creepy cat from a horror movie

Cats in horror movies – ranking the feline fear factor

Cats, entwined with witchcraft, spirits, and symbols of misfortune, have been shrouded in mystery since ancient times. Their deep-rooted legends paint them as creatures bridging our world with the supernatural. This ancient allure and cinematic appeal have led many filmmakers to feature cats in haunting horror narratives. With iconic glowing eyes and silent prowls, they effortlessly amplify the eeriness of a scene. Join us as we dive straight into our definitive ranking of the most unforgettable feline appearances in horror films.

Warning: This list contains spoilers!


Orange cat from What Lies Beneath (2000)

Story: Set against the backdrop of her Vermont lakeside home, Claire Spencer’s tranquil life is disrupted by uncanny disturbances. In her quest to uncover the truth behind eerie events, Claire meets individuals, each holding puzzle pieces. During a significant visit, she encounters the mother of Madison Elizabeth Frank. In a melancholic room, an older woman holding a ginger tabby cat reveals insights into Madison’s troubled past.

Most intense moment: Though understated, the tabby’s presence is pivotal during crucial revelations in the scene. The cat’s quiet comfort, juxtaposed against heart-wrenching tales of love and betrayal, highlights the stark difference between the safety of the known and the chilling mysteries of the hidden. Subtly, the tabby becomes an unspoken observer, silently absorbing the depth and weight of the revelations that deepen the film’s suspenseful allure.

The black cats from The Black Cat (1934)

Story: This classic horror film plunges two travelers, Peter and Joan Allison, into an unsettling world when they inadvertently become guests in the home of Hjalmar Poelzig. This Austrian architect, hiding a dark past, is chillingly portrayed by Boris Karloff, known for his iconic role in “Frankenstein”. As tensions rise, they’re ensnared in a bitter rivalry between Poelzig and Dr. Vitus Werdegast, both haunted by betrayals from World War I. Amidst the backdrop of revenge and dark ceremonies, black cats serve as eerie symbols of dread, especially amplifying Werdegast’s own fears.

Most intense moment: The tension reaches a fever pitch when a black cat suddenly appears, sending Dr. Werdegast into sheer panic due to his intense ailurophobia (fear of cats). This brief yet chilling encounter sets off a cascade of events, underlining the film’s exploration of deep-seated fears and past traumas.

Pepper from Amityville: The Evil Escapes (1989)

Story: The chilling legacy of the Amityville house resurfaces when its malevolent spirit takes refuge in a seemingly innocuous lamp. Shipped to a family in California, eerie disturbances start anew, impacting Pepper, the family cat, who undergoes a frightening transformation. Usually a calm and soothing presence, Pepper begins to change. Her behavior becomes troubling, reflecting the dark influence of the cursed artifact. This shift adds to the growing ominous atmosphere of the narrative.

Most intense moment: An unsettling scene unfolds when Pepper, deeply disturbed by the Amityville influence, shows signs of distress, hissing and lashing out in fear. This shift in the once-beloved pet’s behavior, driven more by terror than aggression, adds a subtle layer to the film’s atmosphere, hinting at the pervasive reach of the Amityville curse.

Cleo from The Mummy (1999)

Story: In “The Mummy” (1999), an ancient Egyptian high-priest named Imhotep is awakened from his cursed mummified state, unleashing havoc as he seeks to revive his lost love, Anck-su-Namun. As he terrorizes those who stand in his path, he unexpectedly meets his match in a seemingly ordinary domestic cat.

Most intense moment: Cleo, the white cat, plays an unexpectedly pivotal role against the menacing Imhotep. There’s a memorable scene where the protagonist holds up Cleo, prompting the cat to hiss at the mummy. Imhotep’s reaction is one of pure terror as he yells and retreats in fear. This dread stems from the cat’s association with Bastet, the Egyptian goddess of protection against evil spirits and malice.

Jonesy from Alien (1979)

Story: In the chilling void of space, the crew of the spaceship Nostromo investigates a distress signal from a desolate planet and soon confronts a deadly extraterrestrial threat onboard. Among them is Jonesy, the ship’s orange tabby cat. While not central to the unfolding terror, Jonesy’s mere presence and reactions often mirror the audience’s own feelings of tension. He makes unexpected appearances, occasionally heightening the film’s jump scares. However, he predominantly remains an innocent bystander amidst the horror, not instigating terror nor being its origin.

Most intense moment: The chilling sequence where crew member Brett searches for Jonesy stands out. As Brett’s efforts are abruptly interrupted by a harrowing encounter with the alien, Jonesy’s alarmed reaction just before the horrifying revelation only deepens the tension of the scene, making it both unforgettable and a testament to the cat’s genuine element in this sci-fi horror masterpiece.

