What a technological age we live in where a film like Cats is possible. Not the eye-clawing special effects, those are horrific. I’m talking about the technology that enables a director like Tobe Hooper to continue making horror movies from beyond the grave.
Set in a dystopian 28 Days Later-style London where all the humans have been killed or possibly turned by hybrid creatures called Jellicles (a bizarre cast including Taylor Swift, Judi Dench, Jason Derulo, James Corden and Ian McKellen), Cats is a misleading title since the only thing catlike about them is their singing. Instead they have human faces and wear fur coats over their natural fur, just as Leatherface wore human skin in what is now Hooper’s second-scariest film. What’s especially freaky about the movie is the same as in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre: the characters are given no motivation other than to fuck, kill and eat each other.
The plot borrows heavily from Clive Barker’s Nightbreed, watching this catty cabal chant and dance naked through the streets of London on the night of the Jellicle Choice: an annual ritual where Judi Dench decides which of their number will ascend to the Heaviside Layer and achieve reincarnation. This sense of cosmic horror is augmented by a carnivalesque score, Expressionist forced perspective and sea sickness-inducing camerawork from Hooper. His genre references range from Idris Elba popping up to abduct different characters like a feline Pennywise, to a sequence set at a Milk Bar that would have Stanley Kubrick heading for the litter tray.
Where most horror flicks trade in stale clichés and lame jump scares, Cats is more like A Nightmare on Elm Street in that it’s conceptually unsettling. And unlike those cinematic experiments that start out perplexing before you get used to them (The Hobbit‘s high frame rate, Daniel Craig’s accent in Knives Out), these effects retain their uncanny tabby quality for the full 2 hours. Rated U for unrated, Cats is creepy, visceral and so evocative of bestiality that the director should probably be arrested. Fortunately he’s dead.