By MICHAEL HELMS
CAT SICK BLUES is that sort of rare bird of a horror film that only appears every now and then. On the one hand, it is cheap and nasty and clearly the sum of all its influences, but on the other, it transcends all those factors, masterfully synthesizing them into something altogether different, refreshing for horror aficionados and surely shocking and revolting for the less discerning.
CAT SICK BLUES, which Wild Eye Releasing issues on DVD June 26, follows the murderous activities of Ted, played very physically by producer Matthew C. Vaughan (who became attached to the film well before he was made the star of it). Ted, or Cat Man as he becomes known, is not the sole focus of CAT SICK BLUES, as his story is cleverly intertwined with that of Claire (Shian Denovan), whose life as the owner of the most popular cat on the Internet, Imelda (Smokey), goes into freefall after a tragic encounter with her pet’s number-one fan. Superbly acted by Denovan, Claire’s transformation by film’s end is nothing short of sensational.
CAT SICK BLUES is the first feature from Australian director Dave Jackson, who credits his co-writer Andrew Gallacher with some of the key elements that make it one of the most sardonic and enjoyable horror/comedies ever to wear that term. Jackson cites Troma flicks as jumpstarting his interest in filmmaking during high school, specifically TERROR FIRMER: “That whole movie is about making low-budget films, and I love that. The idea of all the effects and blood going everywhere confirmed that that was what I wanted to do. In high school, I tried to imitate Troma by making all these horror/comedies.”
Jackson warns that no one ever needs to see any of those early efforts, but continues, “With CAT SICK BLUES, what made me feel I could make something like [Troma] was that it was such a weird script. But I thought no one would enjoy it, and I couldn’t really see the point in making it. Then I saw an excellent film at Monster Fest directed by Stuart Simpson called CHOCOLATE STRAWBERRY VANILLA. It’s not a horror film, but it breaks all these genre rules, and to see that and how it truly stands on its own was a real inspiration to make something as strange as the script. That was the trigger point to get me off my arse.”
CAT SICK BLUES began life as a short film (which can be viewed on YouTube), and Jackson explains, “Andrew and I deliberately wrote the pre-title sequence as something that could stand alone, which I think a lot of filmmakers have done before, to get people interested in the feature. The problem was, after a long gap between that 10-minute short and shooting the feature, while we were trying to organize a crew and financing, we realized that the script had changed so much that the opening didn’t fit anymore. Also, the equipment we had was completely different. We thought it would stick out like a sore thumb, so we rewrote the opening scene.”
Jackson adds that Gallacher brought a lot to his original concept. “About 2010 or 2011, I’d had the idea of the murderer dressing up as a cat while killing people. I wrote it as a very normal slasher film, for pretty much two locations with the budget in mind, very stripped-back with only a couple a characters. It wasn’t very funny either, just a completely stock, standard slasher story. It was kind of boring, and I didn’t really like what I’d written, so I gave the script to Andrew, who is a novelist, and said to go nuts with it. He did, and brought in all the stuff that people remember about the film, like the cat dildo. He completely changed the screenplay to the point where it was kind of a shock reading it. I thought there was no way I could make this, because it was such a big idea. It was at that point that Matt Vaughn and I got together and stripped it back to a point in between those two versions. Matt was just going to be a producer at that point.”
CAT SICK BLUES was initially launched with a Kickstarter campaign that has become a painful memory to the filmmaker, “Maybe I’m forgetting what the shoot was actually like, but looking back, I think the Kickstarter experience was more stressful than anything else to do with the film. It was mostly Matt and I organizing the whole thing. We knew it was going to be difficult, but the Kickstarter was really intense. It’s basically like having a full-time job, and we already had full-time jobs as well. We were constantly promoting ourselves, and that was the thing I found the hardest: basically begging people for money. It’s definitely something I would recommend to people, but I would tell them to take about six months preparing the Kickstarter and working out all the rewards.”
Jackson has sharper and less painful memories of the influences he sought to bring to CAT SICK BLUES. “There were the obvious things, like the original MANIAC and HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER, which scared me so much when I was teenager. At that point, all the slasher movies I’d seen had been the Jason films, which were not told from the point of view of the killer. MANIAC and HENRY freaked me out because the murderers were the protagonists, and that was way more frightening to me. BAD BOY BUBBY was a huge influence just in the way it was shot, and I loved its balance of humor and terror as well.
“I also love the films of Jean Rollin,” he continues, “and how they are paced, slowly. THE NUDE VAMPIRE has a scene with people wearing crazy animal heads, which really inspired our cat mask. The absolute biggest influence on me, though, was Takashi Miike’s GOZU. I don’t think I’ve seen any other film like it, where I was laughing while watching it but incredibly uncomfortable and freaked out as well. It’s not funny one moment and then scary the next, but the whole way through, it’s funny and scary at the same time. I’ve never seen another movie that has captured that tone.”
And that’s the effect he sought to capture with CAT SICK BLUES. “The intention was to make something that was uncomfortably funny and upsetting at the same time. I think some people find CAT SICK BLUES funny but many don’t, so far. Many believe it should be deadly serious and then get completely offended by it. At screenings, it’s nice to hear people laughing in the right spots—or even the wrong spots!”