Thursday, March 1, 2018

Accidental TV Movie Week: Strays (1991)

Accidental TV Movie Week is what happens when I read the excellent “Are You in the House Alone?” edited by blogger and podcaster Amanda Reyes and spend a week only watching the sort of US TV movie treated in the book. Don’t be afraid.

Even if your own sister is the real estate agent, the price of a house can still be too low. I don’t exactly know that Claire Lederer (Claudia Christian) doesn’t tell her sister Lindsey (Kathleen Quinlan) and her husband Paul Jarrett (Timothy Busfield) – who is also Claire’s divorce attorney – that the last owner of their new house out in the boons was an elderly cat lady who may or may not have been eaten by her cats after a particularly evil example pushed her down the cellar stairs, but I have my doubts. Anyway, the Jarretts and their tiny little daughter Tessa (Heather and Jessica Lilly) move in and are soon assailed by cat troubles. Now, you’d usually think that outrunning and outdriving a bunch of kittens shouldn’t be too difficult, but Shaun Cassidy’s script finds various contrived methods to keep the neighbourless place in the woods even more isolated – how about a phone repair person the alpha cat murders early on by, umm, I’m not sure, to be honest, and who will rot away in the Jarretts’ cellar for the next day without anyone noticing, and a tow truck tugging away the wrong car?

Apart from the poor working class guy, the cats mostly begin their campaign of terror by looking adorable, pissing on hubby’s wardrobe and attacking the family pooch, but after a little time, they do go on what goes for an all-out attack in a cat attack movie.

Let’s be honest here: horror films in which house cats are the main threat to people just don’t work. One of the reasons for this is the simple fact that about ninety-five percent of humanity could beat their house cat in a fightt, and we know it. Perhaps we’d end up a scratched up, and with a couple of bites that could potentially murder us via bacterial infection later on, but unless the cat is a cattician (or has the special abilities of the one in Tales from the Darkside), simple weight and size differences and the pesky laws of physics give our mewing friends bad chances at hunting us down. For a movie, with John McPherson’s made for the USA Network’s Strays certainly no exception, there’s not just plausibility and physics to conquer, but also the by now well-known fact that cats are not terribly cooperative actors. In Strays’ case, the evil alpha cat does act surprisingly cranky throughout, with its bad mood further enhanced by some bastard in the make-up department having mussed up its hair, but the kitty minions are mostly your typical horror movie evil cats, showing little to no aggressive body language, seldom getting up to anything better than looking adorable and pawing playfully at the camera. Unless the viewer is an ailurophobe, there’s really little to find threatening here.

The film’s not exactly helped by a script that not only suffers from too contrived attempts to isolate the characters and other moments that strain credibility a bit too far (would a mother really leave a child this young behind during a major cat attack like our heroine does?), but also includes an absolutely pointless subplot about Lindsey fearing Paul and Claire are stumbling into an affair, something that has no function in the plot nor any thematic import. The latter because there is no theme, apart from kittens being adorable. I’m also not sure why the film has three endings.

McPherson does try his best with what he is given. At least one of the cats is sort of threatening after all, the cast is perfectly decent (and would probably be actively good if there’d be only something to do for them), and at least the location and sets he has to work with are actually fit for their purpose. So he does what any decent director would do and aims for very traditional suspense beats, and ends on a mini siege (by kittens!) for his climax which takes place during a very atmospheric rain storm. He doesn’t exactly save the mostly dreadful script but certainly manages to turn it into a film that’s more watchable than not, even if it is as stupid as the day is long and features a highly adorable threat. Plus, the film is full of cute little kittens!

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