Attack of the Cat People – Making a Classic Horror Film Today
We love classic horror and sci-fi films here at The Haunted Cinema. Monster films from the 1950’s like The Creature from the Black Lagoon, Monster on the Campus, and I was a Teenage Frankenstein are some examples of the movies we enjoy. These films and others like them from the era were mostly, low budget, cheesy, melodramas that have a charm that stands the test of time. Lately, there have been a few Indie filmmakers such as Christopher R. Mihm and Joshua Kennedy who have taken their passion for classic horror and their talent as filmmakers to make films in the style of the older films as a homage to them. Australian filmmaker, Sarah Stephenson and her Black Cat Productions, is the latest to attempt to make such a film. Sarah was writer, director, editor, and producer on this film.
Making a movie, shooting it in B&W, having actors wear period costumes only scratches the surface of paying homage. The story, cinematography, dialogue, music, and creature effects must also be considered to make a true “classic” horror. Attack of the Cat People, does this an more on a limited budget and 45 minute run-time. I want to explore each of those elements in this review.
Many of the monster films of the 1950’s have similar story beats. An expedition to some unknown, or unexplored location, by a group of scientists, ends in terror when they meet up with the place’s strange creature. This film hits those beats and more. Like Creature from the Black Lagoon, it opens with a fun narration centered on the mysteries of creation, this time the rise and fall of the Garden of Eden. I couldn’t help but hear The Amazing Criswell’s opening narration for Plan 9 from Outer Space.
The setup for the story is a mysterious meteor crashing into the ocean, which unexpectedly creates not only a new island, but also sprouts plants, and animal life. All of these occurrences catch the eye of a group of scientists who are eager to explore this new find. Unbeknownst to the group, not only has there been an incredible acceleration in the vegetations growth, but the local predators, a type of sabre tooth tiger, as begun to evolve into a humanoid monster.
There is also a minor subplot involving a spy up to no good.
This is where this film truly shines. Old movies look old. Whether it’s film grain, washed out filters, and use of shadows, they just have a certain feel. Unfortunately, many modern attempts at recreating these old films fall flat here. The digital camera works just looks to clean. Hayden Lowery as Director of Photography and Sarah Stephenson’s editing combine make Attack of the Cat People look old, both using filters, establishing shots, and even clever use of stock footage. If shown on late night television, this would fool a modern audience.
The cast features Jessica Ham as Diana Lawrence, Peter Irish as Captain John Baker, John Gorman as Doctor Elliot, Wayne Bassett as Doctor Fraser, Emma Critchell as Janet, and Brad Phillips as Edwin. They are handed a script with B-movie dialogue that would make William Castle proud. The running length limited character growth, but smart use of exposition filled in the blanks. The acting, for the most part works, there are a few times it falls a bit flat but it didn’t take me out of the film.
From the opening credits, the music had me sold. Composed by Jacquie Joy, the soundtrack is spot on. Soundtracks from early horror and sci-fi films have that “sound”, as soon as you hear it, you know what you’re in for. They have a creepy, mysterious sound that lets you know you’re about to have some fun and scares. This score delivers on all fronts. The quality and sound of this soundtrack boggles the mind considering that this is a low budget movie.
When working on a small budget you must find a way to make the monsters scary without being goofy. That can happen if you manage to find another Paul Blaisdell just itching to get his hands in clay and will work for peanuts, or if you keep your creatures hidden, only showing what you need to build the mode. That is the route taken on this film and it works perfectly. Usually, all we get are glimpses of the monsters, enough to build dread, but even when they are revealed, the camera work helps to keep them threatening without giving away any flaws.
All the elements of a classic creature feature were wonderfully brought together by Sarah and her team. You could tell that not only was this a labor of love, but that there is a genuine respect and appreciation for the old films.
The film premiered on Nov. 5 to very positive reviews and she hopes to get it to streaming soon.