(1946, GB, 100 min, b/w) Dir Alberto Cavalcanti. Cast Elisabeth Welch, Miles Malleson, Frederick Valk.
A worthwhile addition to the horror subgenre of killer kitties, Claws of the Damned features Elisabeth Welch in a rare lead role as Rose, the maid hired to work at the decrepit Howe Hall without there seemingly being anyone to serve under save a couple dozen black cats roaming the house. It teeters into rote mystery solving by the end with dread family secrets and all that but what the film has to offer in spades is atmosphere – thick, eerie atmosphere. Those who have seen the film (few and far between they may be) all talk in hushed tones of the scene in Rose’s dark bedroom as she finds herself drifting off to sleep. The camera becomes her eyes, the hazy darkness of her lids opening and closing slower each time. With each blink the room grows darker and with each dial down of the darkness the room, it seems, becomes populated more and more with the black cats of the house. The genius of it is like that of The Innocents where the viewer, like the protagonist, is never quite sure of what it is they’ve seen. Of course she wakes with a jolt and, fumbling with the light, gets the room illuminated to find that the cats aren’t there. Just about finished when Cavalcanti left Ealing under a cloud this didn’t receive the kind of a release that it should have and was reportedly disowned by the director too. A truncated version from a scratchy print is up on YouTube for the curious and uninitiated.