND THE CANARY before you renounce a whole period of genre fare.
Because nothing could be LESS pretentious or alien.  More than anything, CAT feels like a spitting-image ancestor of the William Castle films.  FUN.  Reclusive, rich eccentric Cyrus West up and dies and leaves a will to be opened twenty years later.  Awesomely, he disses his family in the will, saying that they circled his fortune like cats around a canary (TITLE!).  He leaves the entirety to his most distant relative named West, provided that she can spend the night in the house and be verified as sane by a doctor.  If INsane, the fortune reverts to the name written in the mysterious second envelope.  You can guess what happens next!
If you've seen Tod Browning's THE OLD DARK HOUSE, you'll know what to expect: a creepy servant (hilariously named Mammy Pleasant), some comical antics, revolving bookshelves, and such like that.  It's pretty standard fare, probably, but the movie makes really effective use of its bag of tricks and it's unfair to blame it and its brethren for being copied by later works.  I loved the creative usage of weird animated title cards!  And the bizarre expressionist-flavored superimpositions! 

Love it!  All CATs have claws and also flaws, and this one is kind of bloated (80 minutes a little too long for this kind of thing and apparently there's a 101 minute version, which sounds like sheer madness).  BUT it's well worth your investment should you want to delve into a light, fun example of twenties frightdom.  Remade in 1939 with Bob Hope!

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