Welcome, ladies, gentlemen and fellow horror lovers, to this month’s bonus Carry on Screaming post. Each month I’ll be reviewing a vintage British horror novel and reflecting on what was happening in both the horror genre and the news in the UK at the time. You can read previous posts in the series by clicking on the ‘Carry on Screaming‘ category.
The Cats by Nick Sharman
THOUSANDS UPON THOUSANDS OF CATS CRAZED WITH BLOODLUST
A giant Doberman pinscher–the most vicious and deadly of killer dogs—lay in a bloody heap, its unseeing eyes still glazed with astonished terror.
A young dropout on an acid trip smiled at the animals that were ripping his flesh from his bones—until he realized that this was really happening.
What was left of a kindly old lady lay beside the shattered saucer of milk she had intended to put on the ground.
A powerfully built rapist in the midst of his outrage felt the claws on his back—and his lust turned to gibbering agony.
All over the vast city it was happening and no one seemed able to stop them—the police, the army, the scientist. And cat after cat was infected by the ferocious fever that for the first time made them the masters of man…
Title: The Cats | Author: Nick Sharman | Publisher: New English Library | Pub. Year: 1977 | Pages: 160 | Genre: Horror | Language: English | Triggers: Rape | Rating: 3 out of 5 | Source: Self-purchased
You can imagine the scene. The offices of publishers the New English Library in the late 1970s.
“That book about rats is an absolute farking smash,” says a sweaty publishing exec with a fag hanging out of his mouth, “but we need more, and Herbert can’t write them quickly enough.”
“I know!” ejaculates a keen underling, “what about if we got someone else to write something similar.”
“We’ve already got Smith doing crabs, you plum,” grumbles the exec.
“Yeah, but maybe that’s too subtle,” continues the junior. “I mean, giant crabs and rats are totally different.”
The exec takes a drag on his Benson & Hedges: “So what you’re saying is we need something that the public can’t help but realise is like ‘The Rats’”
“That’s right! I was thinking we could just change one letter….”
And so ‘The Cats’ was born (possibly) and the world is, I think, a better place for it.
It certainly makes an interesting companion piece to this month’s other book, ‘The Rage’. There’s an obvious similarity (both books are about killer animals), but aside from that they’re as different as, well, cats and dogs.
‘The Rage’ ended up feeling like the novelisation of a dull government safety film. ‘The Cats’ is far more honest about its origins and a lot more fun as a result. It’s nonsensical, fast paced and enjoyably gory, with enough of a 70s Britain vibe to make it feel very appropriate as a subject for this column.
The story is a straight Rats rip off with a couple of potentially interesting twists. Rather than the titular felines being motivated purely by their basic animal instincts, they’ve been infected with a virus by a twisted scientist. Everything has been fine with his experiments until the temperature rises during a heatwave and the animals become viciously psychotic. The young schoolboy who has been helping the scientist tend to them is similarly infected, giving the book a sympathetic human monster that ‘The Rats’ lacked.
From there things progress quickly. Really quickly. One minute the cats have escaped the lab and there have been a few attacks; the next the whole city is infected with a plague of vicious moggies.
Like Herbert, Nick Sharman uses short vignettes to introduce characters and kills them. He lacks his more famous counterpart’s talent for this, but the gore can be fun even if the characterisation is often lacking. There’s one particularly effective scene where a hippy on acid lets himself get eaten alive. It all builds up to some pretty impressive carnage at the end, with soldier, flame throwers, and lots of shouting.
The book is set in London, like ‘The Rats’, but it lacks the great sense of place that book had. It is more obviously topical though, with IRA bombings, race riots, unemployment and the welfare state all getting references. The heatwave element is topical too, readers in 1977 would no doubt well remember the record-breaking temperatures that scorched Britain the year before. There’s also a scene where one of the characters drives past the house I was living in at the time.
Ultimately, it falls into a middle ground between ‘The Rats’ and ‘Night of the Crabs’. It’s not nearly as good as the former, or as enjoyably bad as the latter. The main problem with it is that the cats completely lack the menace that Herbert managed to instil in his rats. They seem silly rather than threatening and result is a book that’s entertaining enough but never even remotely scary.
Still, as a cat rather than a dog person, I am pleased to report that it was way better than ‘The Rage’.
I’m adopting a slightly different rating system for my Carry on Screaming review, because, let’s face it, vintage horror novels are about more than just the quality of the actual book.
Book: 3 out of 5
Cover: 3 out of 5 – The UK cover is well executed, but at the end of the day it’s just a shouty cat. The US one is creepy, mostly because it’s a bit weird and it feels like the artist was probably on something that was doing his brain no good at all.
Nastiness: 3 out of 5 – The cats have a fine old time eating people alive, but the fact that they’re only cats does limit the damage they can do.
Sauciness: 2 out of 5 – There’s this one scene where a prostitute and her client get attacked, but it’s pretty tame.
Cover promise vs delivery: 4 out of 5 – It promises angry cats, and delivers them!
Overall Carry on Screaming rating: 15/25
Next month on Carry on Screaming, something completely different: ‘The Devils of D-Day’ by Graham Masterton.
Bonus post credits pic of my cat Venus