While the math is way off – there’s no more than one hundred, tops – The Night of a Thousand Cats (1972) offers 63 minutes (!) of outlandish fun, decadent behavior, and a proclivity towards the absurd. Just don’t expect a story from this Mexican release; it seems around thirty minutes were cut for the North American release, leaving behind a mess of the rest that is nevertheless very entertaining.
Released in Mexico in early August, Cats (actually, let’s use Night as shorthand instead, shall we?) didn’t arrive stateside until November of ’74, where it came and went pretty quickly. Reviews were…well, what do you think? There still really hasn’t been a reconsideration of the film all these years later; it remains hanging out just below the surface of modern horror culture.
And by hanging out I mean mostly hiding from shame; Night has a couple moments where cats appear to be mishandled, and I’m pretty sure there weren’t any animal advocates on the set. Putting that brief unpleasantness aside, Night is a prime example of ‘70s exploitation: narcissism slathered in sleaze with a hint of titillation. It’s a strange and singular hour.
Rich playboy Hugo (Hugo Stiglitz - Nightmare City) spends his time waterskiing, cavorting with beautiful women, spying on women in his helicopter, bringing said women back to his inherited castle, killing those women, grinding them up, and then feeding them to his “1000” cats.
That logline is the story; the only thing I’ve left out is Hugo’s faithful (and idiotic) manservant Dorgo (Gerardo Zepeda - House of Madness), fulfilling the role of manservant/body disposal worker so essential to any mad scientist film; it’s a shame he services are rendered obsolete before the film ends.
So, what do we talk about, then? Well, let’s see how that absence - perhaps scrapped on the cutting room floor - of plot affects what’s left:
Hugo spends a solid half of his screen time piloting his helicopter and peeping into the backyards of wealthy and bored housewives, and surprisingly not a one (or even a neighbor) calls the police on the Chopper Chode;
No backstory is provided for Hugo, or Dorgo, or even the cats and Hugo’s obsession with them;
The Worst Mom in the World Award goes to the (I suppose, main?) character who leaves her eight year old daughter home alone so she can go up the hill and fuck Hugo in his Kitty Castle;
There’s very little in the way of conversation, between...well, anyone, really. A word here, a mumble there and that’s it;
Luckily, Hugo’s castle comes with a crematorium.
The above observations aren’t a slam against The Night of a Thousand Cats, but rather a deep fascination with what does and doesn’t get cut from a film; what’s left of the film is a series of events plainly played out like the first draft of a sixth grader’s book report. (Okay, final draft.) Hugo flies. Hugo kills. Hugo feeds the cats. That’s it, although there is an actual ending for Hugo to get his comeuppance at the hand of his fluffy prisoners; it would be quite disappointing for a film with that title to not offer up some sort of resolution/retribution.
The easiest (or laziest, take your pick) way to characterize Night is as dream-like, in the sense that none of it holds water after you’ve awoken. The female victims are interchangeable, exposition doesn’t make the cut, and characters seem to teleport from scene to scene instead of any kind of natural transition. The only thing that keeps it indistinguishable from a dream is a serious lack of Kate Jackson in a bikini reading me an issue of Creepy magazine. (Warning: dreams may differ from person to person.)
This is where the appeal lies in The Night of a Thousand Cats; the lack of fundamental bricks leaves the structure ready to collapse, yet it somehow stays erect. Thanks (or blame) should fall to director/co-writer René Cardona Jr. (Tintorera: Killer Shark) and comatose star Stiglitz, who offers up zero insight into his character and is as stiff as one of his chess pieces. It works in his favor however, as his passive killer (at least in this version) views murder as something to squeeze in between wining, dining, and 69ing; no reflection necessarily but more than enough narcissistic grease to easily identify its ‘70s imprint.
I’m not sure I even want to see the full version of this film. I often say that every film is ten minutes too long; The Night of a Thousand Cats, in all of its fevered and gutted glory, is kind of just right.
The Night of a Thousand Cats is available on DVD from Trinity Home Entertainment.Next: Drive-In Dust Offs: FRANKENSTEIN AND THE MONSTER FROM HELL (1974)