Dig if you will, a picture: It’s the late ‘80s, and not everyone is fortunate to obtain cherished IPs, with the masks and the knifed gloves still keeping warm by the dying slasher embers. But not everyone needed it either; for instance, look at filmmaker Greydon Clark - the man was never averse to dipping into the zeitgeist and extracting whatever the hell he liked. In this case, he gave us Uninvited (1987), a fun and goopy *checks notes* killer cat on a yacht flick. I’m still unsure what glob of cultural goo Clark was grabbing for, but I’ve always appreciated his mud-pie approach, and this one ends up being a messy, grainy, blob of glorious nonsense.
Sort of like most of his oeuvre, come to think of it: A little seedy, but nothing too transgressive; perfect viewing for the whole demented family. Except like most of his films, Uninvited came and went, never really finding a home, always awash at sea. Hell, even in the whole Clarkiverse, most see Uninvited as lesser than such well regarded classics as Without Warning, Joysticks, and Wacko. You read that right.
But I simply haven’t seen a film of his that didn’t entertain me to some degree, and Uninvited carries on that tradition in high concept fashion: Killer cat on a yacht terrorizes George Kennedy, Alex Cord, and Clu Gulager? One ticket, please.
We’re going to need a lab first, and preferably one doing top secret experiments on cats; once we do that, we need to show that this feline is…different. So our big creature effect transpires for the first of many visits to the screen: The cute tabby opens its mouth wide and out pops a knockoff muppet that noshes on anything in its path, before slinking back into its owner’s body.
Once we’ve established our critter, we have to get that plot in motion; how about the virus-filled cat manages to get aboard a private yacht owned by slimy businessman Cord (Chosen Survivors), and his two friends Kennedy (Wacko) and Gulager (From A Whisper to A Scream), who are all leaving town pronto because the SEC wants to talk to them about some off brand, offshore banking? But before they can set sail, they’ll need a new crew besides captain (and previous owner) Toni Hudson (School Spirit), and they’ll find it with a foursome of young, good looking, college kids looking for a party. Once they push off, there’s nothing between them and freedom besides a homicidal, infected, feline nesting doll. Are they up to the challenge? More importantly, are you?
Of course you are. It’s Alien on a boat, without reaching the same levels of talent, vision, and talent to pull it off. But pull off what, exactly; what was Clark’s message to the masses? Well, much time is spent in the faux opulence of Cord’s “home”, and so much is made of the criminals’ shady money laundering, that a disapproval of Reaganomics seems like fruit already rotting on the ground. So in the inimitable Clark fashion, he just leaves it there. When you get to the field late, nothing is fresh anymore.
So, as an exploitation filmmaker you gather what you can and reconfigure; take elements from this and that and hope to whomever you make something palatable. This is the Way of the Clark: Video Games (Joysticks), Neo-Nazis (Skinheads), and Forbidden Dances (The Forbidden Dance) are merely some of the cultural waves he tries to ride, always catching them after they’ve peaked. (Side Bar: Without Warning is a big exception - several elements from it were used later in the decade to much greater success in Predator. That’s my theory and I’m sticking to it.)
So here we are with Uninvited, and Clark really doesn’t (at least consciously) appear to be modeling the film on anything trendy; he just seems to be telling a story. Kind of wild, right? It’s just a refreshing change of pace.
Don’t worry though, this isn’t Downton Abbey (I almost typed Masterpiece Theatre but I’m trying to stay hip); there’s eye candy for everyone, the kitty puppet gets a lot of red on it (and on everyone else), and a troupe of blandly attractive college students. Oh I’m sorry, did you think they were the eye candy?
No, I’m afraid that honour falls to our Unholy Trinity: Kennedy, Cord, and The Gulager. (Amen.) We should take all the moments to appreciate what a trio like this can do with the material given; Kennedy is in tough guy mode, all curled lips and menace, and Cord plays oily as well as anyone.
And that leaves one Clu Gulager; still with us, still going, still the consummate character actor for these types of films. What type of film? Well, the kind that has an off kilter sidekick to the main villain, that’s what type. But with Clu, you get extra: Coke bottle glasses, a tweed hat and jacket, and a big old set of false teeth later repurposed for Bohemian Rhapsody. Not that he needs the help, you see; but every touch he brings raises the art to artier heights.
But this is Greydon Clark’s world, and I’m merely here to bear witness. As I wrap up, I realize I’ve used a couple of different metaphors to describe his work; that in itself is enough of one for me.
Uninvited is available on Blu-ray from Vinegar Syndrome.Next: Drive-In Dust Offs: SQUIRM (1976)