La noche de los mil gatos

(The Night of the Thousand Cats)

(Avant Films, 1970) Prod: Mario A. Zacarías; Dir: René Cardona Jr.; Scr: Mario Marzac, René Cardona Jr.; Photo: Alex Phillips Sr.; Music: Raúl Lavista; Assoc Prod: René Cardona Jr., Hugo Stiglitz; Prod Mgr: José Zacarías; Prod Chief: Alberto Ferrer; Asst Dir: Valerio Olivo; Film Ed: Alfredo Rosas Priego; Art Dir: Alberto Ladrón de Guevara; Makeup: Rosa Guerrero; Sound Supv: James L. Fields; Re-rec: Ramón Moreno; Union: STPC; Eastmancolor and Panavision

English-language version released in 1974 by Ellman Enterprises (also released in the USA by Trans-International Films as The Night of a Thousand Cats, and billing Mario Zacarías as "Zachary Mars"--I do not know the date of this release). Another English-dubbed version was released on video as Blood Feast. This tape was cut, and when I get the chance I will post info on what's missing.

CAST: Anjanette Comer (married woman), Zulma Faiad (dancer), Hugo Stiglitz (Hugo), Christa Linder (Christa), Teresa Velázquez (woman who shoots doves), Bárbara Angely (Bárbara), Gerardo Zepeda (Dorgo), Jorge Russek (husband), Delia Peña Horta [sic] (Cathy, little girl), John Kelly (stranded doctor), Marcelo Villamil (dancer's lover)

NOTES: this is a fairly well-known film due to its release in an English-language version. La noche de los mil gatos isn't bad, but it has some flaws and inconsistencies. In the first place, the cats are really irrelevant! They might as well be dogs, fish, snakes, or anything else. As in The Corpse Grinders (1971), cats who are repeatedly fed human flesh subsequently become killers, which is patently illogical: canned cat- and dog-food contains pork, beef, and horseflesh, but you don't see cats and dogs attacking pigs, cows, or horses, do you? Perhaps the cats (who kill Dorgo and Hugo and pursue Anjanette Comer in the course of the film) are just really hungry, or maybe (although this only applies to Hugo), they are mad because Hugo dunked one of their fellow cats in a swimming pool and hurled another like a football back into their cage (but otherwise there is no feline mistreatment shown or even hinted at).

Another minor annoyance: after the deaths of Christa Linder and John Kelly's characters, Dorgo is seen putting large duffle bags (the size of a human corpse) into a furnace. However, in both cases, the bodies were presumably ground up into cat-food (and their heads were put into glass cases): so what's in the bag? Their bones? (this is what Emilio García Riera says, but the bags seem awfully bulky to contain only a skeleton) Their clothes?

The last two-thirds of the film are frustrating (both for the viewer and Hugo) since scenes alternate between Hugo's relationships with Anjanette Comer and Zulma Faiad, and consequently very little actually happens until the final ten minutes or so. The picture also broadly hints that Hugo is thinking about adding the little girl Cathy to his "collection," but for some reason he decides against killing her (the sequence in which he "kidnaps" her, takes her to his house in a helicopter, then returns her alive and well to her mother is nicely-done).

The film is reasonably well-produced, shot on location in Mexico City, an old convent, and Acapulco. But director Cardona (and I guess editor Rosas Priego and cinematographer Phillips) were obviously influenced by the "hip" film-making of the 1960s, since there are a lot of "shock" zooms, giant closeups, and unusual editing, including almost subliminal cutaways to shots of the sun, the yowling cats, flash-forwards, fantasy scenes, et al. This is at times quite confusing and irritating, but since it seems there was some specific formal intent behind this, the film-makers can be forgiven. It should be noted that the original film was shot in Panavision (the credits sequence is compressed) so video versions are panned-and-scanned (although in truth it appears that the video transfer simply shows the center portion of the image, since little optical scanning is obvious); however, there are no major visual problems or missing information as a result.

And to be fair, there are some clever shots and sequences, and even a couple of good lines. For instance, early in the film Christa Linder's head is shot through a brandy snifter, foreshadowing her eventual fate: this occurs before any of the severed-heads-in-jars are seen or even suggested, so it's a decent touch. When Christa visits Hugo's house, she asks "Who else [besides Hugo and Dorgo] lives here?" Hugo replies: "Some silent and adorable people you will meet after dinner" (i.e., his collection of heads). Later, Hugo and his servant Dorgo are playing chess; Dorgo makes a move to check his master, and Hugo says "You're getting smarter every day, Dorgo." Then there is a cut to Hugo pushing Dorgo into the cage full of hungry cats!

La noche de los mil gatos begins in Acapulco. Hugo and Bárbara are having an affair. She is very fond of him, but says he seems "ill." Hugo admits that, as a boy, he was given shock treatments; when his parents died, the treatments stopped "and I got well." Bárbara is frightened and tries to run away, but he chases and kills her.

His next victim is Christa, a German archeology student. [Christa Linder has a topless swim and both she and Stiglitz are shown nude (from behind only) as they lay on a bed on his yacht, ironically named "Puritan." The Linder sequence is the only one which has any significant amount of dialogue, interestingly enough.] The night before she is scheduled to leave the country, they go to Hugo's house, which is an old convent located in a wooded area near Mexico City. Christa is frightened by the strange appearance of Dorgo, Hugo's hulking, bald, mute servant. They are each served a piece of meat: "Dorgo is a great cook and meat is his speciality," Hugo says (he also says "Dorgo is as faithful as a cat," which is kind of a strange comment).

