David Lowell Rich should be a familiar name to those who join us on Fridays for TV Terror Guide. Beginning his career in the 1950s, he was a prolific director of television shows who made several 1970s TV thrillers. He made the occasional theatrical film and Eye of the Cat (1969) plays much like a TV movie, only with a bigger budget.
It was written by the less-prolific Joseph Stefano, but when the screenplay for Psycho is on your resume, how many other movies need you have written? It’s interesting that Eye of the Cat plays much like a variation on Psycho, only more out of control. It has its suspenseful moments, as well as its twists and turns, but cannot compare to Hitchcock’s classic.
Really, I shouldn’t have compared the two movies. Eye of the Cat isn’t trying to be Psycho, but it is trying to be a shocking thriller. It succeeds best in a terrific scene where circumstances combine to create a perilous situation for one of its characters and a ridiculous, yet sublime, race against time to prevent it from happening.
Wylie (Michael Sarrazin) is a groovy 60s hustler, the black sheep of the family that his Aunt Danny (Eleanor Parker) adores, regardless that he’s off catting (pun intended) around while his brother, Luke (Tim Henry) works tirelessly taking care of her in her big San Francisco home. Aunt Danny and Luke’s relationship is not good, though. She’d rather leave her numerous cats in her will than him.
Kassia Lancaster (Gayle Hunnicutt) abducts Wylie, cleans him up, and proposes a partnership in which he returns home, gets himself put back into the will, and then gives a share of it to her when Aunty Danny dies. Of course, the sooner that last part, the better. This is where the true character of Wylie is tested, and he keeps us guessing if he’s a good guy or a bad guy.
Potentially preventing him from being either is the fact that he suffers from a crippling case of ailurophobia, the fear of cats. He can’t possibly return home until his brother loads them up in his car and takes them away. However, after he does and Wylie moves in (with Kassia hiding in the playroom), the meat-hungry felines begin returning until the basement is swarming with them.
This aspect of the plot gives Eye of the Cat just a hint of the supernatural without really going any further. No matter; the way they’re treated in the film, the cats are terrifying without any magical powers. After the aforementioned set piece, the aforementioned twists and turns happen one after the other during the slightly gory climax.
Eye of the Cat is a product of its time. I immersed myself in the era in which it was made and turned off my brain for a convoluted plot that nearly spins out of control. and I thoroughly enjoyed it. What I will remember about it are the moments that it teeters on going over the top. It’s a ridiculously fun movie.
Written by Joseph Stefano
Directed by David Lowell Rich
Starring Michael Sarrazin, Gayle Hunnicutt, Eleanor Parker, Tim Henry
RT 102 min.
Released June 18, 1969
Home Video Blu-ray (Shout!)
Rating 7 knife-wielding psychos (out of 10)