“The Cat With Hands” (dir. Robert Morgan, 2001, 3:31)
The short films of British animator Robert Morgan are informed by horror—and are often plenty disturbing—but aim for something deeper than shock. Morgan’s 2001 short “The Cat With Hands” had a strong festival run a decade ago, and won multiple awards, probably because it puts such a hard twist on what seems like a cutesy premise. An old man leads a curious stranger to a moonlit well, where legend has it that the title creature resides: a small cat, with human hands. When the film flashes back to the story of the cat, Morgan switches from live-action to a modified stop-motion, bringing a nightmarish haze to the notion of an animal who takes human body parts as its own, and then consumes their original owners.
“When I start thinking about ideas for a film, I tend to start off with an atmosphere first. The first thing is the mood and the atmosphere and the space that it exists in. That’s the first thing that gives me the handle on it and that is usually a sort of dreamlike atmosphere. It’s like a not quite real, not quite literal world but off and a bit scary and a bit dreamlike and when I can create that space in my mind, then I start getting ideas. … My sister had this dream about this cat with hands that chased her and her friends around. … It’s such a great image, you know, and so striking. So when I was trying to think of a story, it reminded me of the kind of creature you’d see in a fairytale or something, or like Grimm’s tales. So then I just thought of the well, because that’s another iconic fairytale type ingredient, and then this clearing in the woods. So that was the atmosphere there, and then that leads to the other.”
Morgan goes on to say what he finds most troubling about the story is that the creature gathers all the components it needs to become a human being, but is still nothing more than a copycat (so to speak). “The Cat With Hands” is grim and violent at times, with a classic horror setting, but what makes it so memorable is the alien quality to its vicious killer, who wants something it doesn’t really know how to get.
Previous “Short Cuts” columns can be found here.