205 of 1001 Movies: Cat People (1942)

 Even though Val Lewton was the producer his name is the one that expands across the series of the movies in Cat People instead of the director, Jacques Turner. It’s really good though, and continues my string of interest in early horror movies. They feature a nice blend of costume effects and suspenseful set designs that are unique apart from anything you’ll see now because they relied on it to build the suspense. The acting is a bit over the top, but I found it fit the vibe of the movie, and helped increase the horror in some parts like the scene where Alice feels she has been cornered at the pool with a cat person.

Summary:  Irena is a Serbian immigrant and has always avoided falling in love for fear that the fables that her homeland are true. She meets Oliver though and they can’t help but fall for each other. Oliver wants to marry her, but she warns him about her apprehension. Oliver marries her regardless, but their marriage begins to suffer as Irena’s fears grow worse that if her and Oliver are intimate she will turn into a cat and kill him. Matters only grow worse after he sends her to Dr. Judd, a psychiatrist, and she begins to believe that Oliver is dating another woman, Alice.

Acting:  Simone Simon is the strongest of the cast as the lead, Irena. She has something that just seems suiting about her as a lady that would turn into a cat. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is where the voicing and identity of cartoon cats came from. Kent Smith is Oliver Reed, and he is honestly just a bit bland. He plays the naive, “treat her like she’s crazy”, husband to Irena. I was wondering f I was the only who thought it was just bad that he really was having an emotional affair with another woman while still married? I wouldn’t think your wife being mental gives an excuse to do that before you’ve said you’re ending the marriage. Jane Randolph was more likable as Alice, and Jack Holt was good as the doctor, or also known as The Commodore.

Filming: The movie was low budget for the 40’s, but it featured some of the more interesting and well woven in effects I’ve seen in an earlier movie. The cat shadows build the suspense well. I felt they should have stuck more to the allusion the cat was there than actually showing the cat. It seems the usage of animals became popular in the late 30’s and early 40’s though. Whenever the leopards are actually shown though it does detract from the horror. The lightening is great as well. They use a lot of lights that glow onto the characters, so it makes for a pretty but eerie effect. The movie is also based in the winter and they capture the cold well with the snow and rain in the movie.

Plot: The characters are the hardest to cheer on though. Simone has what seems to be some sort of witch oriented heritage, and the families delving into Satanic acts seems to have made her someone who can be rebuked by crosses an Biblical references. It makes the movie that much more eerier, but it’s really difficult to know how to feel about her. Automatically that should make her unlikable, but she doesn’t seem to be a person who ever wanted this to happen to her, so it just makes it sad. Then there is Oliver and Alice. Alice is a bit more likable and has some great scenes, like the one at the pool, but Oliver and their affair destroys her character. They basically plot to further their own relationship by trying to right off Simone as an insane mistake, even though Oliver still wants to care for her mental health somewhere. It’s just terrible how they treat her.

If you’re a horror fan then Cat People is on of the classics to check out in the genre. There are neat moments where we see effects like Simone dreaming about cat people with well done cartoon effects woven in, and on top of that the use of the shadows is some of the best I’ve seen. The lighting is a huge part of why the movie is so scary. If you have a particular fondness for horror featuring animals then you might want to line up Pet Semetary, The Birds, Cat People, and Cujo for a fun night this October season.

Rating 8 of 10.

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