Hell's Kitty

No matter how fraught other relationships get, we can always count on the simple, wholesome affection of our pets to cheer us up. The old cliche about cats and dogs becoming "part of the family" is true, and their unquestioning love can help us through tough times. But what if something happened to that sweet, uncomplicated bond and a furry companion became part of the problem instead of part of the solution? That's the question asked in Hell's Kitty, and the answer is a doozy.

Nick (Nicholas Tana) is a single guy, a writer looking to get established in Hollywood, and he leads a quiet life with his cat, Angel, whom he dotes on. Adam (Adam Rucho), Nick's best friend who works as an extra, even feels a little left out because Nick spends so much time with Angel. Still, a man has needs, and now and then Nick seeks out some human female companionship. Except it's getting more and more dangerous for him to bring a girl home, as Angel is increasingly jealous of any sort of competition for Nick's affection.

The basic idea isn't so weird. I've had cats that have been pretty possessive and were quick to put their paws down when they got tired of me paying attention to other people instead of them. On the other hand, we're not talking Angel knocking something over so she can again be the center of attention; this is a case of her doing her best to cause grievous bodily harm to any women that end up in Nick's apartment, no matter the reason -- even Nick's grandmother (Lee Meriwether) gets hissed at, though she knows how to handle a cat -- and Nick is running out of ideas. His therapist, Dr. Laurie Strode (Nina Kate) makes house calls but otherwise isn't a lot of help.

When Detective Pluto (Michael Berryman, The Hills Have Eyes) comes around looking for the missing Lisa (Lisa Younger) who Nick briefly dated, things really get serious. Adam says Angel needs to be exorcised, so they try that, with the help of Father Damian (Doug Jones, The Shape of Water) and Father Blatty (Bill Oberst Jr., The Chair). But the good Fathers have met their match, so the hapless friends contact The Medium (Lynn Lowry, Cat People) and her sister Esmeralda (Kelli Maroney, Night of the Comet). Even door to door preachers Mordicia (Courtney Gains) and Isaiah (John Franklin), both of Children of the Corn join in the fun. Yet Angel is no closer to living up to her name.

Anyone who's ever seen even one classic horror movie has already realized how many homages to such movies there are in this film, and I haven't even mentioned Rosemary Carrie (Dale Midkiff, Pet Sematary) and Mrs. Carrie (Adrienne Barbeau), or the strange twin girls and the fact that even minor characters have names like Jamie Screech Curtis. This is a horror lover's dream come true -- or perhaps nightmare come true would be more fitting -- and clearly a labor of love for all involved. It's based on a true story -- writer Nicholas Tana was forced to play himself since Angel was playing herself and wouldn't let anyone else get near her -- so despite the outrageous body count and many horrible ways to go there's a ring of truth beneath it all that gives the movie a wonderful charm.

You can still catch glimpses of the original episodic format, but overall the movie is more fun than any horror flick should be. I watched it twice to see if I could catch any more in-jokes and was just as riveted the second time through, even beyond the chance to recognize familiar faces and half-forgotten scares. It's a challenging way to make a film but it works beautifully and earns four and a half out of five with its skillful blend of comedy and horror. As this movie shows, sometimes you really don't want to know what your beloved pet might be thinking.

Angel licking something she "found". Trust me, you don't want to know.


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