The cats in The Uncanny (1977)

Story: Cats take center stage in this horror anthology. Set around the premise that felines have been the silent witnesses to centuries of human malfeasance, the film provides a chilling exploration of various tales, each linked by the common thread of cats taking revenge on those who’ve done them wrong. These tales are presented by a writer, Wilbur Gray, who attempts to convince his publisher that cats have been exacting revenge on humans throughout history.

Most intense moment: Among the various tales of feline vengeance, one particularly stands out: a wealthy woman decides to leave her vast fortune to her cats rather than to her nephew. This leads to a deadly game of cat and mouse as the nephew tries to retrieve the will. The film’s portrayal of the cats banding together, silently communicating and methodically stalking their prey, might come off as comically exaggerated to modern audiences. However, at the time, this depiction of cats as a horde of tiny, malevolent creatures must have been genuinely unsettling. The movie capitalizes on presenting these typically domesticated animals in a light far removed from their common, everyday perception.

Clovis from Sleepwalkers (1992)

Story: Charles Brady and his mother Mary are Sleepwalkers – creatures that can change shape and feed on the life force of young women. While they have various supernatural abilities, they share one significant weakness: cats. Clovis, a cat affiliated with the local police force, emerges as an unexpected obstacle for these predatory beings.

Most intense moment: Clovis, showcasing his ferocity, leaps into the fray as the Sleepwalkers try to harm the main character. With more heroic cats joining him, he mounts a fierce resistance. The intensity of the moment is palpable, with the tension reaching its peak as the cats unleash their righteous anger against the intruders.

The black cat from Tales from the Darkside: The Movie (1990)

Story: “Tales from the Darkside: The Movie” is a horror anthology film, and the segment we want to tell you about is titled “The Cat from Hell.” Here, a wealthy, elderly pharmaceutical tycoon hires a hitman to eliminate a seemingly ordinary black cat. As the narrative progresses, it unveils a vengeful feline character. This cat’s desire for revenge is rooted in the tragic deaths of fellow felines subjected to pharmaceutical experiments. These experiments, in turn, played a pivotal role in the accumulation of the drug magnate’s immense wealth.

Most intense moment: The pinnacle of tension arises when the hitman, thinking he’s got the upper hand, attempts to deal with the cat. In a shocking twist, the cat lunges at him, forcing her way down the hitman’s throat, causing him to choke to death. The imagery of the cat’s fierce attack and the hitman’s panicked struggle is striking. It powerfully conveys the theme of dark vengeance. This leaves the audience with a haunting realization of the extreme lengths this cat will go to seek revenge.

Jezebel from The Sentinel (1977)

Story: “The Sentinel” delves into the life of a fashion model, Alison, who moves into a peculiar New York brownstone. Unbeknownst to her, the apartment building is a gateway to hell, with its odd inhabitants serving as its guardians. As Alison settles into her new home, unsettling events begin to transpire, challenging her understanding of reality.

Most intense moment: Among the myriad disturbing events in the film, there’s a startling scene where Alison finds Jezebel feeding on a bird in her apartment. The graphic and unexpected scene intensifies the sinister atmosphere, emphasizing that not everything is as it seems. Even familiar comforts, such as a pet cat, can be tainted by the building’s malevolence.

Church from Pet Sematary (1989 / 2019)

Story: “Pet Sematary” weaves a haunting tale of grief and the drastic measures one might resort to in hopes of reversing the claws of death. Dr. Louis Creed, relocating his family to Maine, stumbles upon a mysterious burial ground concealed deep within the woods near their new home. Tragedy strikes when Church, the family’s cherished cat, meets an untimely end. Driven by sorrow, Louis seeks out the eerie graveyard to bring Church back. However, the returned Church is disturbingly different, a shadow of his former self, signaling a spiral of terrifying events to come.

Most intense moment: A pivotal scene that lingers in memory is Church’s eerie return post-burial. Once a symbol of family comfort, Church becomes an embodiment of dread – with his grimy fur, unyielding stare, and heightened aggression. This transformation powerfully captures the film’s grim message: there are things worse than death. Church’s ominous shift post-resurrection paints a harrowing picture of the repercussions of meddling with life’s natural order.

There was the cat that could hiss, the cat that could jump, the cat that could stare… They were like this pack of divas on set.

Dennis Widmyer

A point of interest: While the essence of Church’s role remains largely unchanged between the two films, there’s a noteworthy difference in the portrayal. The 1989 version showcased a British Shorthair, while the 2019 film paid homage to the original hardcover depiction by featuring a Maine Coon. The Maine Coons for the remake were trained by Melissa Millett, who emphasizes positive reinforcement. So, while their on-screen presence might send shivers down the spine, behind the scenes, these feline stars thoroughly enjoyed their moments in the limelight.

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