The house lights are down, the music’s swelling, and I’m struggling to get out of a comically oversized net while Animal Control tries to explain the situation to their boss, which can mean only one thing: it’s time for Screaming in Harmony, the monthly celebration of musical mayhem! Since it’s Greedy Guts month here at Nightmare, and there are no rules, tonight’s show is last year’s most baffling film, CATS (2019).
You might be thinking, “CATS isn’t a horror movie,” but this movie was created in a lab to scare mice to death. I don’t have any evidence of that, but it would be crazy for anything else to be the reason for this film. Beyond wild speculation, there are definitely parts of this movie that really don’t make sense outside the context of horror film. We’ll get to that in a second, but for now: a brief history lesson.
CATS is a musical based on some T.S. Eliot poetry about cats. It ran on Broadway for 18 years. If you think that making a movie of a show that was popular enough to run for almost two full decades is a surefire hit, congratulations! You’re in the same boat as the producers of this movie. However, they were wrong. CATS was a massive box office bomb, losing at least seventy million dollars. They were so confident this movie would be a success that they ran it to compete with Star Wars. There’s hubris, and then there’s CATS.
Reviews of the movie were brutal, and while I wrote two and a half pages of slams during my screening, I’m not here to dump on this movie. At its heart, I think there was just a misunderstanding of what this movie was all about. For people who have already bought in on the idea of people pretending to be dancing cats for two hours, CATS delivers. The problem is, instead of being a small-scale production for the die-hards, this was a $1oo million dollar movie that played against Star Wars.
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Warning to younger viewers: CATS is a horny film. There is more gyrating-per-frame in CATS than any other movie ever made. None of the characters have genitals, but they all act like they do. Any scene featuring more than three cats could reasonably be considered an orgy. This is like a PG-rated Caligula.
THE SHORT VERSION
The story of CATS is pretty simple: Cats introduce themselves, then try to die. There’s a little bit more to it than that, but not much. All the cats in CATS are in a death cult (horror!), and every year they go to the Jellicle Ball to decide which cat gets to be launched into the sun and reborn as a new cat. This cat is known as the Jellicle Choice. Presumably, when a cat that isn’t the Jellicle Choice dies they go to hell.
GORE AND SCORE
The music in CATS is pretty good, but it all goes on for so long. If these songs were trimmed to a solid 2-5 minutes each, they’d be great. Also, the musical would only be 45 minutes long. Standout tracks from the 2019 film adaptation include Jellicle Songs for Jellicle Cats, which is a song where the Jellicle Cats explain the plot of CATS before introducing every cat individually for the next hour, The Rum Tum Tugger, which is Jason Derulo’s slap bass-filled introduction song, and Memory, Jennifer Hudson’s unstoppable, untoppable climactic number. Memory is so good that it seems like it belongs in another movie.
Jennifer Hudson’s performance is so solid that it would be impossible to mock- if it weren’t for the truly bizarre character design choices in CATS. It’s like putting googly eyes on a Renaissance painting. Aside from that, Idris Elba’s turn as evil kitty Macavity is worthy of notice. Macavity wants to be the Jellicle Choice so bad that he’ll straight up disappear any cat that gets in his way, because he’s the powerful villain that slinks across the shadows in this movie (horror!). The film calls him a “monster of depravity” twice, which honestly describes every single character of this movie, as well as the director, producers, actors, and audience.
When everything’s said and done, I have to say I enjoyed CATS. It’s the most bizarre movie I’ve ever seen, making student art films look positively tame by comparison. Is CATS a horror movie? Let’s look at the facts: there’s a scene where the characters grind on headstones while whispering forbidden knowledge in unison, every character in the film is in a death cult, and Rebel Wilson unzips her skin and eats multiple live, sentient cockroaches in a song. If that doesn’t sound like a horror film to you, you’re tougher than me. I need you to know that none of that was a joke. Those are all facts about CATS. They could’ve renamed this movie GOBLINS, changed absolutely nothing else, and no one would have batted an eye. All things considered, CATS is an eldritch horror that defies human understanding. 4/5.
Are you an anthropomorphic cat begging for death so that you can start things over fresh? Let us know on Twitter, Instagram, Reddit, and the Horror Fiends of Nightmare on Film Street Facebook page! And for more Greedy Guts guilty pleasure picks, stay tuned to Nightmare on Film Street.