Although credited to BHP Productions (a company formed by veteran horror scribe George Baxt, Richard Finlay Hatton, and filmmaker Jon Penington in order to take advantage of a new sponsorship scheme created by the ACTT*) 1961’s The Shadow of the Cat is at heart a Hammer production.† The film was shot entirely at Bray Studios and familiar Hammer names amongst the cast and crew included André Morell, Barbara Shelley, John Gilling, Arthur Grant, and Bernard Robinson. This was in fact director John Gilling’s first directorial assignment for Hammer, and although it has not attained the cult following of The Reptile (1966) and The Plague of the Zombies (1966), it’s still a competently directed film. The Shadow of the Cat hasn’t really had much chance to attain any kind of following, and it remains to this day one of Hammer’s most obscure titles. One possible reason might be the rather antiquated Cat and the Canary/Old Dark House type plot, and a second might be the timidity of the narrative. It singularly lacks the blood and thunder of Hammer’s gothic horrors, and in comparison is rather stately and well mannered. Neither does it have the clever plot mechanics or high levels of suspense that Hammer’s sub-set of monochrome psychological thrillers enjoyed. Its status as a Hammer film is open to dispute, and in my opinion quite rightly so. It is possessed of a tone and attitude that is quite unlike anything the company was making at the time, and its relative failure may have something to do with this. Nevertheless a curiosity such as this is surely deserving of a DVD release!
Tabitha also fails as a metaphor for the guilty conscience of the murderers. The reason being that the question of guilt or conscience never arises. None of the villains express a scintilla of regret, and there is nothing in the film to suggest that they wish to repent for their evil deeds. If anything the cat makes them more determined to succeed. So ultimately Tabitha’s behaviour is not supernatural, and if it is, plot contrivance totally destroys it. Nor is the cat a reflection of a murderers guilt. So one can only conclude that Tabitha is actively seeking to avenge the death of her mistress! That the cat succeeds, ultimately indicates the stupidity of this enterprise. But The Shadow of the Cat is not without its charms. It boasts some excellent performances, saturated gothic hues courtesy of production designer Bernard Robinson, a Lewton-esque atmosphere thanks to Arthur Grant’s monochrome cinematography, and some occasional inspiration from the director. The best of which is a stretched wide-screen shot that functions as a point-of-view for the resourceful feline.
* Association of Cinematograph Television and Allied Technicians
† Meikle, Denis - A History of Horrors: The Rise and Fall of the House of Hammer [Scarecrow Press, 2009], pp 281
© Shaun Anderson 2012