The Cat Creeps – USA, 1930

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The Cat Creeps is a 1930 horror/thriller directed by Rupert Julian and John Willard and produced by Carl Laemmle, Jr for Universal Pictures.

As with many films of the late silent/early talkie era, most notoriously London After Midnight, the film is considered lost, with no surviving prints, only a few short sequences and still shots.

The English language version was made in tandem with the Spanish-friendly version, La Voluntad Del Muerto, with both films being based on 1927’s The Cat and the Canary.

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The Cat Creeps is based on one of the earliest spooky house tales, The Cat and the Canary, originally a 3-act play written by John Willard in 1922. The black comedy was not only a hit on the stage (staring the author and Henry Hull, later to star inWerewolf of London) but also on the silver screen, released in 1927 and directed by Paul Leni (The Man Who Laughs).

The inspiration for countless films since, the first attempt to copy its winning formula was in 1930, when Rupert Julian (who directed the first cut of Lon Chaney’s The Phantom of the Opera) and Willard himself, brought the tale of a potential heiress who has to prove her sanity by surviving a night in a creepy mansion, to a mass audience.

 

Carl Laemmle Jr already had both Dracula and Frankenstein in the pipeline but The Cat Creeps was his first foray into foray into the horror arena and as such, makes the film the first horror film of the talkie era. To save money on building two sets, a Spanish version was filmed on the same stage at night after filming had wrapped for the day on the American production.

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Strong casts were assembled for both productions; Helen Twelvetrees (famous for her over-acting and tragic personal life), Raymond Hackett, Jean Hersholt (Mark of the Vampire) and Neil Hamilton (best known as the redoubtable Commissioner Gordon in the 60’s TV series Batman) for the daytime shoot and Anotonio Morena, Lupita Tovar (excellent in the Spanish-language version of Dracula) and Paul Ellis in the Spanish cut. The musical score was composed by Heinz Roemheld, also responsible for Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923), Dracula’s Daughter and The Monster That Challenged the World.

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Plot:

Twenty years after the death of misanthropic millionaire Cyrus West, the old man’s heirs are summoned to the spooky ancestral mansion for the reading of two recently discovered sealed envelopes. The first contains West’s will; the second envelope is to be opened only if the terms of that will are carried out.

Summoned to the West estate for the “grand opening” are West’s grandniece Annabelle (Twelvetrees) and several predatory would-be heirs. On the verge of opening the second envelope, the sinister Lawyer, Crosby (Lawrence Grant, Werewolf of London, Son of Frankenstein), disappears behind a secret panel…only to turn up murdered a few moments later.

Is Annabelle a murderer or is she going mad? Is there an escaped, hideously disfigured lunatic (make-up presumed to be courtesy of Jack Pierce) in the house bumping off the potential heirs or is someone plotting to take all the money for themselves?

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Tragically, both versions of the film are now lost. Whereas the last prints of London After Midnight are presumed destroyed in a studio fire,  no-one seems to know how The Cat Creeps fell off the radar. Surviving scenes were cobbled together with pieces of Nosferatu and Frankenstein for a short film called Boo! in 1932 and, oddly, the soundtrack is still intact and in Universal’s vaults.

Daz Lawrence, Horrorpedia

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