Welcome to Flopcorn, where Reader writers and contributors pay tribute to our very favorite bad movies. In this installment, contributors Cody Corrall and Marissa De La Cerda wait out the polar vortex with Ghost Cat, aka The Cat That Came Back, aka Mrs. Ashboro's Cat.
Cody Corrall: There's truly no better way to spend a minus-20 degree day in Chicago than watching some so-bad-it's-good movies. My personal favorite of this genre is Ghost Cat—a 2003 television movie made for Animal Planet where Ellen Page and a recently deceased cat who comes back from the dead try and stop scammers and wealthy businessmen from making unnecessary land-development deals and screwing over their community!
Marissa De La Cerda: I imagine the scene where the villains Boyd and Ted are at the bar talking about the development on the local animal farm is exactly how the city pitched Lincoln Yards.
CC: Exactly. Thanks for joining me on the wonderful, buck-wild journey that is Ghost Cat.
MDLC: I really enjoyed it. Or I guess I was really fascinated by it. I remember when you told me about the movie, I expected it to be more about a cat haunting Ellen Page's character, but boy, was I in for a surprise with all the different plots and themes. There's death. There's land-development drama. There's not one but TWO love stories! All in an hour and 26 minutes.
CC: The intrigue, the drama! What more could you need?
MDLC: Also, I had no idea Animal Planet had its own movies. I thought this was made for ABC or the Fox Kids channel that aired the Goosebumps series. That is definitely where I could've seen this movie airing.
CC: Where do we begin with this plot? It starts with Natalie (Ellen Page) and her recently widowed father moving from the Big City (aka New York) to the small town of Ringwood. They find a house for sale owned by an elderly Mrs. Ashboro, who lives with her cat, Margaret. Mrs. Ashboro does not want to leave the home, but her nephew, Boyd, thinks she is incapable of caring for herself and wants her to sell it. Mrs. Ashboro connects with Natalie when she realizes that the girl's mother, before she passed away, was a frequent patron of the library where she worked.
MDLC: Then both Mrs. Ashboro and Margaret pass away and Boyd sells her house to Natalie and her dad. Natalie starts seeing Margaret appear throughout the house but no one believes her besides her neighbor, Pearson, and his dog, Comfort (still not over that name). Simultaneously, Boyd is trying to find the $50,000 Mrs. Ashboro was supposed to leave him as his inheritance, which he searches for by both breaking into Natalie's house and nagging their neighbor, Brenda, who he thinks stole the money.
CC: Boyd is seriously the worst. First you make your aunt seem like she can't take care of herself, then you harass everyone she was friends with because you think they might have stolen your money right after she passed away? Let these people live!
Brenda runs a farm next door, and the land she's on is of high interest to Ted, a property developer in Ringwood. He wants her to sell him the land so he can start a large development project to put Ringwood on the map, but she refuses. Frustrated and desperate for different reasons, Boyd and Ted join forces to attempt to evict Brenda from the property. That way Ted gets his development and Boyd gets some kind of compensation.
MDLC: Natalie, Pearson, and his older, troubled brother Kurt volunteer at the town animal shelter. Cue cheesy animal montages with weird music choices. Seriously, the song they were using was talking about "feeling the heat" after seeing someone's face and it just did not fit the scene at all. But I guess maybe it was alluding to the unnecessary relationship forming between Natalie and Kurt?
Anyway, as part of Boyd and Ted's plan to evict Brenda, they find different ways of sabotaging Brenda's farm like letting the animals run loose—to the community's disapproval. But before anyone suspects it's them, they blame it on bad boy Kurt. I rolled my eyes so hard when Natalie's dad told her to stay away from Kurt because she didn't know him too well and then Natalie responds with "You don't know Brenda, either," in reference to her dad's new relationship with Brenda.
Talk about DRAMA!
CC: Being an adolescent is full of drama! Especially when there are ghosts involved. Throughout all of this Margaret is trying to give signals to Natalie and the gang that she's real and something is wrong. She walks over piano keys, throws a book at Natalie Paranormal Activity style, and makes tiny cat footprints in a spilled bag of flour. She leads them to Mrs. Ashboro's hidden stash of money, which they use to relieve Brenda of her debt.
Ted is tired of Boyd failing to deliver and takes him off the deal—so in an attempt to prove his worth, Boyd tries to burn down the farm to get the land. Margaret warns Natalie—in the longest tracking shot ever that follows her small cat perspective—and she finds Kurt instead. They put out the fire, but Natalie has no idea about Boyd or Ted's plans, so she's afraid that Kurt had something to do with it—you know how bad boys are. Kurt reveals he's been working at the farm as part of his community service but had nothing to do with the fire.
MDLC: Ted finds out about Boyd's failed sabotage but he admires the idea—so they come back together to try and burn down the farm once last time. At this point, Ted and Boyd have driven off thinking they've pulled off their master plan but of course, Margaret shows up and saves the day! She scratches Ted, which leads to him crashing the car. They don't die but the police find them and they get charged with arson. Everyone celebrates and things are finally at peace in good ol' Ringwood.
CC: What a ride. What continues to fascinate me about this film is that they had absolutely no idea how to market it. The trailer definitely frames it as an intense mystery—showing the shelter getting set on fire and cars swerving off the road, and blasting suspenseful music. The original poster reflects that image too, with the harsh lettering and a review declaring it a "suspenseful, supernatural drama." But years later they rebranded it as The Cat That Came Back with a bright, cheerful poster that makes it seem like a heartwarming ABC Family movie.
MDLC: They had so many plots they couldn't choose how to market the movie. I love that they included "Academy Award nominated actress Ellen Page" at the bottom of the The Cat That Came Back poster even though the movie came out well before she was nominated for Juno. They had to let everyone know that Page "shines in this story of miracles and friendship" before she had her breakthrough.
CC: And shine she does. Criterion, we're waiting on your remastered release. v