There comes along very rarely, a movie that exceeds all expectations, so much so that you are left utterly speechless. Here I am after having viewed Cat Sick Blues, mouth agape, absolutely giddy, and at a complete loss for words; my apologies now if this review comes across as incoherent, but I’ll try my best to articulate my thoughts on this undeniable horror masterpiece.
The setup is fairly straight forward. Ted Henson’s cat, “Patrick” dies, causing him to spiral out of sanity and into a delusional state where he is convinced that, by taking 9 human lives, he can bring his furry best friend back to life. Simple, right? It is, and that’s great, because the realistic violence, disturbing imagery, dark humor, social commentary, satire, layers of subtext and metaphor for loss, will leave you absolutely exhausted by the time the credits roll.
While the horror genre is one that’s flexible enough to incorporate multiple facets of filming style, it’s certainly no small task to adequately balance all these elements in such a way that the final product not only maintains its plot, but also comes across better for it.
Writers Andrew Gallacher and Dave Jackson not only succeed in pulling this herculean task off, they knock it way the hell out the park! Starting with the opening scene, which pokes fun at the absolutely ridiculous culture surrounding YouTube stars; in this case, famous cats (I’m guilty of partaking in it myself). You can’t help but laugh at - and with - the two women watching these ridiculous videos almost dead-eyed (which reminded me a little of George Romero’s teasing of “mall culture” in Dawn of the Dead) – a scene we all can relate with. It isn’t long however before the film segues into our introduction of the “Catman” killer, and we get our first taste of the violence we are going to be experiencing the rest of the way through. Even still, the fashion in which the two women are murdered and handled subsequently, you can’t help but let out an awkward “ha”. Maybe due to shock, or disbelief, or just that there’s something appropriately ridiculous about a black-cat-masked man with a muffin top, wearing a shirt that’s a few sizes too small, taking their place on the couch and continuing to watch the same videos they were, before being done in. All the while, the decapitated head of one, sits nearby with nearly the same look of disinterest she had before losing her body – almost as if nothing was really lost here. Sick, sure, but damn if it isn’t powerfully genius.
Going back to the violence, what’s on display in ‘Cat Sick Blues’ is top-tier stuff. Not just with sheer quantity (it has PLENTY to offer in that regard), but how absolutely effective all of these moments are, and each one, leveraging the aforementioned elements the film manages to juggle (funny violence, serious violence, metaphoric violence etc.). Regardless the context, the practical effects work is such that I was expecting to see Tom Savini as a credit at the end of the film. The effort that went into every little detail, every neck slash, face bash, beheading, mutilation, impalement, and so on; all of it left me absolutely awestruck. Something I can’t say for a lot of gory horror movies that end up desensitizing me with each violent moment; every single one in ‘Cat Sick Blues’ will leave a lasting impression in my mind. Just…WOW. Bravo, and hat’s off to the makeup and effects department.
Of course, the visuals are just one ingredient (albeit a major one) that help give the film it’s oh-so-delicious flavor. Matthew Revert’s work in the music department compliments the on-screen action (and non-action) perfectly. It’s loud and shrill when it needs to be (the opening being a great example of this), quiet and brooding when the moment calls for that too; always enhancing the moment. If the visual effects are the milk and ice-cream, the music is absolutely the whip cream and cherry on top. All of it, covered in thick red syrup.
Not to say that ‘Cat Sick Blues’ is all fun and guts. Again, it’s important to stress how much more there is to the film than just the stuff that tickles gore-hounds with a sick sense of humor. At its core, it’s a movie that deals with the various aspects of grief that come from losing someone near and dear to you (an interesting trend in the horror movies we’ve been watching this year – made more so by the fact that we’ve lost some great people in the industry already). It’s this grief too, that also brings our two central characters together.
Matthew C. Vaughan and Shian Denovan do an amazing job playing characters Ted Henson and Claire Ellis respectively, that while handling the grieving process in completely different ways, are able to find each other because of this common ground of loss. The former, being broken in every way and pushed to the darkest of places – seeking healing through the punishment of others, while the later, looking for a connection and a companion – someone that would understand her pain genuinely. Claire’s vulnerability, naivete, and compassion are perfect counter traits to Ted’s cold, manipulative, and sociopathic personality; It’s a duality that allows their relationship to eventually reach an explosive conclusion.
And right in the middle of it, there is of course, Ted’s alter ego the “Catman”. A deranged avatar for the turmoil Ted feels internally, this villain is absolutely terrifying! What makes this particular get-up work so well is that on first sight, it almost seems comical, ridiculous, playful even (minus the feline super-schlong appendage of course). There’s a sense that something is off, sure, but it doesn’t register as an immediate threat in the same way that say, Michael Myers, Freddy Krueger or Jason Voorhees would. So when the “Catman” starts on his bloody rampage, that juxtaposition only serves to make the impact hit that much harder. That’s not even taking into account the depraved scenarios being played on loop in Ted’s head nearly the entire time, or his Patrick Bateman-esque performance when snapping to and from reality. This is a character that not only made me laugh uncomfortably, but utterly scared the living shit out of me. “Catman” belongs in the annals of horror movie villain history, standing head and whiskers tall, with the best of them.
And so, the sum parts of ‘Cat Sick Blues’ equals a movie that not only gives the horror genre a shot in the arm, it also sets the bar for the rest of 2016; and oh man, that bar is set VERY high. This is going to be a tough act to follow, but fans of the genre can only stand to benefit from the attempts. If you haven’t guessed by now, this film has my highest recommendation.