THE NIGHT OF A THOUSAND CATS
Color, 1972, 62m.
Directed by René Cardona Jr.
Starring Hugo Stiglitz, Anjanette Comer, Zula Faiad, Christa Linder, Gerardo Zepeda
Code Red (US R0 NTSC), Alive (Germany R0 PAL) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9), Stormovie (Italy R2 PAL)
Though hailing from different countries, this double feature from Code Red compiles together two Spanish-language productions dubbed into English and frequently circulated on double and triple features to drive-ins throughout the '70s. The first, released the same year as Ken Russell's The Devils and featuring a somewhat similar attitude albeit much milder execution, is House of Insane Women (onscreen title: House of the Insane Women), a somber insane asylum melodrama originally released as Las melancólicas. Thanks to the fact that the main character is suffering from the trauma of seeing her mother undergo an exorcism, this one was retitled Exorcism's Daughter and passed off as a clone of a certain hit 1973 Warner Bros. film, confusing a lot of patrons in the process.
The main insane woman here is Tania (Gadé), who's confined to a terrifying institution filled with cats, vermin, and constant sound of Latin prayers. The women of all ages, shapes, and sizes are overseen by nuns who only seem slightly more stable, as well as a guard who apparently thinks he's a general. Enter Dr. Alba, a liberal physician who uses some new hypnosis techniques to explore the damaged psyche of Tania, whose childhood trauma watching her mother subjected to the religious torments of her fellow villagers was enough to push her off the deep end. Meanwhile the other inmates are pawned off for sexual favors, and while Dr. Alba promises to find a way to free Tania, her future may be very much in doubt.
Obviously this isn't really a horror film per se, though many viewers might find its grungy depiction of mental illness fairly disturbing (with moments that feel a lot like what would come along later on TV's American Horror Story: Asylum). The sleaze quotient consists mainly of a naked orgy scene with a couple of the more nymphomaniacal patients being handed off for a night of debauchery; for the most part, this is stern dramatic stuff worth checking out as long as you know what you're getting into. However, horror fans will probably get a kick out of seeing Spanish horror goddess Helga Liné as an insatiable inmate, in between her appearances in So Sweet... So Perverse and Horror Express.
Something Weird unleashed this one back in the '80s on VHS under the Exorcism's Daughter title as part of their "Sexy Shocker from the Vault" series, in a flat letterboxed transfer from a pretty chewed-up theatrical print. The Code Red version carries the title seen on the cover (amusingly spliced in with the audio from the main titles temporarily dropping out, a practice common for retitlings in the '70s), and while it's also inflicted with its fair share of splices and damage, it's at least a marginal step up in terms of detail. Colors look very bland and desaturated, but since we don't really have much else to compare it to, this may be the best it can look for the moment.
Also on the disc is a far more masculine-oriented look at madness, The Night of a Thousand Cats, which was made a year later in Mexico by very prolific director René Cardona Jr., son of the director of Santa Claus, Survive, and Night of the Bloody Apes. Of course, Cardona Jr. went on to join his dad as one of Mexico's most notorious filmmakers of the 1970s with trash epics like Guyana: Cult of the Damned, Tintorera, and Cyclone.
Busy Mexican drive-in actor Hugo Stiglitz (who appeared in several films for both Cardonas as well as Nightmare City) stars as Hugo (of course), a wealthy layabout who lives in a gothic estate where he brings beautiful women home for entertainment. He manages to procure many of them by flying his helicopter around Acapulco (which consumes an insane amount of the running time), but after tiring of them, he strangles the women, keeps their heads preserved in glass cases, and uses the bodies as food for his subterranean pit filled with, supposedly, a thousand hungry cats. He also has feline-themed artwork around his place and seems terrified of them, though the exact origin of his psychosis isn't really explained. Naturally he also has an ugly, weird henchman named Dorgo (Zepeda), who helps out with the grisly day-to-day chores, but the game might be over when Hugo brings home his latest conquest, pretty vacationer Cathy (The Baby's Comer), for a weekend at the mansion of flesh-eating kitties.
Despite its very short running time of just over an hour, The Night of a Thousand Cats is so filled with padding you could easily make a half-hour TV episode out of it without losing anything of narrative substance. That said, it certainly delivers where it counts in the sex and violence department, including a pretty surprising opening love scene (for '72 at least) and lots of weird gothic touches along the way. Unfortunately a couple of the cute cat costars look like they were treated pretty roughly during filming, but if you can overlook that unpleasant and really unnecessary aspect, there's plenty of amusing fun to be had here, especially with the loud '70s clothes, decor, and gargantuan brandy snifters.
A VHS mainstay in the early '80s, this film looked pretty awful for many years with several labels recycling the same wretched, pan and scanned transfer over and over. The Code Red release marks its first widescreen appearance in America and looks pretty nice, at least compared to its predecessors; you can finally make out what's going on in the darker scenes, and the full compositions at least make this feel more like a real movie. The print is also cleaner, with a few age-related defects but in much better shape than what we've had before. The English audio sounds about the same as it always has, i.e., hilariously awful. For those who can't get enough helicopter flying, there's also an Italian DVD containing a longer 78-minute cut of the film in English but heavily cropped to 1.33:1, as well as a German DVD of the longer version in scope but without an English-language option. From the menu on the Code Red disc you also get to "suffer through" some additional Code Red trailers like The Vampires' Night Orgy, Black Angels, Cut-Throats Nine, Teen Lust, Terminal Island, and Class of '74.