Editor's note: Birth.Movies.Death does not condone the use of illicit substances, except in those states where said substances are legal. The views in this article do not represent the views of the Birth.Movies.Death team, and we do not encourage or recommend that our readers consume illegal drugs – especially before or during a movie, and certainly not during Cats.
The experience of seeing Cats is a singular one, so to speak. Tom Hooper's ill-advised adaptation of the most nonsensical musical of all time has been variously described, here and elsewhere (Twitter, mainly), as a disasterpiece, a thoroughly bizarre and deeply unsettling work of visual media, a piece of aggressive anti-art, a work of body horror that would make David Cronenberg cringe himself into oblivion, a confounding shitshow of digital tomfoolery, and then some. But humans are nothing if not morbidly curious and self-destructive, which would account for Cats' box office numbers (give or take your aunt and a handful of high school Theater Kids). It would also explain why one man took it upon himself to gobble down a handful of psychedelic mushrooms and give Cats the ol’ college try. In public. With other people present.
That man is Rob Sheridan – artist, writer and creator of the DC Vertigo comic High Level, and former art director for Nine Inch Nails (long may they reign). Rob is, like all of us here, a lover of film and an avid user of Twitter. After seeing so many tweets about the utter hellscape that is Tom Hooper's Cats, Rob felt compelled to see what all the fuss was about. If you happened to see any of his tweets overnight, you already have a sense of what happened next. But, as someone who has also taken mushrooms for the purposes of Movie Science (patent pending), I was extremely curious to hear more details about Rob's harrowing psychological journey.
Without further adieu: a conversation with Rob Sheridan, the brave man who took mushrooms, saw Cats (well, most of it), and lived to tell the tale.
First things first: Why the hell did you do this?
As a masochistic connoisseur of bad cinema, I knew since the Cats trailer came out that I needed to see this hideous disaster, in a theater, and very high. I was visiting with family for the holidays so I didn't get to see it right away when everyone on Twitter was shrieking in horror about what they'd just experienced. So after New Year's, the full Cats experience became a priority. On Monday I have to dive heavily back into work and start a whole health kick, so this strange post-holiday week was pretty much my last chance, and I decided I was going to go all in. Instead of taking an edible as I'd planned, I remembered some mushrooms someone had given me a while back and felt like if there was any chance I was going to enjoy Cats on any level, it would be melting into a psychedelic trip – just get weirded out and giggle and maybe make it fun. I was very, very wrong.
I mean, did it not occur to you that Cats was terrifying enough on its own without that precarious layer of perspective-distortion? Had you watched a movie – any movie – on mushrooms before??
It did occur to me that it would be a nightmare on its own, but I really wanted to see how extreme it could be. It turned out to be a hellworld of anxiety. Their terrifying faces and their demonic eyes were right in my face, like it was 3D. I could feel their CGI fur scratching me. I realize now that I have never seen a movie on mushrooms before, and I'm not sure I ever will again.
Yeah, it's not something I recommend to anyone, regardless of the film's content. I once watched Spring Breakers on mushrooms – or, rather, I hid under a blanket while my friend watched Spring Breakers.
Okay, so before we get into the actual nightmare of what happened to you, walk me through the preparation. Tell me about the quantity of mushrooms you took and your game plan. Surely you knew there was a strong chance you wouldn't make it through this screening.
I was being very flippant about it, actually, because I'd tried the mushrooms before and they weren't particularly strong – just a nice giggly body high, no hallucinations other than tracers and vibrant colors. So I didn't think it would be too bad and I ate a bunch of them, more than I have of these before, just kinda stuffed a handful in my mouth without any sort of measure or rationale behind the dosage. That was... a mistake; but I didn't have time to experiment, I only got one shot at this. That was one hour before the start time of the movie. My very patient wife Steph didn't realize until she saw my Twitter that I was planning to take mushrooms. "Um, are you sure about this?" I was not, but I had become very committed to the idea and wasn't going to turn back now. Steph doesn't mess with hallucinogens so she was the perfect babysitter for me. I didn't think realistically I'd make it through the film, but I wasn't prepared for how hard it would be to get even as far as I did. We went for pre-movie drinks and that's when the effects started to kick in, and everything was very bright and three dimensional and moved like gelatin. With just a few minutes to go before we entered the theater, I was getting worried.
Uh-oh. Okay, so you have your sober buddy, the drugs are working, and the lights go down in the theater. Let's give the people what they came here for: What the fuck happened?
I should have tried to wait and go in after the trailers played, because they were already freaking me out. I was slinking down in my chair, my body melting, and suddenly they're playing the Sonic the Hedgehog trailer and I was losing it. In that state of mind, Sonic seemed like the most absurd thing in the entire world, and also the most stressful. Everything was so dumb and moving so fast, and the CGI fur was freaking me out, and I was getting freaked out on top of that because I realized I was in for two hours of colorful CGI fur, and it was already really weirding me out. They really know their audience because they played every Goddamn CGI furry animal trailer they could find. They played the Dolittle trailer and now there was fucking CGI fur EVERYWHERE and the animals were talking. Then they played the trailer for Call of the Wild and to my horror, it has a fucking CGI dog in it! Suddenly I became very concerned that maybe all movies now have CGI fur in them, and it was making me itchy. Why so many cartoon animals?? They seemed to be invading, surrounding me, moving in trails, LOOKING AT ME. By the time the trailers were over, I really had CGI talking animals in my mind, and forgot for a minute that what I was about to see was going to be much worse than that. So when the first cat appeared on the screen, I let out an audible shriek and started laughing. It was the most ridiculous thing I'd ever seen, I couldn't even process that it was really happening. There were maybe ten other people in the theater by the time the movie started (thankfully I got a seat on the very edge), and I tried to look around to see if they were losing their minds, and they weren't. They were just watching it like it was a normal film, and that made me paranoid, like I was an outsider, they were against me, or I was somehow seeing something different than what they were seeing. I thought anyone seeing the movie at this point would be doing so ironically, but they WEREN'T. They weren't laughing at all. After the first song, some of them CLAPPED! I was in a room full of CATS FANS, and I feared they would find out that I was an undercover agent in their bizarre cult.
