There has been a recent resurgence in ‘dark fairy tales’ of late, with filmmakers citing the collected works of the Brothers Grimm as inspiration. It’s now widely accepted that, before Disney came along and spoiled everything with their absurdly twee notions of ‘happily ever after,’ old-school folk tales were apparently pretty hardcore. But people seem to forget that the Brother’s Grimm edited and ‘disneyfied’ all the stories they collected and published, and in fact fairy tales were even more twisted than people could have imagined.
The Cat With Hands is not only a brilliant title for a film, but also a pretty accurate description of the plot. The cat does indeed have hands, for it has stolen them from it’s last victim, and will keep on killing until it’s built itself a new, human, body. It’s a surreal concept, but simple enough for kids, and reminiscent of a thousand children’s fairy tales. The film is presented as a kind of nursery rhyme, narrated by a creepy old man, who is attempting to terrify a boy with his ghoulish tale. They have come to a clearing, in a moonlit wood, to fetch water from an old well, and as they fill their buckets the film uses this well as a portal, to transport us into the old man’s story. This story section of the film is presented as stop motion, a technique that director Robert Morgan is extremely familiar with, as we witness a young child seeking to befriend the Cat with Hands. Morgan’s work is fantastic, the addition of human hands to the cat is utterly disturbing, and the passive, merciless nature of the creature is clearly and cleverly done.
The effect of this well crafted folk tale is certainly disturbing and dark, and although the film is surreal in nature, both in terms of its plot and its technical inventiveness (the sound design is great, and nicely complemented with the use of close-ups and editing), The Cat With Hands remains familiar. It is clearly a fairy tale, albeit one that will give children (and some adults) nightmares. Indeed, the story was actually born in the recurring night terrors of the director’s sister, further proof that children are a constant source of horror.