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Monday, May 13, 2019

THE UNCANNY -- Blu-ray Review by Porfle

It's no wonder I was predisposed to like THE UNCANNY (Severin Films, 1977), being a fan of both those old Amicus anthologies such as TALES FROM THE CRYPT and ASYLUM and early Cronenberg classics like SCANNERS.  This British-Canadian horror anthology comes to us via co-producers Milton Subotsky, one of the founders of Amicus, and Cronenberg producer Claude Héroux (SCANNERS, VIDEODROME), giving this production quite a nice pedigree right from the start.

Having an absolutely stellar cast doesn't hurt at all, either. The wraparound segment stars Amicus veteran and all-around horror legend Peter Cushing and Old Hollywood genre icon Ray Milland (PANIC IN YEAR ZERO!, X:THE MAN WITH THE X-RAY EYES, THE THING WITH TWO HEADS) as an author with a deadly fear of cats (Cushing) trying to convince a skeptical publisher (Milland) that his manuscript about how cats are secretly controlling the human race must be shared with the world at once.

As their fireside exchange is quietly observed by Milland's watchful cat, Cushing relates his first cautionary cat tale, "London 1912", which stars venerable actress Joan Greenwood as dying millionairess Miss Malkin and genre sweetheart Susan Penhaligon (PATRICK) as her maidservant Janet. 

Miss Malkin, it turns out, is a cat fancier about to will her entire fortune to her many feline friends, something which Janet and her boyfriend, Miss Malkin's ne'er-do-well nephew, cannot allow.

But when Janet attempts to steal Miss Malkin's will from a hidden wall safe, the old woman is awakened by her vigilant cats and pandemonium ensues, with Janet being viciously attacked in a whirlwind of fangs and claws.  Trapped inside a storage closet guarded by mewling cats, the situation grows more desperate for her even as it gets more and more fun for us.  A well-acted and nicely-mounted period terror tale, "London 1912" gets THE UNCANNY off to a delightful start.

Cushing's next strident narrative, "Quebec Province 1975", concerns a recently-orphaned little girl named Lucy (Katrina Holden) sent to live with her unloving aunt Mrs. Blake (Alexandra Stewart, GOODBYE EMMANUELLE) and hateful cousin Angela (Chloe Franks), both of whom strongly disapprove of Lucy's last friend in the world, a cat named Wellington. 

It's an effectively emotional tale as poor Lucy suffers the callous treatment of Mrs. Blake and cruel bullying from the loathesome Angela, but the last straw comes when Wellington himself is threatened with euthanasia.  This sets off a thrilling finale involving some witchcraft books left to Lucy by her mother, and we're treated to a wealth of wonderful practical effects that aren't always totally realistic but offer loads of giddy, vengeful fun. 

"Hollywood 1936", Cushing's frantic final tale, has a cast to die for--Donald Pleasance (HALLOWEEN, PHENOMENA, ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK) as Valentine De'ath, a ham actor emoting his way through a lurid horror production, John Vernon (ANIMAL HOUSE, THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES) as his harried director, and Samantha Eggar (THE BROOD) as a young actress groomed to replace Valentine's wife after she dies during filming in an "accident" of his own device.

With poor Madeleine gone, Valentine is free to romance his mistress and new co-star--until Madeleine's cat becomes the instrument of her revenge from the grave. This sets the stage, so to speak, for another frightful yet enjoyably tongue-in-cheek tale in which the best laid plans of mice and men sometimes get foiled by a bewhiskered hairball with a mind for murder. 

Director Denis Héroux (NAKED MASSACRE, JACQUES BREL IS ALIVE AND WELL AND LIVING IN PARIS) capably brings the script by Michel Parry (XTRO) to life and the production values are sufficiently eye-pleasing.

Severin Films' print, scanned from an inter-negative recently discovered in a London vault, looks very good despite a few imperfections here and there which, for me, give it character and only add to its appeal.  On a side note, my initial qualms about possible animal abuse were, thankfully, largely unfounded, as the cast of kitties don't appear to have suffered too much discomfort during filming.

As you might guess, the wraparound segment itself is ultimately resolved in cat-astrophic style as Peter Cushing and Ray Milland each play out their string to its horrific and comfortably inevitable conclusion.  It all adds up to a deliciously good time in the Amicus style, and whether or not you're a cat fancier, THE UNCANNY is catnip for fans of good old-fashioned 70s horror. 

Pre-order the Blu-ray or DVD from Severin Films

Street date: May 28, 2019

Special Features:
    The Cat’s Victim – Interview with actress Susan Penhaligon


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