CAT SICK BLUES (2016) – A REVIEW BY RYAN MARSHALL

 

There’s an audience out there (make that far out there) for contemporary exploitation cinema of the most unadulterated variety – I like to believe I fit in there somewhere and somehow – and it’s easy to imagine that there are those who go for this kind of stuff based purely on unorthodox spectacle. This is the market that Dave Jackson’s demented CAT SICK BLUES seems to be best suited for, and while it’s certainly not devoid of merit for merely curious parties, it can be inferred that for most, it bumps up against established limits a bit close for comfort.

That’s of course by design, as this bizarre cinematic concoction concerns a sleazy serial killer who runs around wearing a black cat mask as well as a grotesquely long strap-on dildo while suffering from frequent seizures; you see, he’s attempting to collect the blood of nine female victims so that he may resurrect his recently deceased feline friend. It’s an inspired and often amusing premise, and though Jackson seems to embrace the humor inherent in its dark heart, it nevertheless walks a fine line between fluff and ferocity.

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Take, for instance, the case of Claire (Shian Donavan), a young woman who the psychotic anti-hero Ted (Matthew Vaughan) takes a shine to after learning that they share similar grief over an absent pet in their respective lives. Soon after she’s introduced, the poor woman is subjected to a particularly fateful afternoon when an unstable fanatic intrudes on Claire’s privacy; killing, an internet sensation, by twisting its neck on accident before raping her on camera.

Much like the majority of the more affecting sequences, this is mostly just exceedingly uncomfortable, and then Jackson dares to show the animal being thrown out of the apartment window and hitting the pavement; initially bordering on unbelievable, and it more or less stays that way, but the sight of the corpse/doll rebounding off the bike racks on its way down brings to mind fond (and hilarious) memories of the infamous suicide from Euro-trash classic ZOMBIE HOLOCAUST, in which some sorry son of a bitch flings himself out a hospital window and loses his arm in the end, only to have it reattached in the next shot.

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The experience on a whole wears this kind of conflicted emotional pallet proudly, inspiring almost as many uneasy laughs as prolonged cringes. There are attempts at blatant social commentary (regarding the relationship between technology and the people) which remain almost remarkably one-note throughout and Claire’s potentially poignant sub-plot is unfortunately undercooked at best and genuinely tasteless at worst, with Jackson’s script failing to explore her trauma in any sort of subtle or satisfactory way. Sure, one could argue that the sleaze aficionados of old were hardly any more enlightened (in the traditional sense), but they certainly had more going on, and acknowledged that some semblance of humanism has to be brought with them into such transgressive terrain. The world the film envisions is neither condensed nor elaborate enough to support this kind of weight, and so it simply collapses under it; reveling in its own ugliness until it achieves only tedium.

The narrative essentially moves full speed ahead until it hits the home stretch. Jackson, a native Aussie, delivers the icky goods in spectacularly over-the-top fashion, generously rewarding viewers for their patience, and to his credit it’s impressive what unsavory horrors the writer/director and company are able to achieve on a low budget. This applies to the rest of the film as well; it looks nice most of the time and Jackson is able to get decent performances from his main cast. Nevertheless, it’s a film of several severe tonal and moral miscalculations, most of which are clearly intentional but no less debilitating. The brutal murders committed at the hands of Ted become increasingly more visceral as his spree goes on, resembling music videos at a certain point (what with slow-motion and insane amounts of hyper-stylized bloodshed) and let’s not even get into the synth score, which seems to imply heavily nostalgic undertones.

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It’s just not a good look for a film that constantly prides itself on how utterly distinctive it is, though mileage may vary based on one’s tolerance for this specific brand of pandering – which, to be fair, doesn’t necessarily define the experience, but it would be better off without it. It’s all a bit exhausting in the end, though not necessarily in the way(s) that its makers intended. There’s enough ambition here to garner interest in whatever Jackson has in store for the foreseeable future – in hopes that perception and perversion balance each-other out in the next outing and that the brain need not be checked at the door.

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