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  • nickkarner

Uninvited (1987)


“To dub, or not to dub, that is the question. Whether ‘tis prudent to hide the fact that it’s impossible to record live sound in the middle of an ocean or suffer the slings and arrows lobbed at our production for dubbing the ever-loving fuck out of everything.” That, of course, is a famous quote from Billy Shakespeare’s production of Death of a Salesman's Allergist Wife and, oddly-specific dialogue aside, it’s a very good question. I felt for B-movie auteur Greydon Clark (Without Warning, Final Justice) and his tiny crew as I watched his loony little killer cat movie, Uninvited (1987). As a sometime-filmmaker, I’ve been there, pal. Whether it’s a loud refrigerator, an air conditioning unit that won’t cooperate, or especially the sound of cars and/or fucking nature, recording live sound is incredibly difficult, particularly while out in the elements, and even worse on a literal ocean. The sounds of waves crashing into one another and the wind constantly whipping around you, changing speed and direction. But what do you do? Especially when you’ve got three name actors who are obviously going to be too expensive to get back into a sound booth to dub over pages of unusable dialogue. Welp, you just do your best and hope no one notices. Unfortunately, I’m pretty sure even deaf people noticed how the background noise fluctuated within any given outdoor scene. I guess the cat, along with the no-name actors, worked for scale, because they certainly were able to dub over the cat's “dialogue.” Many, many times. I’m not sure if Clark knows this, but you don’t need to hear a cat meow every second it’s onscreen. Particularly when we hear endless yowling and its mouth isn’t even moving. Were we hearing its thoughts?

During the Final Justice shoot in Malta, Clark would briefly utilize a water tank roughly the size of two football fields and four feet deep. Many filmmakers would shoot in the tank to give their films an epic scope thanks to the Mediterranean Sea acting as the majestic backdrop. Seeing an intriguing opportunity, he conceived of a story that would eventually become Uninvited and planned on shooting it in Final Justice territory. Unfortunately, the large yacht he imagined simply wasn’t available, but after an exhaustive search that took him from Malta to Jamaica, then back to Los Angeles, he found his boat.

Titles with double meanings like Face/Off and Transparent let filmmakers indulge in a bit of cheekiness to let everyone know they’re either in on the joke or the smartest person in the room. Uninvited goes for a two-pronged approach. You see, the adorably fluffy kitty who happens to harbor a monster inside it is very much not welcome, or “invited,” aboard the yacht of Wall Street millionaire criminal Walter Graham (Alex Cord, Airwolf). However, the vapid, materialistic, and very horny duo of Bobbie (Clare Carey, Waxwork, Coach) and Suzanne (Shari Shattuck, Death Spa, Y&R) feel completely justified to “invite” three bohunks aboard said yacht even though it’s abundantly clear Walter wants the ladies all to himself. You see, these party crashing lads will soon be... “uninvited.” There’s a lot going on here.

Clark and his filmography are a beloved treasure trove of deliciously bananas exploitation and trash cinema. While he can boast to have worked with the likes of Jack Palance, John Carradine, Martin Landau, Neville Brand, George Kennedy, Ralph Meeker, Clu Gulager and Chuck Conners, the films in which they appeared have (so far) failed to grace the AFI’s top 100 list. The Bad Bunch and Black Shampoo were his way of breaking into filmmaking, much like fellow writer/director Larry Cohen, but he always felt that these films should be made by African Americans. His finest hour will probably always be Without Warning (1980), an imperfect but far from terrible sci-fi tale featuring an intergalactic being who lobs a cross between a jelly fish and a ninja star at people in a movie which shares some striking similarities to the “slightly” more successful Predator.

