Dracula, Frankenstein, Wolf Man, and Tabitha

It’s not implausible to believe an angry house cat might grow tired of the human vessels who inhabit its domain. Killer kitties seem like an underutilized genre in retrospect. Believing a feline cares enough for its human captors to revenge kill? That’s too much.

Anti-cat snark aside, Shadow of the Cat is less Universal than it is Hammer (which it is). More than the British, turn-of-the-century setting, there’s a grisly, angrier vibe in this story. Immoral characters line Shadow of the Cat, all doomed to die in a movie like this, if only because they never do anything other than think of themselves. In the opening scene, the Venable family murders their matriarch Ella in an effort to steal her riches. They just didn’t consider the cat.

Shadow of the Cat, like Hammer’s library in general, depicts an undeniable change in horror cinema

The first spoken words come from narration, reciting Poe’s The Raven. It’s apt, although Tell-Tale Heart fits better. Tabitha torments the Venable family much like the buried heart in Poe’s work, triggering anxieties, heart attacks, fear, and even drownings. Given the Venable’s deliciously evil demeanor, seeing them wiped out by an everyday pet satisfies.

Indirectly, there’s a suggestion this cat harbors Ella’s (Catherine Lacey) spirit. That ghostly/spiritual layer isn’t explored in anything other than suggestive camera angles or throwaway dialog, leaving Shadow of the Cat as an early example of the “animals attack” genre, which found an audience in the ‘70s. By then, it was ecological; in 1961, it was British snobbery and greed at fault.

Dismissing the absurdity, Shadow of the Cat does make this convincing. It’s not as if Tabitha serves as a slasher villain. Rather, the family generally offs themselves, a clever means of associating their narcissism to their deaths. Some die from their sheer hatred, others because jitters leave them so vulnerable. Rarely does Tabitha directly attack.

For 1961, it’s occasionally graphic. That was the Hammer way. A topple down stairs doesn’t cut away, showing the entire fall, thumping sound effects and all. Later comes a rooftop fall where not only is the impact shown, the film edits to a close-up specifically to show the body bounce on the lawn. Shadow of the Cat, like Hammer’s library in general, depicts an undeniable change in horror cinema. It’s a film willing to go beyond monsters choking out victims, mostly off-screen. Considering this all due to a cat, ludicrous as that is, adds another layer of fear.

Video

Restored at 2K, Scream/Shout Factory finds a pleasing print to draw from. It’s a little scratchy, a little dirty, but well within reason. At no point does the problem turn severe, and nothing is long term.

Superb grain reproduction keeps images natural and pure, sans compression issue. As with the previous Universal Horror Collection sets, each film is given its own disc, so there’s more than enough room. High resolution material finds excellent texture and detail throughout. Close-ups define beautifully, as does the house interior, from its décor to wallpaper. Wood work especially stands out.

Managed gray scale extends to extremes, selling shadows in the dim attic, countering them with well-lit living areas, all gradients accounted for. Balance and depth both impress, keeping the vintage imagery dimensional.

Audio

Slight popping on the soundtrack aside, Shadow of the Cat is well preserved. Dialog is muffled a little, and often dubbed, audibly so thanks to the DTS-HD clarity. A great score by Mikis Theodorakis hits lows hard and smooth, even though thunder effects sound muddy.

Mono mixing remains in balance for the full runtime.

Extras

Historian Bruce G Hallenbeck takes over the booth for commentary work, followed by a 24-minute interview with star Barbara Shelley.

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

Shadow of the Cat
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Eccentric as the concept is, Shadow of the Cat works to make itself legitimate and entertaining British horror.

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