Horror movies have more subgenres than they probably need. “Werewolf biker movies,” plural, that’s a real thing. But mostly these offshoots of our favorite scare tactics make a certain amount of sense. There are a whole lot of deadly animal movies, for example, and if we can have a whole subgenre for man-eating sharks, then we might as well have one for killer cats.
The problem, of course, is that cats are super-duper cute. It’s actively hard to make a house cat seem frightening. But at the behest of my new cat, Sergio, I have decided to focus today on the nine films that have tried the hardest. Some of them are good, a few are kind of great, and the rest are absolutely fascinating just for their bonkers weirdness.
So cuddle up with your favorite furball and hope they’re not easily impressionable. These are the nine most unforgettable killer cat movies that I have encountered in my travels.
BURNING BRIGHT (2010)
Brianna Evigan is having a pretty bad day. Her stepfather drained her inheritance to buy a live tiger, so now she can’t afford to send her autistic brother to a decent care facility, which also means she can’t go to college anymore because now she has to take care of him. Also there’s a hurricane, so all the windows are boarded up, making it pretty hard to escape once the tiger gets loose in the house.
BURNING BRIGHT does one storytelling contortion act after another just to get a young woman in the same house as a man-eating tiger. Once they’re together the film becomes a somewhat standard game of literal cat and figurative mouse. Frankly, this is mostly interesting because it has one of the most contrived set-ups to a horror movie ever.
THE CORPSE GRINDERS (1971)
When was the last time you actually looked at the ingredients of your cat food? Maybe it’s time to give it a gander: THE CORPSE GRINDERS is a film about a cat food company that mulches human meat into kitty chow, giving pet cats an uncontrollable taste for human flesh.
That’s a pretty fun idea for a killer cat movie. THE CORPSE GRINDERS is a very low-budget, very grindhouse production that more-or-less forgets the “killer cats” angle after a while, in favor of resolving the gruesome events behind the scenes of the cat food company, which feels like a missed opportunity.
Still, it’s a sleazy cult flick that makes you feel dirty. So it’s hard to argue that it doesn’t do its job pretty well.
THE GHOST AND THE DARKNESS (1996)
From the writer of THE PRINCESS BRIDE and the director of the LOST IN SPACE movie comes a thriller about building bridges in Kenya, and hunting man-eating lions. And it’s based on a true story, making it doubly amazing.
THE GHOST AND THE DARKNESS probably doesn’t live up to screenwriter William Goldman’s original pitch: “JAWS meets LAWRENCE OF ARABIA.” But it’s a rock solid historical thriller in its own right, with a sweet cast – Val Kilmer, Michael Douglas, Bernard Hill, Tom Wilkinson, Emily Mortimer – and swank production values.
NIGHT OF A THOUSAND CATS (1972)
From low budget sleaze master René Cardona Jr. comes NIGHT OF A THOUSAND CATS, which may actually have a thousand freaking cats in it. You’ll probably give up counting after a while, just like I did.
The film stars Hugo Stiglitz as a millionaire helicopter enthusiast who likes to fly by the houses of sexy women and drop gifts into their backyards, and then whisk them away to his isolated castle where he decapitates them, preserves their heads and feeds the rest of their bodies to a giant pit full of kitties. That’s it. That’s the whole plot. Never mind why he does this or what he gets out of it.
I have never seen a movie fetishize helicopters as much as NIGHT OF A THOUSAND CATS. I I wouldn’t be surprised if they were contractually obligated to use the helicopter in every other scene, as some sort of deal with the rental agency. (Also, trigger alert: there’s one scene where Hugo Stiglitz chucks a real cat so far that landing on its feet may not have helped much.)
ROAR is quite possibly the scariest movie ever made, but not for the right reasons. The film was written, directed and co-produced by Noel Marshall, starred his wife Tippi Hedren (THE BIRDS) and also their daughter Melanie Griffith, who over the course of the production had to get fifty stitches on her face after she was mauled by a jungle cat.
Oh yes, I almost forgot: ROAR also stars dozens of lions, tigers, panthers, leopards, jaguars and cheetahs, who simply roam about the film, occasionally pouncing on the actors and trying to bite their necks. The film is about a man who lives peacefully with his monster felines, who happens to be out of the house when his family comes to visit him, resulting in an extended face-off between these hapless innocent people and enormous cats who either want to play or feed on human flesh. It’s kind of hard to tell most of the time.
Knowing that there were hardly any safety precautions in place, and that many people involved with the production suffered grievous injuries, makes ROAR play an awful lot like a snuff film. You want to scream at these people to just stop making the movie and run for their lives.
It probably wouldn’t have worked though. Future SPEED director Jan De Bont was the cinematographer on ROAR. He was scalped during the production. Then he went back to work.
Timothy Busfield and Kathleen Quinlan buy their dream house after the mysterious death of an old cat lady. They have no idea, but the cats are still on the premises and they don’t take kindly to this invasion of their territory. So they pee on everything, kill a few people and ultimately wage war on Busfield and Quinlan, who defend themselves by squirting water.
STRAYS may be a TV movie from 1991 but it’s actually one of the most entertaining killer cat movies ever made. The plot is a little thin but the cast is solid, and the overall tone is similar to ARACHNOPHOBIA, which came out just one year earlier. And the climactic showdown between Timothy Busfield and a pissed off Russian Blue – which launches itself out of a microwave like a cannonball – is a blast.
TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE: THE MOVIE (1990)
This anthology movie only has one installment about a killer cat, but it’s a real doozy. Nestled between a solid killer mummy story (with an all-star cast that includes Julianne Moore, Christian Slater and Steve Buscemi), and a weird monster marriage story that is probably more sad than scary, comes the epic tale of the CAT FROM HELL.
Based on a Stephen King short story, CAT FROM HELL stars the great William Hickey as an aging pharmaceutical giant who thinks a black cat is out to kill him. So he hires a hitman played by David Johansen (aka “Buster Poindexter”) to assassinate the feline. It turns out to be a lot harder than it sounds, especially when the cat reveals its ultimate, thoroughly gross finishing move.
TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE: THE MOVIE is a pretty darned good anthology flick, and CAT FROM HELL is definitely the highlight. You kind of have to see it to believe it.
THE UNCANNY (1977)
But wait, there’s also a horror anthology about nothing but killer cats! Well, sort of. The middle installment is a bit more about witchcraft than anything else, but don’t let that stop you from watching THE UNCANNY. The film stars Peter Cushing as an author who has uncovered a conspiracy on the part of house cats to control the world, kill their oppressors, and it comes across just as plausible as it sounds.
So he tells three stories: one about a housekeeper who runs afoul of her invalid employer’s kitty cats, another about an orphaned girl whose new family doesn’t like her cat, and finally the story of an actor who murders his wife and only gets his comeuppance when he also screws with her cat.
The novelty of THE UNCANNY will get you through the slower parts, but overall this is a strange and very enjoyable film about how evil we all know cats are. (Just kidding! Don’t hurt me, Sergio!)
One of the weirdest killer cat movies ever – and if you haven’t been paying close attention, I’ll reiterate that that’s saying something – is about a cat who repeatedly barfs up another, larger cat who kills people and infects them with bulging neck disease. Oh yes, and it all takes place on a yacht where a millionaire and the group of teenagers he invited for some reason are completely isolated and also they dance like total dorks.
This is a film in which Oscar-winning actor George Kennedy gets killed by poison cat monster, and that alone makes it a must see. It’s kind of slow in the middle but the promise that eventually a cat will cough out a poorly-explained demon monster keeps it going. You may or may not have a good time watching UNINVITED, but you will not forget it. That’s for sure.