Cat People (1942)

Cat People is one of Producer Val Lewton's restrained classics, which along with titles such as I walked with a zombie and Curse/Night of the Demon provided several literate horror-dramas that critics often remember fondly. Though fairly old, you won't find monsters stomping through graveyards here or any gothic trappings. I like to include cinematic gems such as these to show you that Girls, Guns and Ghouls is not just cheese and B-pictures. It's my viewing taste put up for you guys to peruse and do with what you will. Anyways, I digress. This is also a far different movie to the Natasha Kinski sex-and-blood epic that was meant to be a remake. Understatement is the name of the game, here.

Oliver Reed (!) (Kent Taylor) meets a young Serbian woman, Irena (Simone Simon) in New York. She is drawing strange pictures of panthers at the Zoo, panthers killed with swords. He never sees them, though. Falling in love with her, they marry but she will not consummate their relationship, referring to fears from her past in Serbia. She hopes in time that she will feel better, that the evil she fears inside will be quelled. The man's best female friend, Alice (Jane Randolph), wishes them well, but also causes Irena jealousy. The path is set for a descent into madness and the supernatural.

Irena is a descendant of a race of Serbian Devil worshippers who could change themselves into black panthers. When a dark, growling shape menaces Alice first at a bus-stop, then in a fantastic scene at a swimming pool - a famous piece of cinema copied in the remake - we realize that Irena's worst fears have been realized and that the cat inside has been released. It's a shame producers forced shots of an actual panther to be used towards the end, because I feel the film would have been more compelling had it been possible that Irena was just insane and just acting like a panther. Still, it's only a minor quibble.

Oliver urges Irena to see a psychiatrist, but we soon realize he's a fairly unscrupulous sort and wants to seduce her. He soon learns the error of his ways as at the same time, Oliver seperates from Irena and realizes he's in love with Alice. The stage is ready for the final act of death and release. This is a wonderful little film made with care and subtlety. The performances are all quite good and the photography aids the sense of dread and mood that Tourner wants to evoke. Sounds is also well used, such as when a bus pulls up in front of Alice - we jump because the doors open with a startling cat's hiss.

Cat people even spawned a sequel in 1944 which featured an imagined Irena's ghost. It wasn't a horror film, more a character-mood piece and I've not seen it to make any further comment. One of these days ... All in all though, give this one a look if you're interested in a sort-of horror film from yesterday which is highly regarded by many. No gore or writhing naked bodies - you can't have everything - but a quality viewing experience that still stands the test of time.

© Boris Lugosi 2003.


Review written: 03/01/2003 18:03:37