EYE OF THE CAT (1969) Blu-ray
Director: David Lowell Rich
Scream Factory/Shout! Factory

Scream Factory attempts to "take you beyond any fear you've ever known" with their Blu-ray unearthing of the Universal thriller EYE OF THE CAT.

When the health of his wealthy Aunt Danny (Eleanor Parker, THE TIGER AND THE PUSSYCAT) takes a turn for the worst with emphysema consigning her to spend much of her day in an oxygen tent and otherwise confined to a wheelchair, globe-hopping wastrel Wylie (Michael Sarrazin, THE REINCARNATION OF PETER PROUD) is drawn into a "caper" by his aunt's industrious hairdresser Kassia (Gayle Hunnicutt, THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE) to change her will in his favor. Still regarded by his aunt as "the prince of her soul" even years after he ran off after pocketing five thousand dollars from her strongbox, Wylie has been temporarily supplanted in her affections not by his resentful younger brother Luke (Tim Henry, SUNDAY IN THE COUNTRY) who has thanklessly looked after her for his entire adult life thus far but by her "other heirs": a teeming clowder of feral cats that have overrun her San Francisco mansion. Suffering from an intense debilitating fear of cats since a childhood trauma, Wylie refuses to set foot in the house so long as the cats remain. Aunt Danny, whose affection for her nephew goes far beyond the appropriate, not only has Luke get rid of the cats but also decides to change her will to make Wylie sole beneficiary without any prompting. When his aunt's lawyer (Linden Chiles, MARNIE) advises Wylie that the cats will inherit the money if Aunt Danny dies before the will is signed and witnessed, someone else or something else may thwart their scheme as the cats mysteriously find their way back into the house one by one.

Shot in vertiginous San Francisco with costumes by Edith Head (THE TROUBLE WITH HARRY), cats trained by Ray Berwick (THE BIRDS), and a script by Joseph Stefano (PSYCHO) – the latter two as much involved not so much for their Hitchcock credentials as being top-tier Universal Studio regulars – EYE OF THE CAT plays somewhat like Hitchcock crossed with Tennessee Williams (and maybe a side of Lillian Hellman). As the film reaches the halfway point, one realizes that the plot is significantly more complex than the inheritance caper, with Sarrazin's playboy coming across far less loathsome than he first appears if only because he first seems more interested in the girl than the cash ("there's something obscene about wanting money") and then seeming to throw monkey wrenches into the works of the scheme not so much out of a guilty conscience but in the spirit of "black fun." The film could actually have used a bit more playfulness – the notion of the supernatural is breached but we all know there is a more "logical" explanation – than it has since the filmmakers seemed to have realized before the climax that the audience will have already guessed the third act revelations and then proceed to throw one twist on top of another until the final surprise has one wishing that the studio had hired Robert Bloch instead of Stefano and carried the climax in the more grisly poetic justice angle in which it had been heading. The film is essentially a chamber piece, but the film upsets its claustrophobic atmosphere with a happenin' night-on-the-town sequence in which Wylie and Kassia attend a barge party full of hippies, bohemians, fey gays ("I told my mother I was a latent homosexual, and she said 'better latent than never'") and mannish lesbian bass players that degenerates into a girl fight when one of Wylie's exes (Jennifer Leak, THE INCUBUS) accosts Kassia in the ship's head. Producer Bernard Schwartz had previously backed the British-lensed THE SHUTTERED ROOM the year before and would later produce the Richard Franklin's Hitchcockian ROAD GAMES as well as his PSYCHO II, while co-producer Leslie Stevens was better known as the creator of THE OUTER LIMITS. Under contract with Universal, director David Lowell Rich helmed only a few features (including the disaster flick THE CONCORDE… AIRPORT '79) and worked primarily in episodic television and TV movies, including the more memorable THE HORROR AT 37,000 FEET and SATAN'S SCHOOL FOR GIRLS.

Never released on home video and infrequently screened on television, EYE OF THE CAT comes to 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 widescreen Blu-ray from an archival 35mm print which includes an ad for the Universal Studios tour after the end credits. Apart from some faint scratches at one or two reel changes, the element is very clean with crisp detail – particularly in those second unit close-up inserts of the cats – and bold colors. The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono track is clean with clear dialogue and the Bernard Herrmannesque score of Lalo Schifrin (THE AMITYVILLE HORROR) coming through forcefully. Optional English SDH subtitles are provided.

Extras include the television broadcast version (101:59 versus the 101:32 theatrical) in its entirety in standard definition from a hazy, cropped fullscreen video master. While some acts of violence are curtailed – including the "C-A-T in the rotisserie" – along with some language, this version also includes a couple reshot scenes such as Wylie's introduction and a considerably less bloody and intense climax (although the theatrical climax would be seen in the Anthony Perkins-hosted 1979 Universal horror clip-show TV special THE HORROR SHOW which I caught on television sometime in the early 1990s). Scenes shot for the theatrical version but not included in that cut include a roughly three minute dialogue sequence between Danny and Luke that is a great scene for Henry but is both a little too on-the-nose early on and stops the film cold, as well as an extension of the final shot that visually likens Wylie himself to something like a stray cat. The disc also includes a photo gallery (5:02), radio spot (1:01), and the original theatrical trailer (2:05). The cover is reversible with the familiar American poster art on the front and artwork seen on the French and Italian posters on the reverse. (Eric Cotenas)