The Best Killer-Cat Horror Movies You’ve Never Seen

(Welcome to The Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, a series that takes a look at slightly more obscure, under-the-radar, or simply under-appreciated movies. This week we look at savage felines big and small but mostly big!)

Culture and horror cinema is filled with references to cats being the demon spawn of the pet world, and until recently I saw no reason to disagree. We brought home two black kittens that had been found in a dumpster, and they’ve thanked us by being adorable, playful, and loving… while still being the demon spawn of the pet world.

Still, though, there aren’t a lot of great movies about killer housecats. Sure they pop up in anthology films like The Uncanny (1977), Cat’s Eye (1985), and Tales from the Darkside: The Movie (1990), but they don’t make for a great core threat. A few minutes with Uninvited (1988) or Strays (1991) are more than enough to prove as much. Thankfully there are bigger cats like lions, tigers, and pumas, oh my. Popular, well-known horror movies focused on big cats include The Ghost and the Darkness (1996) and… that’s it really? They show up hungry in movies as diverse as Day of the Animals (1977) and The Jungle Book (2016), but movies focused on killer cats? They’re out there.

Keep reading for a look at six good to great horror movies about ferocious felines thirsty for blood!

The Black Cat (1981)

A small village in rural England sees an uptick in deaths with no clear explanation. We know, though, that it’s the black cat skulking across the cobblestone streets and rooftops who appears to have some kind of vendetta against the locals. First, it mesmerizes a guy into crashing his car, next it locks a pair of necking teens in an airtight room, and then it scratches a drunk guy until he falls to his death. It’s racking up quite the body count, but is it actually to blame?

Lucio Fulci is a director best-known for gory descents into hell, and his run from 1979 to 1982 is overflowing with gut-chewing glory in the form of Zombie (1979), City of the Living Dead (1980), The Beyond (1981), The House By the Cemetery (1981), Manhattan Baby (1982), and The New York Ripper (1982). While this flick features some bloodletting, it pales in comparison to the geysers of gore in those surrounding movies. Fulci is instead more focused on style and atmosphere as he builds the mystery involving the cat, the mysterious man who may be controlling it, and the woman who seems destined to wind up bricked in behind a wall.

As the title suggests the film is inspired by Edgar Allan Poe’s short story, but as the synopsis above implies it’s a very loose inspiration. The film doesn’t really reveal its source in Poe until nearer the end when wacky Patrick Magee traps our hero behind a wall unaware that the cat’s in there too with plans to rat him out to the cops. It’s an engaging tale all the same thanks to the cat action and the mystery as to its involvement – a mystery it teases to the very end depending on who you believe.

The Black Cat is available on Blu-ray/DVD and streaming from Amazon.

Black Zoo (1963)

A woman walking alone at night on a city street is suddenly stalked and killed by a tiger. It’s shocking, but it won’t be the last such attack in the city as a madman is targeting those who’ve crossed him. And his preferred method of murder? Highly trained zoo animals. Obviously.

Michael Gough, best known as Batman’s butler/surrogate father Alfred in Tim Burton’s big screen adventure from 1989, gives a deliciously good performance as the seemingly mild-mannered Michael Conrad. He chews the scenery like the beasts chew his enemies, and his antics are paired with some thrilling animal footage that sells their ferocity and his control over them. The guy in the ape-suit “boxing” a woman to death is far from a highlight, but the big cat action looks and feels legitimately unnerving including the opening tiger attack, a later lion encounter, and more.

Our killer walks a fine line between brilliant madman and bonkers dude, and the film ensures viewers see both sides of his life. He’s married, seemingly well to do, and father to a mute son, but he also heads up a small collective who praise the big cats in his private zoo as special creatures of the earth. Yeah, he’s a nutter. When his wife catches him berating the help – literally punching and slashing them actually – it becomes clear even to her that he’s up to no good. At a sleek 88 minutes, the family drama never threatens to overwhelm the genre thrills leaving viewers with an engaging ride into madness and murder.

Black Zoo is available on DVD from Amazon.

The Leopard Man (1943)

A leopard used in a saucy nightclub act escapes into the night, but hey, pets wander off all the time. It becomes an issue, though, when a young woman is found mauled to death. And then another woman is killed. And then a third. Are these the acts of a wild beast, or are they murders committed by the most dangerous animal of all.

Without spoiling anything for this 75-year-old film, the deaths here aren’t wholly due to the teeth and claws of the big kitty. The cat’s still menacing and a real threat, and its scenes work to unnerve thanks to the unbridled threat the animal poses. Director Jacques Tourneur’s best known for the classic Cat People (1942), but his interest in the animals carried over to this thriller that blends horror and suspense into something special. He even recycled the same black leopard.

The film’s plot features the expected animal action, but it also exists as one of the earliest American movies to explore the antics and machinations of a serial killer. (Okay, fine, I spoiled the 75-year-old movie.) It doesn’t go deep on this particular angle – the film’s only 66 minutes long – but it offers an interesting approach to the madness of a man by taking his actions and intents seriously.

The Leopard Man is available on DVD and streaming from Amazon.

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