He’s also responsible for one of the Lambada movies made in 1990 during the war between former Cannon executives/cousins Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus. For Uninvited, his concept for a semi-chamber piece featuring a rampaging creature was, according to him, as follows: “I placed most of the story on board a luxury yacht. I first thought of a rat and then a rabid dog - neither seemed unique enough. I finally decided on the demonic monster hidden inside an escaped laboratory cat.” This is mostly thanks to his actress wife Jacqulin Cole, who nixed the idea of a rat, stating “Willard was an exception.” And hoo boy, is this monster-in-a-cat one nasty customer.

The film begins with a dubiously-named production company (Amazing Movies), practically challenging the viewer to find ways to belittle it. For about 30 glorious seconds, composer Dan Slider’s music features a creepy, synth-piano style and implies we’ll be getting a Carpenter-inspired soundscape. Alas, the music abruptly changes “without warning” (see what I did there?) to vomit-inducing muzak which should’ve stayed in the final scene of an 80’s sitcom or at least on an elevator. I assume Slider’s name was the inspiration for the slick, snappy titles as the names of the (probably embarrassed) crew “slide” across the screen at rapid speed.

We find ourselves in an experimental lab housing dozens of ginger cats, already a bad sign. I love orange tabbies, but they can be temperamental and/or total nutjobs. My parents had one that was a wackadoo and my cousin had one that was such an asshole nobody could even pet him. Some researchers, including a cameo-ing Clark with huge glasses, see some kind of tumor on an X-ray, so they’re gonna “cut it open.” This kitty calls bullshit on that and scampers out through the many open doors in a facility that maybe should’ve been locked down. Worst. Vets. Ever. Despite the fact that these lab coat-wearing fuckheads weren’t wearing any protective gear whatsoever, a team of men wearing hazmat suits track the cat down and corner it, but it hacks up the worst fucking hairball you’ve ever seen in your life. Considering the internet’s obsession with cats, I wouldn’t be surprised if every cat has a genetically mutated hellbeast living inside it. To put a spin on something Chris Rock once said, “That cat went CAT!” The cutaways to the fake cat’s face are laughable and the monstrosity which emerges from its mouth looks like a Salacious Crumb fetus. These guys are killed, and then some, and the cat escapes. Of course, this attack is left much more ambiguous in the original cut, which incidentally is the international cut of the film that also includes an alternate, jump scare-style ending. By the way, to quote Clark himself, “The cat is innocent. It’s the monster inside it that’s bad.” This is why there are so many cat people. They’re afraid of what might happen if you piss them off.

The gaudiest 80’s limo you’ve ever seen (it looks like a limo had sex with a Rolls-Royce and the Griswold Family Truckster) rolls up to a luxury hotel and our washed-up movie stars exit the vehicle. Corrupt businessman Mike (Oscar winner George Kennedy, whose career would bounce back in a big way a year later with The Naked Gun) and jittery alcoholic manservant Albert (Clu Gulager, Return of the Living Dead) head inside, but not before Kennedy turns to Gulager with a resigned nod which seems to say: “Welp, I guess we’re in this fuckin’ movie now. Might as well do stuff.” Walter invites the two bimbos aboard his yacht for a midnight party which we never see and heads off to a meeting with his two associates on said pleasure cruise. An inside man with the SEC named Daryl (Michael Holden, Cheers, 24) is informed by Mike to “stop being such a pussy” and just let them keep doing illegal activity. He’s got “rat” written all over his face and so Albert drowns him in the jacuzzi, after which he begins violently shaking and appears to be having some sort of stroke.

This is about the level in which Gulagar plays his entire performance, complete with huge fake teeth, coke bottle glasses, and a weird, twitchy demeanor. It’s incredible that this is the same guy who just a couple of years prior was trying to convince somebody to incinerate “rabid weasels.” Gulager’s son devised his giant teeth and Clark said that although he casts unknown actors through auditions, he’ll often meet and work with movie stars on the first day of shooting, so this is the way Clu looked when he showed up. With only 3 days to shoot Gulager’s scenes, a week for Kennedy, and two weeks for Cord, Clark simply went with it.

