A review requested by Brian F, with thanks for donating to the Second Quinquennial Antagony & Ecstasy ACS Fundraiser.

The first question: how is one to even go about the task of watching The Night of a Thousand Cats? The film was first released in its native Mexico in 1972 (the Spanish title is La noche de los mil gatos), with a running time as far as I can confidently assert seems to have been 91 minutes. In 1974, it was released in the United States at a severely carved-down 63 minutes dub, under the name of Blood Feast. In the intervening years, the Blood Feast cut has been restored to its proper title (likely to avoid confusion with the seminal 1963 film of the same name), but not its proper running time.

My hunt for the film across the somewhat-dark internet turned up multiple versions: a Spanish-language version as a VHS rip with fansubs and a running time of 87 minutes (which might plausibly be a PAL speed-issue, and not a different cut), the English dub ripped from VHS, the English dub as a widescreen DVD (and an Italian version with a totally different running time that I'm not going to bother with). But no widescreen Spanish-language version, and this rankled and annoyed me, particularly since it seemed fairly obvious fairly quickly into the 87-minute version that if the film had any real merits, they could only possibly lie in its cinematography. And that's how I ended up watching the film twice in the span of three hours, though I concede that my viewing of the 63-minute cut was substantially more distracted.

This ends up mattering because the film is profoundly bad in either incarnation, but for once, the merciless butchers at the U.S. distribution company got it right: the footage chopped away is nothing but deadwood - and damned confusing deadwood, at that. Basically, the U.S. cut of the film removes the entire opening act, and as a result, removes the question raised by the opening act, namely, "what in all the hells does this have to do with the rest of the movie?" We're on a boat on a river with Hugo (Hugo Stiglitz) and Barbara (Barbara Angely) his girlfriend who is also a psychiatrist, or maybe his psychiatrist who is much too comfortable lounging in a bikini with her patients - the fansubs don't make what's already quite obviously a dodgy bit of filmmaking any easier to follow. Hugo stops the boat, and when she asks why, states it's because now there far enough away from any people that nobody will hear her screaming. She appears to take this as flirtation, but what he actually means is that he's going to kill her, which he does after a long chase through the woods.

And then, faster you can see "horses on the beach", we cut to horses on the beach, where Hugo has met and is in the process of seducing his next victim, Christa (Christa Linder), and okay, I guess? We are, at this point, a full quarter of an hour into the movie - it's a long, dull chase scene, following a long, dull conversation on the boat, and insofar as what happens for the next hour and a quarter actually holds together as a plot (spoiler alert: it doesn't), it paints for us an altogether different portrait of Hugo's particular madness, one that has nothing to do with any of this. That shot of the horses resets the film as firmly as if the opening scene was the leftover footage from an abandoned project Stiglitz was filming with director René Cardona, Jr. (and I wouldn't be the least bit surprised to learn it was, though I haven't a fragment of proof), tacked on the boost the running time.

But okay, so now Hugo is with Christa, and she seems quite in awe of his wisdom, virility, and charisma, none of which are characteristics that readily present themselves to the viewer. Stiglitz, trash-movie icon that he is, has virtually no range to speak of here, coming off as slightly bored and even less horny in pretty much all of his scenes, and the Christa segment of the movie, in particular, really desperately wants him to have anything going on. Regardless of his wooden detachment, Christa goes off with him on his helicopter to the 16th Century monastery that his family has lived in for the last 150 years, where he gives her the grand tour.

Nope, I'm sorry, I went too fast: Christa goes off with him on his helicopter. They take off, and fly around Acapulco. They fly to the coast. And so on. For a movie about a maniac who murders women and feeds them to his dungeon of cats, The Night of a Thousand Cats sure does have an undying fascination with helicopter sequences - this is the shortest one by far, and it lasts more than two minutes. Anyway, they get to the monastery, and Hugo introduces his mute man-mountain of a servant, Dorgo (Gerardo Zepeta), and they sit down to a dinner that begins to strike Christa as ineffably creepy. The mood - romantic and menacing - is interrupted when a big white cat jumps on the table, trying to eat her large chunk of nameless meat, and Hugo, annoyed, picks it up by the scruff and walks to a fenced-off enclosure in his sprawling vampire home, where he throws it over the fence. And here I would have two very different things to say. One is that the footage of the cat, gliding in a languid parabola in slow-motion, is the most legitimately horrifying thing in the movie: it's a little hard to tell because of the slow-mo, but it definitely seems like the cat lands with a heavy thud that no animal could possibly survive.

