Review: The Cat and the Canary (1978)

In a remake of the 1927 original, itself remade in 1939, a group of heirs get together in a decaying mansion to listen to a 20-year old will and learn who will inherit the family fortune. The occasion is interrupted when they also learn that a homicidal maniac is on the loose. Starring: Honor Blackman, Michael Callan, Edward Fox, Wendy Hiller, Olivia Hussey, Carol Lynley, Daniel Massey, Wilfrid Hyde-White and Peter McEnery.

If you’ve ever pondered leaving behind a video will, a personal message for your loved ones to see you one last time, you’ll love the idea even more when the film begins and Cyrus West (Hyde-White) refers to his heirs as a bunch of bastards. The family’s patriarch has a fantastic sense of humour and a loving yet frank understanding of his family’s faults. With a mansion full of greedy, money hungry spoiled brats, it’s hard to know who to root for as heir and who to root for as a victim of the mysterious murderer; one whose explanation of origin is utterly enjoyable.

That curve in the story is exactly what brings the film together as a whole, comedy, it’s not trying to convince you of a dangerous thriller, where everyone’s lives are at risk and you should be on the edge of your seat; it’s a classic 70s angle of pushing a story to the edges of being fantastically ridiculous but holding back enough for it to be sufficiently gripping. Things do get slightly strange when a romantic element makes its way into the story, you may momentarily forget these characters are all relatives but when you remember, it makes for a strange but amusing moment. The physicality of the film is a high point, especially during the video will which involves having dinner with a dead relative, perfectly timed for each moment, 20 years later. The cast is a mixed bag of convincing and less so but within this genre of film, it is very much of little importance. You may see the direction the film is headed without much difficulty but it doesn’t make it any less of a pleasure to watch unfold.

The Cat and the Canary is a perfect Saturday afternoon film with money, mystery and murder. It’s the type of film you could easily underestimate but if you give it a chance, you’ll find that it’s a fun and entertaining film, that’s part Clue, part Miss Marple with a little bit of horror that will make you nostalgic for the era.

Verdict: 7.5/10

Available now at Classic Films Direct

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