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The Uncanny

***
1977

‘…nicely worked, if predicable, and the cat attacks are suitably bloody…’

What better time to remember the great Donald Pleasence than Halloween? Today we’re taking part in The Devilishly Delightful Donald Pleasence Blogathon and contributing a review of his larger-then-life performance in 1977’s catspolitation epic The Uncanny.

What should we think about when we think about great Donald Pleasence? Sure, he was a great actor, but there’s precious few leading roles; he was one of the great supporting players too, but rarely got the chance to dominate. A portmanteau film affords just such an opportunity; 1977’s The Uncanny saw Pleasence in action just before his Halloween signature role, and his fans will get a shock when they see his deliciously nutty performance here as a aging film-star who gets what he deserves in the old EC comics style.

Let’s work through the trimmings first; The Uncanny is an Amicus-style horror comic, produced by that studio’s Milton Subotsky. The idea is that evil cats, created by the devil or possible Satan incarnate, are manipulating us into taking over the world by stealth. An author (Peter Cushing) has been collecting evidence on the moggy master plan, and presents his findings one winter’s night to a publisher (Ray Milland). Three stories are told, the first sees Susan Penhaligon as a cunning maid who aims to steal a will from the safe of her employer (Joan Greenwood), but falls foul of her protective puss-cats. It’s nicely worked, if predicable, and the cat attacks are suitably bloody. Next up, there’s a daft story of an orphan with black magic powers; her parents have been killed in an air-crash, and when her adoptive sister torments her with a remote control plane, Wellington the cat adjusts the scales of justice…

If the structure is getting repetitive, the final story ups things a level or two. Donald Pleasence plays 1930’s film star Valentine De’ath, who gets introduced murdering his wife via a guillotine prop during a film-shoot; he’s switched the fake blade for a real one. De’ath is unconcerned, having another lady (Suzanne Eggar) lined up as a replacement for the part and as his romantic partner, but his late wife’s cat has other ideas and kills again on the film set. It’s a striking condemnation of film-making that two on-screen deaths in 48 hours don’t even give the film-makers pause here, but we hurtle towards a denouement in which De’ath gets what he deserves for his transgressions against felines everywhere…

Pleasence was a terrific stage and screen actor who got juicy roles because he was so good at them; he delights in sending up Sir Laurence Olivier here, with plummy intonations and wigs on top of wigs. Pleasence was often guilty of phoning in performances, taking the money and running in his later career, but this 25 minute segment shows he really could carry a film in grand style, making The Uncanny one to see for any fan of the late, great Donald.

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  1. I don’t get where the 25 minute segment is, the trailer is only 2 and 1/2 minutes? Had a good laugh at the last part where the lady is leapt ypon on her way downstairs, can imagine stage hands just off screen lobbing cats at her!

  2. Loved your take on this Eddie, now I have readded it to the review and watch pile – had forgotten what a fantastic cast is in this. Thanks for joining the blogathon, always a treat to read your posts. Forgotten already, but what film was it that Donald Pleasence’s home is used? Please enlighten me…

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