Cat and the Canary [1979]

German horror stylist Paul Leni (Variety) brings his expressionist flourishes to this compendium of haunted clich├ęs, creating one of the most stylish horror movie spoofs ever, a delightful mix of the gothic and the goofy. A greedy bunch of gargoyle-looking relatives (and a pair of young innocents) gather for the reading of a rich uncle's will, which demands that they spend the night in the creepy old mansion. Leni puts them through a fun house of frights: As if secret panels, clutching hands, and a stopped clock that mysteriously comes to life weren't enough, an escaped lunatic from a nearby asylum who rends his victims with catlike claws may have infiltrated the house. Silent movie sweetheart Laura La Plante is the canary of the title, a lovely would-be heiress who becomes the target of plotting relatives, but it's the rogues gallery of suspects that adds the color and comic relief. Leni kicks the film off with a delirious scene of an infirm old man surrounded by gigantic bottles of medicine and menaced by a snarling, spitting. gargantuan cat. The rest of the film is played in lower key, for laughs as much as chills, but it never loses its moody ambiance, highlighted by elegant camerawork and looming shadows. This classic has been remade three times, most famously by Bob Hope and Paulette Goddard in 1939, but never as well. The hilarious Harold Lloyd short Haunted Spooks has been included as a DVD bonus. --Sean Axmaker

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