The other thing is much more light, happily: the whole purpose of this scene is to give us our first glimpse of Hugo's sprawling collection of cats, which Cardona makes sure to include in a long series of close-ups of meowing faces. And here, well before anything has actually happened in the damn movie, The Night of a Thousand Cats gives up any prayer it ever had of being a good horror film. Because you know something? Cats ain't scary. There have been attempts to prove otherwise over the years, and maybe some of the ones I haven't seen are actually good, but I've only ever seen cats in horror films to be conspicuously not-scary. Hell, the worst episode from the first six seasons of The X-Files, "Teso dos Bichos" is so bad precisely because of how badly it misjudges cats' inherent scariness. And if The X-Files at the very height of its powers couldn't make cats scary, there was never a prayer that a no-budget exploitation made by a director best-known for being a worse filmmaker than his father was going to handle it. Perhaps the most morbid of ailurophobes might find this sequence skin-crawling, but nope, not for the rest of us. These aren't just cats - these are cute kitties. And once it settles in, courtesy of the pounding music on the soundtrack, that these adorable fluffs are going to be the source all the horror for the rest of the movie, that's when The Night of a Thousand Cats gives up any hope of being better than so unbelievably bad that it's hilarious (I don't think it gets there).

Anyway, Hugo takes Christa to his disembodied head room, and strangles her to death. The next we see of her, it's as a bowl of ground-up meat that he throws to the meowing hordes. And that's our movie: oh, it has half of its running time and all, but you'll never see anything in the rest of it that you didn't already see here (in fact, you'll see less: all of the film's nudity is stuffed in at beginning). The biggest change is that helicopter shots of Mexico City replace the helicopter shots of Acapulco, in the endless scenes of Hugo flying over sunbathing women, trying to select his next victim. The horrifying possibility of cannibalistic pedophilia pokes up its head a couple of times, and we learn of Hugo's sad backstory (in short: he fell in love with one of his victims and decided not to kill her, but Dorgo did anyway, and he got pissed off. Later, he kills Dorgo for beating him at chess). Eventually, to the surprise of nobody who has even the slightest concept of how these movies work, Hugo is eaten by his own cats.

Feisty trash cinema has been made of less, but The Night of a Thousand Cats has a problem that kicks in with that very first boat scene and never lets up: it is so boring. The film takes its cue from Stiglitz's soporific performance, or maybe it's the other way around; the net result either way is a movie that just churns on and on with no sense of direction, particularly in those endless helicopter scenes. Cut those out, and you have a nice 65 minutes of gruesome psycho-killer nonsense (though without much that's all that gruesome; the close-up on the bowl of ground meat pretty much does it all for the film's gore quotient). And to be fair, the actual plot of the movie is ridiculous enough to be fun, though I think any hopes the film had of being ironically fun kitsch went out the door the minute that it decided to lean on footage of cats being abused (there's a scene where, out of nowhere,  Hugo tries to drown a cat in a swimming pool; it cuts away fast enough that there's no reason to assume the worst, but that's still one visibly terrified cat onscreen).

There is, certainly, something blackly amusing about a movie where a killer is so annoyed that his unwitting victim sadly parts ways with him so he can help out a local doctor (John Kelly) that he kills the doctor instead. Even the helicopter scenes start to attain their own desperate hilarity from sheer repetition, and from the stretched-out actions that Cardona saw fit to leave intact and uninterrupted (including a full minute of Hugo trying to use finger gestures to figure out a woman's phone number - I think; like Hugo himself, I found her gestures a bit hard to parse). The longer version also includes an extensive burlesque show sequence that bogs the film down badly, right in the middle. But so many things bog this movie down that it's hard to care about one more, and at least the burlesque interlude is agreeably inexplicable.

All that being said, The Night of a Thousand Cats is too slow and aimless to be very much fun as a good trashy movie. You can tell what Cardona was going for: he includes some very self-consciously artistic scene transitions, which is the cue for realising that he meant for all of this to be very serious and thoughtful and what have you. All of that exhausting slowness? I think it's supposed to be "atmospheric", though damn little of it comes through. Instead, it's just a drag, and incomprehensible, gore-free trashy exploitation can hardly survive that.