Bobbie and Suzanne are ready to hump anyone or anything, as long as it’s not Walter, despite the fact that I’ve been told money is quite the aphrodisiac. They plop themselves down next to three students vacationing on spring break: yuppie scumbag Corey (Rob Estes, Silk Stalkings, Melrose Place), doofus Lance (Beau Dremann, My Science Project) and future biologist/beard enthusiast Martin (Eric Larson, Demon Wind). Corey does his best to act cool by pulling his shades half-down while Lance has that Adam Sandler in Airheads thing (i.e. irresistibly dumb) which immediately causes Bobbie to rub his thigh with a will. These sex maniacs are presumptuous as fuck since they invite these three strangers onto a boat which they neither own nor have any say over who can come aboard. I guess boobs really are the most powerful weapons known to mankind.

Meanwhile, a good Samaritan finds out nice guys get the fuck beaten out of them because after giving the escaped kitty a bowl of milk, some burly asshole sidles up to him looking for some change, then beats him and steals his bright red truck. Demon kitty (but keep it all inside!) hops onto the back of the truck and we get an awesomely terrible attack from the demon puppet (with a puppeteer’s hand clearly seen) as it smashes through the window and takes a bite out of crime. It somehow wanders into the marina, where Suzanne takes an instant liking to it. Despite the presence of cat trainers, and obviously multiple cats considering the fluffball’s fur style changes constantly, this surprisingly large kitty really doesn’t want to be held and it’s a wonder they can get through the scene. Martin lives (unfortunately) to regret coming up with some silly idea that “cats bring good luck aboard a ship.”

Mike hilariously “hates punks,” and Walter rightly shoves the boys off lickety-split. Unfortunately, they discover that being customers at a Cayman island bank has its drawbacks. Oh, crap, I shouldn't have said he was a customer. Oh, crap, I shouldn't have said it was a secret. Oh, crap! I certainly shouldn't have said it was illegal! Ohhhh...it's too hot today. Regardless, their precious money is in danger and the SEC is waiting on shore, so they shove off, assigning their “uninvited” (nailed it) guests random tasks, including chef duties for Martin, who may or may not even know how to cook. The ladies continue to give off their horny vibes, which leaves Martin in the dust, prompting him to compare himself to “Woody Allen.” Why? Because they’re not underage? There’s plenty of awful white people dancing to awful, non-descript 80’s pop tunes and they swivel their hips like they have to take the biggest shit in history.

Albert’s the first to go as he pisses off the demon kitty by spewing wine in its face. They really sprayed some liquid at this poor cat and it looks pissed. Despite the shocking fact that many of the participants either had success or would later find success on TV and film, the cat is still the best actor. It acts circles around these assholes despite Clark’s insistence that the same two “meow” sound effects be looped in over any scene involving the fuzz butt. Gingers are fuckin’ dangerous because the orange tuddy vomits out the demon kitty and it attacks, resulting in pulsating skin bladder effects that’ll be a staple for the rest of the film. Albert bleeds a bit and falls overboard, only to wash ashore and work in a book store frequented by Sharon Tate. Not really. He dead.

Martin examines the blood found on deck and the ship’s beleaguered captain, Rachel (Toni Hudson, Leatherface, Just One of the Guys) asks “What am I looking at here?” I could ask the same of this film. He remarks that the blood is responding as if it’s been injected with a metabolic steroid, so when the cat practically scalps Mike’s ankle, his recovery doesn’t go so smoothly. Of course, this is after Walter tries to have his way with Bobbi, whom he compares to Jane Fonda due to her slinky workout clothes, and then Lance enters the fray. He’s holding a huge bottle of champagne, but instead of using it as a weapon, he smashes it and throws it away before tackling Walter. Mike shoots him with a tiny gun that must’ve come with a matching purse, then his foot gets gnawed on for a while. Mike tries to shoot the little fucker, which is understandable, but even after it escapes, he inexplicably fires in the general direction of the people. What’s your problem, dawg?

