The Night of Thousand Cats is an experience. Not unlike the freakish weather we've been experiencing over the last few years, this film requires that a number of things align in it's favor for optimum impact. Working best when viewed with a group of exploitation fans, La Noche de los mil Gatos would be perfectly at home filed under the heading "Theater of the Bizarre". Rather than parade out the tried and true maxim "so bad it's good", understand rather that this movie is "so absurd it's fun". Of course the friends you gather to watch this oddball gem need to be of the right disposition. Serious cinephiles need to check their sensibilities at the door, since The Night of Thousand Cats takes liberties with common sense. Viewers will find themselves aghast at the logical leaps and whimsical conclusions which the characters come to. This is all part of the charm. Let's get to the tale of the tape (cue the American Gladiators theme).
The Night of Thousand Cats (aka Blood Feast, La Noche de los mil gatos, and simply Cats in France) is a Mexican produced film from director Rene Cardona Jr., one of that country's biggest B-movie heroes. Believe me when I tell you that this movie screams "second feature at the drive-in", despite being relatively generously budgeted. It stars Hugo Stiglitz, a prolific Mexican actor after whom Tarantino named a character in Inglorious Basterds. He often worked with Cardona, and also stared in The Italian and Spanish co-produced splatter-rama Nightmare City (also known as City of the Living Dead, 1980).
Here Stiglitz plays a deranged playboy named after himself. With the help of his man servant Dorgo, the millionaire lures lonely beauties to his neglected fortress home (seriously, the place would give Lex Luthor evil lair envy). There he sates his carnal nature before murdering them to collect their heads, which he pickles. And those cats which the title so boldly advertises? Hugo and Dorgo feed the ground lady meat to the pretty kitties, which are penned up underground.
Much time is given over to Hugo's seduction techniques, which include (but aren't limited to) eerily peeping on the babes of Mexico City in their backyard pools, using his completely conspicuous personal helicopter; creeping up to leer from the saddle of a motorcycle; and rocking the hardest "action" Ron Burgundy ever conceived by man. His turn ons include ridiculously oversized brandy snifters, having a collection of more elaborate pipes than Gandalf the Grey, and spear fishing. These escapist jaunts of Hugo's provide some of the most epically amusing moments in the film, serving to balance the macabre tone of his murder palace.
The horror segments strike as reminiscent of the Vincent Price/Roger Corman Poe films. Sure they're campy; that's the beating jugular of Night of a Thousand Cats, which could be to your dismay of you can't roll with the exploitative punches thrown. This isn't wholly unintentional. Cardona and Stiglitz knew the crowd they were playing for. Many are the shots of Stiglitz's bearded visage, mugging at the camera for straight man effect. And we laugh with them since they're in on the joke. The fun factor wouldn't be as high if they weren't.
Despite the joy these friends have here, I've got to warn you that there is an instance that has to qualify as animal cruelty (or at least it would now a days). Hugo picks up a cat who happens to trespass on the dinner table, then lobs it a long distance over the fence and into the pen. The toss is all one take, in slow motion, and it doesn't cut away as the cat lands (on it's feet). My friends swear it lands on a cleverly hidden pad, but I don't think so. Despite the thousands of hours I've delved into the horror and exploitation genres, I can never watch that part. For those among you similarly squeamish about kitties, you'll know it's about to happen when Stiglitz removes the cat from the table.
The original American theatrical cut clocks in at only 63 minutes. Thankfully the full cut is actually 93 minutes long. It's this cut which I first experienced at a film festival last year, and it's from that same 35mm print that Code Red's release is transferred. The picture is scratchy and imperfect, but as I pointed out last week with The Godfather Squad (also from Code Red) this adds an almost imperceptible authenticity to these drive-in and grindhouse favorites. You can't possibly go wrong with Stiglitz. Be the hero of your next movie night with Night of a Thousand Cats.
Chuck Francisco is a columnist and critic for Mania, writing Wednesday's Shock-O-Rama, the weekly look into classic cult, horror and sci-fi. He is a co-curator of several repertoire film series at the world famousColonial Theatre in Phoenixville, PA. You can hear him drop nerd knowledge on weekly podcast You've Got Geek or think him a fool of a Took on Twitter.