Halloween is almost upon us, which naturally means all things spooky should take center stage. And there’s perhaps no better animal for the fall season than a cool and creeping cat. Fortunately, the horror genre has more than its fair share of spooky felines (with a special mention, of course, to Nightfire’s very own Olivia, the Bible-reading narrator from Catriona Ward’s The Last House on Needless Street). So in honor of Samhain, here are ten cats of literature and cinema that deserve their eerie due.
Jonesy from Alien
In space, no one can hear you meow. As the resident mascot of the ill-fated Nostromo, orange tabby cat Jonesy learned this all too well. At least, he figured out quickly how to hide, cower, and hiss at the xenomorph slinking around the ship, and those feline skills helped him survive better than most of his human counterparts. Over the years, I’ve often wondered what became of Jonesy once Ripley embarked on another trip to LV-426 in Aliens. Let’s hope that space station had a heavy supply of kibble and space catnip for our little tabby friend.
Image: 20th Century Fox
Jezebel from The Sentinel
A lesser known cat of horror, Jezebel manages to live up to the moniker, cat from hell. Based on a book by Jeffrey Konvitz, the 1977 film follows model Alison Parker as she moves into a beautiful brownstone in New York, only to discover that it’s a gateway to the beyond. Enter Jezebel, whose owner is played by none other than Burgess Meredith. Despite a stellar supporting cast that also includes Ava Gardner, Eli Wallach, Jeff Goldblum, and Christopher Walken, Jezebel upstages them all, particularly in an early scene where you get to witness what might be the only cat birthday party in the history of horror cinema. (And yes, the cat does indeed wear a birthday hat.) An underrated gem and definitely worth a viewing this Halloween season.
Image: Universal Pictures
Master Ren from Monstress
Talking cats are the best, but a talking cat with two tails and a razor sharp wit is even better. The Monstress series, written by Marjorie Liu and illustrated by Sana Takeda, is set in a steampunk world where war and the supernatural have altered the landscape of 1900s Asia. The beautiful illustrations from the series imbue Master Ren with such presence and character, and his snarky dialogue brings him instantly to life. There are plenty of fantastic reasons to check out this unique and beloved series, and Master Ren is absolutely at the top of that list. A great horror cat and one that should certainly become more of a household name.
Image: Image Comics
Pyewacket in Bell, Book, and Candle
While not strictly a horror film, the 1958 film, Bell, Book and Candle, has certainly got its share of spooky elements. After all, it features witches, love spells, and a pretty rad beatnik club called the Zodiac. But its best contribution to the genre is a mystical Siamese named Pyewacket. With big blue eyes and a spell-casting soul, Pyewacket manages to bewitch a befuddled James Stewart on Kim Novak’s behalf, with serious magical consequences. While this pairing of Stewart and Novak isn’t nearly as famous as their coupling in Vertigo, Pyewacket helps to make Bell, Book, and Candle quite a bewitching good time.
Image: Columbia Pictures
Blanche from Hausu
A fabulously supernatural feline, Blanche is at the center of the mysterious and ultraviolent hijinks in 1977’s Hausu. She starts out as an ordinary white cat hanging out on a sprawling estate, but when a group of schoolgirls arrives for a visit, things take a surreal and murderous turn before devolving into complete chaos, the kind that includes an effigy of Blanche spewing enough blood to make The Overlook Hotel jealous. A rollicky psychedelic horror bonanza, this is a film that needs to be seen to be believed, and Blanche is a cat that more than earns her place on this list.
Jonas from We Have Always Lived in the Castle, Shirley Jackson
One of my personal favorite horror cats, Jonas is the steadfast companion of the strange and unforgettable Merricat Blackwood. Jonas isn’t overtly supernatural—though he is basically a witch’s familiar—but that doesn’t mean that Jonas isn’t quite the unique feline. Case in point: he survives a household of secrets, murder, sympathetic magic, and a life-altering fire, and throughout it all, he barely even gets flustered. If only we could all have Jonas’s fortitude. Plus, like any good familiar, he’s always there when Merricat needs him. A keen friend to the end and one very special cat of horror literature.
Irena in Cat People
While technically the eponymous cats in the 1942 original film and its 1982 remake are actually panthers, it’s a rare cat that can morph between her feline and human skins, so we’ll give the beautifully doomed Irena the recognition she deserves. The Jacques Tourneur original starring an incandescent and tragic Simone Simon is naturally the more beloved of the two versions, but with an awesome David Bowie theme song and a memorably vulnerable performance from Nastassja Kinski, the Paul Schrader remake has some disturbing charms of its own. When in doubt, just do a double feature and revel in the weird wonders of both versions of Cat People.
Image: RKO Radio Pictures
Mar from Ju-On: The Grudge
Horror cats are amazing on their own, but ghost horror cats take it to a whole different level. In the iconic Japanese film, Ju-On: The Grudge, the black cat named Mar proves that people aren’t the only apparitions that can do some serious haunting. His otherworldly yowls add to an already unnerving ambiance, and really, who could blame him? Mar just wanted to be an ordinary housecat, not a spectral presence lingering forever in a haunted abode. Still, Mar’s a good companion for the young and equally ghostly Toshio, and the two of them cause plenty of mayhem together. Provided any of us ever end up as restless ghosts, we could only be so lucky to have a friend as devoted as Mar. Good kitty.
Image: Pioneer LDC
The Rat-Cat from Dune
All right, so this particular entry might not belong on a list with such illustrious fellow cats of horror. But even in a gloriously bizarre film like 1984’s Dune, there’s still something so deeply strange about the sudden appearance of a small cat strapped to a smaller rat and kept in a cage for the sole purpose of milking them daily to get a poison antidote. Honestly, you can’t even write a comprehensible sentence about the rat-cat. This is an animal that defies all decency and explanation. The rat-cat was apparently not in the original novel by Frank Herbert and is instead an inexplicable creation of David Lynch’s mind. True horror if ever it existed.
Image: Dino De Laurentiis Company
Winston Church from Pet Sematary, Stephen King
No list of horror cats would be complete without the hapless Church. One day he’s skulking around the beautiful landscape of New England, and the next, he’s undead and eager for blood-soaked havoc. In both the book and the film versions, Church is an omnipresent force, setting the stage for what’s to come and simply creeping out anyone who happens to be around. While it’s true that sometimes dead is indeed better, it’s also true that horror wouldn’t be the same without Winston Church.
Image: Paramount Pictures