His blood is infected and the cat is deemed poisonous. Kennedy’s death is extremely anticlimactic as his skin bubbles…then he dies. Should’ve been a big explosion of blood. Granted, it’s very possible that since Clark had struck a deal with the owner of the boat to shoot for 1000 dollars a day rather than 10,000 a day (though this number varies based on sources), he probably didn’t want to risk getting it messy. Ironically, the 2 million-dollar yacht had been sold, so Clark and his crew brought in their own set dressing. I could see a much bloodier cut of Uninvited, although what gore there is looks fine.

They have to quarantine (that sounds familiar) all of the food and can only drink champagne and eat corn flakes. Lance loses feeling in his arm and while Bobbi, who delivers an astonishingly flat, “What was that in the closet?,” tries to get hot and heavy with him. Lance glances over at the arm which he’ll most definitely be using to give himself a ‘stranger’ later. In the best tradition of Peter Griffin eating Joe’s leg, the cat is busily chowing down on Lance’s hand. He understandably freaks: “I got the poison in my blood!” He rushes outside and throws himself overboard, inadvertently taking Bobbi along with him. Awwww…they’re gonna poison the whole ocean, don’t’cha know? I don’t know how Bobbi drowns, but she does.

Martin and Corey have a ‘how long do we sit, brooding in front of the fire’ scene and Suzanne loses her gourd. She starts blaming Martin for convincing her to take the cat aboard. Patrick Bateman-in-training Corey strikes a deal with Walter to help him escape since the rest of the group has decided he’s a dangerous asshole, but Corey accidentally shoots a steam pipe and has his face burnt off. Should I call the Corey hotline for help?

Suzanne begins to resemble a crazy cat lady and busts in to steal food. She comes face to face with the cat, who appears to be OK with her, but she eats tainted bread and a nice, big blood bubble forms on her neck. There’s an odd bit of cutting here and it almost appears as though the skin bladder was supposed to burst, but since it didn’t, she reaches up and pops it herself. That’s one way to do it, I suppose.

Finally, during a massive storm, Martin, Rachel, and Walter decide to abandon ship since it’s taking on water. Walter has to grab his Total Recall silver briefcases full of ill-gotten cash from his room, which is quickly filling with water. Clark couldn’t afford to build a set in a studio with a tank, both due to financial constraints and since his crew was non-union, so he ended up building one in his garage, then moving it into his pool when the time came to flood it. A resourceful move, to say the least. Unfortunately, he also had to use his pool to depict the sinking of the ship and…it’s definitely funnier than Titanic, but that’s about it.

Walter encounters the cat and gets taken out. Even though it’s homicidal, it still seems to retain catlike qualities, so when Martin tosses it out of their lifeboat, it jumps right back in. They figure it just wants a floating object, so they empty a suitcase of all its cash and toss it in the ocean. The poor little monster just sits there on its little silver floaty, looking dejected. Assault on Precinct 13’s own Austin Stoker briefly appears as a kindly Caribbean officer who chats with Martin and Rachel while a kid finds a random cat on the beach. It’s a different cat, but I guess the little bastard isn’t picky. It’s kind of like the alien in The Hidden, only terrible.

The film’s look is a bit flat, but perfectly serviceable thanks to Clark’s regular DP Nicholas von Sternberg, who also shot the great Tourist Trap and was portrayed by Kodi Smit-McPhee in Dolemite is my Name (2019) since he shot a handful of Rudy Ray Moore movies. For what they are, the cat effects are still laughable, particularly when the fake cat head is obviously larger in order for the creature to pop out. Emmy winner Allen Apone (Evilspeak) did the bloodwork, which is fine, and Loaded Weapon 1’s animal F/X team Debi and Jim Boulden (who I assume did the gratuitous beaver) provided the “best they could do” cat effects.

Although it has some moments which drag on and aren’t particularly funny, even for a bad movie, Uninvited is a deliriously silly film that gets by on its total commitment to its wacky premise.