After dinner, Hugo takes Christa to a room in the dungeon of the convent (convents had dungeons?): it is filled with hunting trophies collected by his grandfather. It also contains a row of glass boxes, most of which contain women's heads--the last box is empty. Christa is horrified, but Hugo says they are fakes--until he grabs and strangles her with her own scarf. Later, he feeds his collection of cats (kept in a big cage) with ground meat (occasionally snacking on a piece himself--there is a giant closeup of Hugo's mouth as he chews). Dorgo burns the rest of the evidence, although he keeps Christa's scarf as a souvenir.

Back on the prowl in his helicopter, Hugo hovers over a sunbathing showgirl (who poses for him), then is attracted by a little girl who waves at him. He spots the girl's mother (the father is just departing on a business trip). Hugo returns several times in his copter, once spying on the dancer in her bedroom (she pulls the curtain), and later dropping a rope ladder so she can join him (she refuses, but uses her fingers to give him her telephone number, a clever scene).

However, it is the married woman who falls first. Hugo follows her on the golf course, and drops a doll by parachute to her daughter. Eventually, the woman winds up in bed with Hugo at his house. But before he can show her "the most interesting thing in the house," there is a knock at the door: a doctor on an emergency call has had car trouble. The woman takes this opportunity to leave. The doctor comes in; Hugo says "the cats are hungry, Dorgo." In the next shot, Dorgo is burning another duffle bag and fondling a stethescope.

Hugo watches the dancer perform at a nightclub. They visit a local park, but Hugo falls asleep on a bench and the dancer goes home alone. [These sequences are very unusual, in that they contain--as Hugo is watching the musical number--some apparent flash-forwards to Hugo and the dancer walking through the park and kissing, etc.. Zulma Faiad, in her dance numbers, seems to be wearing the same costume she did in El ídolo (1970).]

At his house, Hugo stares at one of the preserved heads and has a flashback: he was in love with this woman, and planned on marrying her ("Not her, Dorgo," he warns his assistant). But while he's getting the ring (which also appears in a painting, probably of one of his ancestors), Dorgo chases and kills the woman with a pair of hedge clippers. Hugo lets Dorgo's disobedience go unpunished.

Hugo finally hooks up with the dancer, but at her house. However, when she gets a phone call from "the person who pays for all this," Hugo angrily grabs her cat and dunks it in the swimming pool. Later, when Dorgo (as mentioned above) makes a good chess move, Hugo tosses him to the cats.

Hovering over the dancer's house, Hugo sees her middle-aged lover sitting by the pool (in an interesting stylistic bit, the man is shown smoking a pipe--throughout the film, Hugo is also shown with a wide variety of pipes, even sharing one with Christa in an early scene). Instead, the little girl Cathy gets to go for a ride in the helicopter (her mother is taking her husband to the airport for another business trip). But, against the audience's expectations, Cathy is returned, safe and sound.

Hugo calls the dancer (intercut with shots of him chasing and strangling her, a fantasy scene) but she is spending the night with her "sugar daddy." The married woman is therefore selected to visit Hugo, have sex with him, and then "we're going to finish what we started that night." They go to the trophy room, the woman is properly shocked by the heads (which now include Christa, the doctor, and Dorgo--apparently the cats didn't eat his head), but she doesn't give up easily: she throws a glass at Hugo, cutting his cheek, then flees upstairs. The (not a thousand, but a hundred, at least) cats escape as the couple struggles, and they jump on Hugo, clawing and biting him. The woman manages to make it out of the house, through the barred gate, and into her car. The end.

The cast of La noche de los mil gatos isn't bad. It is curious that only one of Hugo's female victims (Tere Velázquez) was played by a Mexican actress (Angely and Linder were Austrian, Faiad Argentine, and Comer was born in the USA). This (particularly the casting of Comer) and the relative paucity of dialogue (some years later, he made one film with no dialogue, just voiceover narration, which is very easy to dub) suggest that Cardona had the international market in mind when he made the picture. Comer is attractive (although in some shots her face looks older than her 28 years of age) and it is interesting that her character is developed largely through editing rather than dialogue: in several scenes there are quick cuts between shots of Hugo and of Jorge Russek, playing her husband, notably the golf course sequence and a scene in which Comer--in bed with Russek--flashes-back to her tryst with Hugo. In fact, Angely (despite her brief screen time), Linder, and Faiad are all given personalities of a sort, with only Velázquez remaining an almost complete cipher.

As the maniacal sometimes-cannibal playboy Hugo, Hugo Stiglitz largely underplays his role. Even scenes which seem to beg for ranting and raving are played mostly flat. Only three times does he open up: in the boat with Bárbara (recounting his shock treatment), talking with Christa (he says he isn't interested in the study of the past), and very briefly with the dancer. Mostly his personality (petulant, spoiled) is revealed through his impulsive actions (drowning the dancer's cat, pushing Dorgo into the cat pit).

Although La noche de los mil gatos was clearly designed to be an exploitation movie, it does have a number of curious facets which make it both entertaining and interesting viewing.

Posted 31 Oct 99 by, edited 28 July 2000.

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