I was squirming in my seat, tears rolling down my face, and I kept blurting out yelps of anxious laughter every time a new nightmare creature appeared on the screen. Steph gave me her scarf to breathe into and muffle my reactions (no one else was laughing at any of it!!), and that helped comfort me a bit, until Rebel Wilson's cat appeared and spread her horny cat legs wide open, exposing what felt like a Sarlacc Pit of CGI fur, like I was staring into the abyss. I yelled "FUCK!" and spilled my popcorn when that happened. Certainly this couldn't be real? It couldn't be happening. Why was no one reacting? Was I hallucinating all of it? Was it just a normal film and I was the one creating the dancing cockroaches and the mice children and then she ZIPPED HER SKIN OPEN, WHY DID SHE ZIP HER SKIN OPEN?? That scene was fairly early in the film, and it was devastating. I could feel myself slipping, the movie wasn't funny anymore, because its relentless pace and movement just kept throwing more weird CGI-haired monsters at me and it didn't seem to have any plot or destination, just a ceaseless assault of cat people. I wondered if it would ever end, and wasn't sure if it had ever begun, if maybe it was just a gibberish world of horny fur demons swinging and dancing and singing about their space cult or whatever the fuck was happening.
As the mushroom effects increased, the film grew uglier to me. Just hideous. It began to feel evil. Much has been made about how aesthetically disconcerting the whole affair is, but on mushrooms, every little grotesque detail was amplified into hyper-realization. They kept sticking their faces right into the camera, smiling at me with their white teeth and their devil eyes. Their faces were way too close to me, leaping out of the screen, like I was being assaulted. Their whiskers, oh God, their whiskers were making my face itchy. I was scratching my beard feeling like I had those disgusting whiskers too. I became very concerned with the way their human faces didn't seem properly attached to their heads, how the facial features seemed to move at different speeds, and I kept wondering if their faces were going to get left behind if they kept moving around so fast, and that was a frightening rabbit hole to go down. I was shifting around in my seat, glancing nervously at Steph and asking "Is this okay? Like, are we supposed to even be seeing this? This isn't okay, is it? Why is this okay?" My chest was heavy, and I needed it all to just stop. All the singing, all the dancing, all the CGI fur, all their goblin smiles, but it just kept going, still with no sign of a narrative to provide me an anchor of structural comfort. It just kept HAPPENING. So I had to take a break. I left, went into the bathroom, went into the stall to be alone, and just breathed. The quiet space and bright flat white fluorescent light comforted me, because nothing was moving, nothing was hairy, nothing was horny. After a few minutes, I was ready to try again.
Good god, you WENT BACK IN?! I have to assume things didn't get much better for you after that because you left early, right?
Yeah, I felt like I could try it again after that little reset, but I was wrong. The walls were warping at this point as I walked down the hallway back to the theater. I guess now would be a good time to mention that, because I thought the mushrooms were weak and wasn't sure at all of the dosage I took, I brought the rest of them with me and took a couple more right before the trailers started. I was not thinking straight, and it seemed like it would be entertaining if they kicked in even stronger about an hour into the film. HUGE MISTAKE. So I get back into the theater, slink down into my chair, and jokingly ask Steph, "What'd I miss?" She just shrugged and shook her head, staring at the screen with a look of dry contempt. She, being sober, thought the film was above all else tremendously boring and ugly, and my hijinks were the only thing entertaining her. And of course, I was distressed to find the film still just going, still just careening ahead like a freight train of nonsense. As the mushrooms intensified, I started to become deeply offended by the film's existence. I was trying to live-tweet but was having a really hard time covertly typing on my phone, because the phone keyboard was 3D and moving too much. Ian McKellen had shown up and his cat face angered me. There just kept being more cats, each one uglier than the last. That's when I tweeted that everyone involved in the movie should be in jail. And then, I don't know what the fuck was happening in the "plot," but it seemed to take a darker turn, like it was becoming evil. There was a Satan cat, who made other cats disappear or something? Was he the devil? I don't know but I hated the way he looked at me. Then the cats started getting really culty, preparing for some kind of dark ritual, repeating the same eerie chant over and over again. I started to get extremely paranoid, sweaty, squirmy. I felt like everyone in the theater was in aCats cult and they were going to sacrifice me and skin me alive. I whispered to Steph, "This is fucking evil, they're evil, we're not supposed to be here, they all know." She saw the crazed look in my eyes and the sweat on my brow and knew I was descending down a dark path. It was time to pull me out. I felt immediate relief when she acknowledged that we should leave early. She had started a timer at the beginning of the film. I lasted one hour and thirteen minutes. I'll never know how Cats ends, or if it ends, but again I'm not even sure how it began, or if it did.
Rob, you are a true hero and I applaud your bravery. May your courage never be forgotten, and your harrowing experience a living lesson to future generations.