Eye of the Cat
Penned by Psycho screenwriter Joseph Stefano and directed by film and TV movie veteran David Lowell Rich (The Horror at 37,000 Feet), Eye of the Cat is a skilfully crafted, San Francisco-set chiller starring Michael Sarrazin (They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?) and Gayle Hunnicutt (Voices) as Wylie and Kassia – a couple whose scheme to rob wealthy, cat-loving Aunt Danny (Eleanor Parker, The Sound of Music) goes awry when Wyle’s compulsive feline phobia comes up against the many cats defending Aunt Danny’s mansion.
David Lowell Rich’s film benefits from suspenseful cat-attack set-pieces, a menacing Lalo Schifrin (Dirty Harry) score, and a seductive sixties wardrobe courtesy of legendary costume designer Edith Head (Sweet Charity).
Indicator presents the original theatrical version of David Lowell Rich’s Eye of the Cat on a dual-layer Blu-ray disc in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The disc is locked to region B.
Indicator is working with a 1080p/24hz high-definition master supplied by Universal and it’s clearly an older one. The picture is noticeably noisy in its rendering of the grain, and I’m quite sure its inherent to the supplied master. Little jaggies and shimmers show up as well in tighter patterns, and ringing comes up every so often. The film does have a Technicolor look, and bleeding isn’t an issue that seems to pop up, but the colours do have a rather dull look about them, washed and lifeless, more so than I'm used to from the process (though pinks manage to have a nice pop). Blacks can also crush severely in some of the darker scenes, killing detail in the process, and could be a gamma/chroma issue.
Some bits of dirt and minor scratches remain, but the elements look to be in decent shape otherwise; I can’t speak as to how much restoration work went into this but it’s clean for the most part. The image is also incredibly sharp with a decent amount of detail, even within the handful of dupier looking shots scattered about, lik the opening sequence, which uses a rather complicated split screen structure, along with some shots of the cats later on, which may have been zoomed in on.
Not ideal in the end, though I’m unsure around the likelihood of this film ever receiving a newer restoration. As it is, I think Indicator has done what they can, and the final image is what I would call “good enough.”
There can be a bit of shrillness to the track thanks to the music and screeching cats, but the DTS-HD MA 1.0 monaural soundtrack does what it can. Dialogue sounds clear and there is no severe damage present. There can just be an edge to things when it reaches those louder parts of the film.
Indicator does put together a great little special edition for the film, appearing to beat out Shout! Factory’s North American edition (I should mention I haven’t seen their disc). I was rather surprised by the incredibly affectionate audio commentary supplied by Kevin Lyons. Lyons feels the film is very underrated as a horror film, contributing some of that to the fact the film was more easily available in the heavily altered television version (included as a feature on this disc). He loves pointing out its strengths, some of its stand-out moments, and admires how the climax of the film works out. He also likes to place the film in its time and how it represents the San Francisco “free love” scene and the counterculture born from it, though clearly from the perspective of people who didn’t really understand it. He also works to clear up some misunderstandings, like the actual relationship between the aunt and the one nephew, and other plot points. For all the film’s problems I will admit it’s a bit of a riot, so I was pretty much sold on it already, yet Lyons’ track still worked it’s magic on me and I admire some of the film’s smaller strengths even more.
And as mentioned previously, Indicator does include the television version of the film, running the same time at around 102-minutes. It has also been sourced from a very rough looking video tape, more than likely recorded off of television (the notes in the booklet call it a “domestic off-air recording”) so the presentation isn’t ideal, and it has been upscaled from standard-definition. As to this cut itself I have to say it is, at the very least, an interesting alternate edit, first doing what you’d usually expect for a TV re-edit: it cuts out brief nudity, all suggestions of sex (including heavy making-out and show of skin, except on the males), and questionable language. It also cuts out some violence, even the violence performed by or on cats (a cat being electrocuted is gone, as is a reference to it, along with a scene where cats feed on raw meat). There are a couple of new scenes as well to stretch out the time, but the biggest change is the film’s conclusion: the original ending involves what appears to be hundreds of cats while the TV version has cut that down to… one. One not-very-threatening cat, which in turn drops a supernatuarl element to the film. This alternate ending is what makes this version fascinating from a technical stand point, but it turns the rather bizarre film itself into a far less interesting one thanks to the heavily toned-down ending. I appreciate the edit being here for completeness’ sake, but I would actually point most—at least to those who don’t want to invest the time—to maybe just watch the disc’s video essay Two Evil Eyes, a 37-minute break-down of all of the differences between the two versions, using split screen comparisons to highlight the differences where scenes are similar, or play the new scenes on their own. It also plays the edits one after the other. The examination of the ending is especially thorough in regard to the editing and order of shots and sequences.
Kim Newman then pops up for 20-minutes to talk about the feline-horror subgenre and this film’s place in it. There’s plenty to admire about these types of films, and there are a number of classics (Cat People being the obvious one), but Newman points out that one of the big issues with the subgenre is that cats really aren’t scary, especially in colour. Still, he thinks this film works for the most part and explains why he thinks that is, before veering on to other aspects, like its cringey representation of the 60s "hippie" culture in the film and some of director David Lowell Rich’s other films (and though it doesn’t mean anything, the use of clips from Rich’s The Concorde: Airport ’79 makes me hope that Indicator might release a box set of those silly films one day).
The disc then closes with the film’s trailer and then an image gallery featuring production photos, posters, press book excerpts and promotional materials for the theaters, like how to amp up the atmosphere of a theater by having a doctor and nurse on sight "in case" the film is too scary, or to offer free hair dye services if an audience member’s hair turns white due to fright. Good stuff.
Indicator also includes one of their exceptional booklets, this one starting off with a great, rather lengthy essay on the film and its production, written by Kassandra O’Connell, which first mentions how Terrence Stamp was originally signed on in the lead role (something Lyons touches on in his track as well). The booklet then features excerpted text from Universal’s pressbook for the film, which was written up like a tabloid news story, followed by a promotional piece on the film that would have appeared in various newspapers across the country, linking the film to the hippie scene (which, as the booklet points out, is “tenuous” at best). This is then followed by another syndicated news column, a profile on Gayle Hunnicutt, and then a collection of excerpts from various reviews for the film, which are mostly mixed, but all manage to point out some of the film’s strengths.
It’s not one of Indicator’s jam-packed editions but there’s still quite a bit of meat to be found in all of the material they’ve included, Lyons’ commentary and the look at the two versions of the film being quite good all on their own.
What the release lacks in presentation is more than made up for in the included supplements, which work hard to offer a solid defense for the film.