“Cats don’t seem to like me.”
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary notes that, “as in several other Lewton films, evil and good fight for control of his characters” — and, “like Lewton’s other tragic heroines… Irena doesn’t have the willpower to reject her evil side”, especially when she begins experiencing (justifiable) jealousy towards her husband and his co-worker, Jane Randolph (waiting conveniently in the wings).
As so many have noted, Lewton’s RKO “horror” films were true masterpieces of suggested terror — and Cat People is a prime example of this. With the exception of a few highly contested shots of a giant cat later in the film (most likely inserted by the studio against Lewton’s will), Irena’s neuroses could be viewed as purely psychological. Each of the film’s justifiably “classic horror sequences” — “terrified Alice [Randolph] being followed through a dark park, jumping when a bus screeches to a halt next to her:
… Judd (Conway) trying to seduce Irena, only to be attacked by a giant cat:
… Alice swimming alone in an indoor pool when the lights go out, [as] cat shadows appear on the wall and growling can be heard”:
— succeeds largely because of what’s implied rather than what’s actually seen. To this end, as Peary notes, director Jacques Tourneur “does a wonderful job of creating tense atmosphere”, and he’s helped in no small part by d.p. Nicholas Musuraca, who “does wonders with light and shadows”.
Cat People is a rare breed of literate horror film that — even at just 73 minutes long — merits repeat viewings in order to allow for full appreciation of the nuanced plot. Much like with its sequel (The Curse of the Cat People, a masterful film in its own right), Cat People is rich enough to be viewed and debated on numerous levels; a quick glance at IMDb’s message boards provides evidence of this ongoing phenomenon. Peary suggests that this would make a good double bill with Hitchcock’s Marnie (1964), “because of strikingly similar sexual themes and plot elements”. Remade by Paul Schrader in 1982 in a much more literal fashion (a title included in Peary’s book as well).
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)