Horror Film Countdown: The Cat and the Canary (1927)

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The Cat and the Canary (1927), dir. Paul Leni, Universal Pictures

With this we move into another genre of horror. We’ve seen madmen, vampires, Frankenstein, but now we see a little used aspect of horror: Old Dark House movies. Not the first film to use this setting; that honor would go to 1926’s the Bat, but this is first Universal film to use the aspect and the first Universal Horror film to be remade, a total of five time as of this writing.

We open on a darkened house. The owner, Cyrus West, has finally died after fighting tooth and claw clinging to life. Cyrus, however, hated his family more than he hated dying. Twenty years ago he wrote the particulars in his will to be opened twenty years to the day of his death. The old manor has thus been empty, save for the housekeeper Mammy Pleasant (Martha Mattox) and, according to her, Cyrus’s ghost.

Roger Crosby (Tully Marshall), Cyrus’s lawyer, arrives to go through the paperwork, but while doing so he makes a disturbing discovery. It seems the safe, which the sealed envelopes were kept, has clearly been opened before he arrived.

Before he can delve further into the mystery, Cyrus’s relatives arrive. After seeing them on screen for more than a minute, one can understand why Cyrus wanted to disown them. The last to arrive is Annabelle West (Laura La Plante),a flapper who happens to be Cyrus’s niece. She is also the sole inheritor of his entire fortune and estates, provided she is judged to be of sound mind. Of course, if she is proven to be of unsound mind, the fortune would go to the next in line…

Not a bad story and the house is almost a more compelling character than some of the characters. The habit of having a comedic relief character show up after anything vaguely scary wears thin fast and this trope will unfortunately be played to near death in the upcoming reviews.

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