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32 Days of Halloween X, Day 11: The Uncanny!

Uncanny (1977)

Widge’s Note: Back over to Rox for what she’s found while creeping through pop culture’s catacombs…

Based upon Nikolay Gogol’s short story, The Portrait, directed by Wladyslaw Starewicz, is the tale about a young penniless artist who purchases a painting. This painting’s subject comes alive much to the young man’s horror. This eight minute piece is the only surviving part of a larger forty-five minute work that has been long lost. Even though this clip is only eight minutes it is quite terrifying. People who love to purchase paintings at estate sales and antique stores may want to reconsider their purchase after viewing.

Wladyslaw Starewicz is a pioneer and giant in the realm of early 20th century stop motion photography. One of his better known works is called “The Cameraman’s Revenge.” “Revenge” is a stop motion short film utilizing insects to tell a story. When Starewicz was young, he studied etymology, and he became interested in filming when he tried for days to use cameras to record a battle between two uncooperative stag beetles. They kept dying under the extremely hot lights. He then decided to use stop motion filming which proved to be most effective way to tell a story using insects. Starewicz’s career expanded through the decades, escaping from revolutions and survived through wars, and his work has been regarded highly among film makers such as Terry Gilliam and Wes Anderson to name a few.

From the Silent Archives
The Portrait – Russian, based on the short story by Gogol, 1915
Directed by Wladyslaw Starewicz (1882–1965)

For tonight’s feature film: The Uncanny, an unearthed gem I have not seen. It is one of my favorite sub-genre films, the horror anthology. Anthology or portmanteau films and books allow for the absorption of a story that has such an impact that the story may last years, buried in your brain. The anthology film has certainly been around for a very long time. The premise of this type of film is a number of loosely connected stores connected by the subject matter, person or theme.

In the horror realm, films such as Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors (1964), the stories presented are connected by Dr. Shreck (Peter Cushing), a fortune teller who glimpses into the future of the fellow passengers in a train compartment. This type of film lends itself well to the horror genre, by packing various stories into one film, you are relieved of long dialogue and character development. The endings in the horror genre usually mean that justice is served with an added twist.

The Uncanny is such a film. Peter Cushing stars as Wilber Gray, the film’s storyteller. His character has just written a book about the supernatural qualities of cats. During his pitch session with his publisher Frank Richards, played by film veteran Ray Milland, Wilbur must convince his publisher the book is noteworthy of being published. He then takes to narrating three stories about cats and their supernatural power over humans.

The three stories take place in 1912, 1975 and 1936, each with its own cast of characters and notable horror alumni, such as Donald Pleasence, along with Simon Williams of Upstairs Downstairs. Thus you have a unique blend of stories using the main theme of cats all with a connected storyteller.

The film is written by Michael Parry, directed by Denis Heroux and produced by horror notable Milton Subotsky, producer of Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors (1964), Dr. Who and the Daleks (1965), Daleks – Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D. (1966), Torture Garden (1967), Scream and Scream Again (1970), The House That Dripped Blood (1970), Tales from The Crypt (1972), Asylum (1972), From Beyond the Grave (1973) and The Land That Time Forgot (1974). These films were produced by his Amicus company at Shepperton Studios, while The Uncanny as released under Rank Film when Subotsky had moved onto Montreal Canada. Even though this film did not do very well in the box office, it’s certainly enjoyable for all fans of the horror anthology genre.

Peter Cushing’s role in the film as Wilber Gray is quite good as a slightly unhinged writer needing his book published to get his warning out. The role reminded me a bit of his role of Grimsdyke in Tales from the Crypt. His role in this film came after his portrayal of ruthless, calculating Grand Moff Tarkin in Star Wars. When viewing the scope of an actor’s body of work one can see that Peter Cushing was certainly a master actor.

Thanks goes out to the Peter Cushing Appreciation Society and their channel on YouTube for uploading this video.