From soul sucking mermaids to possessed drive-ins and satanic dogs, gay director Curtis Harrington’s film subjects are gloriously unusual. He, like many a lavender lad before him also appreciated a good diva when he saw one.
Counting Gloria Swanson (Killer Bees), Debbie Reynolds and Shelly Winters (What’s the Matter with Helen?), Ann Sothern (The Killing Kind) and Piper Laurie (Rudy) among his leading ladies, Harrington, akin to such Golden Age “female directors” like George Cukor and Douglas Sirk, worked with some of filmdom’s most majestic femmes.
In the 1973 television terror flick The Cat Creature, Harrington worked magic with the mysterious, socially beleaguered Gale Sondergaard. As winner of the first Academy Award for Supporting Actress in 1936, Sondergaard had a quality career until being blackballed in the ’50s for refusing to testify during the McCarthy “Red Scare” trials. She eventually returned to the screen in the ’60s and spent a lot of the ’70s doing television and fright fare such as Savage Intruder (1970).
Here, with a sassy firmness, Sondergaard infuses the supporting role of Hester Black with a steely spine and a heart of gold. A former con, Black provides mothering (with some faint lesbian undertones) to the young female assistants in her pawn shop. Her world is turned upside down, though, when one of the women in her employ mysteriously disappears. As a sly cat works its way through nearby alleys and acquaintances soon lose their lives, it appears that the killer may be mystical in nature and much closer to Black than she ever expected.
Harrington works with an astute sense of shadow, here. (He would employ the same techniques in the sillier, much beloved Devil Dog: Hound of Hell in 1978, as well.) The mood he generates does much to elevate the simple plotline (which makes the true killer’s identity fairly obvious, early on in the proceedings).
Old school horror lovers will appreciate the appearance of David Hedison (The Fly) as the male lead and sit com fanatics should delight to the presence of a very young, almost unrecognizable Meredith Baxter (Birney), who sports lots and lots of hair!
Until the next time – SWEET love and pink GRUE, Big Gay Horror Fan!