Producer Val Lewton was forced to work with a small budget during his time with RKO, but faced with financial contraints and lack of star power, he hooked up with director Jacques Tourneur to create several horror films that many decades later are still considered the finest ever made in the genre. "Cat People" is one of those films. While "Curse of the Cat People" often gets lumped with these horror classics, this Robert Wise directed film is more fantasy and mood than horror.
Both Kent Smith and Jane Randolph return in this quasi-sequel but it is young Ann Carter as their daughter Amy who is at the center of this film. The memory of the tormented Irena hovers over every frame. Once again Simone Simon becomes a presence in the life of Reed when his young daughter Amy begins to retreat into a world of her own. But it may be more than mere fantasy despite her loving father's refusal to believe.
There is almost a magical and somewhat haunting feel to this exploration of a child's mind and what is real and what is not. Just as in "Cat People" where you ached to believe in the curse surrounding Irena (Simone Simon), Lewton and Wise create a bridge between Amy's imagination and Irena's presence in which the viewer wants desperately to believe. This is a very special film with a mood unlike the horror films Lewton made. It stands on its own, however, and should not be dismissed.
A far different creature entirely is the original "Cat People." Lewton and Tourneur let the imagination of the viewer make up the horror, as everything is in the unseen. It was a device they would use in several films and it always worked. Lewton and Tourneur knew that what we could imagine in our minds through cinematic suggestion was far worse than anything they could graphically show on screen.
Simone Simon, small and elegant, is perfect as the sweet Yugoslavian girl Irena Dubrovna, living in New York City and trying to fit in. Even after she meets and marries Oliver (Kent Smith) there is a shadow on her life which stands eerily between the happiness she desires and the curse she feels inside her.
A scene in a restaurant when "one of her own kind" recognizes the panther inside her is particularly unsettleing. Tom Conway is the doctor who tries to help and Jane Randolph has a nice part as Oliver's friend Alice. As Irene wrestles with her fear, Oliver begins to confide in Alice and it becomes obvious to Irena that there could be more. Irena's jealously may awaken the panther inside her and put all their lives in danger.
A film that is full of atmosphere and dripping with doom, there are some genuinely scary moments here. A scene late at night as Irena walks alone down the street, and a terrifying scene by a pool are both legendary. Simone Simon brought a fragile, and yes, cat like grace to the role. Tourneur lets the audience sense her fear and feel sorry for her tortured soul.
Both these films, while quite different in tone and with a distinctly different atmosphere, are excellent examples of how great cinema can become when it is stripped bare of pretension and forced to use story and filmmaking technique to capture its audience.
Watch "Curse of the Cat People" and enjoy it for the film it is rather than what it is not. As for the original "Cat People," watch this one late at night, but by all means, do not watch it alone!
Oliver Reed (Kent Smith) was strolling through the zoo, minding his own business, when suddenly, there she was, sketching a black panther! Her name was Irena (Simone Simon). Oliver was immediately captivated by her, unable to think of anything / anyone else. What was it about this shy young girl? What secrets floated behind those eyes? Oliver soon married Irena. That's when the trouble began. CAT PEOPLE is Tourneur's masterwork of love, longing, guilt, and fear. Irena is a tragic figure, doomed by her own inner terrors and torments. Oliver loves her, but cannot understand Irena's beliefs or her obsessive dread over consummating their marriage. Does she really believe that she'll turn into a cat? How can she think this way and still be sane? Enter Dr. Judd (Tom "I Walked With A Zombie" Conway), a psychiatrist who sees Irena. He figures that it's all in her head. Is it? Oliver turns to his friend, Alice (Jane Randolph) for solice. Irena is suspicious and reveals who / what she truly is. This is one of those movies that uses strong characters and atmosphere to build suspense and tell the story. Irena is unforgettable! CURSE OF THE CAT PEOPLE takes place four years after Irena's final trip to the panther cage. Oliver and Alice are married and have a daughter. The little girl is very imaginative and has a "friend" that no one else can see. She meets an old woman who lives in a big house. The two are fast friends, causing great pain for the woman's own alienated daughter. Oliver is increasingly worried about his daughter's fantasy life, especially when she tells him that her invisible friend's name is Irena! I like this one a lot. Instead of being a typical sequel full of rushed ideas and hollywood garbage, COTCP is completely different in both storyline and approach. It's more of a ghost story through the eyes of a child. This double bill is well worth owning. Each film is a classic...
Since usually my family is hogging the DVD player, I don't get to much of a chance to watch films, that are of the 'horror' genre. My wife in particular, hates these kind of films (some nonsense about "having bad dreams"). Well, the other night the wifey was out for the evening and the little one was safely tucked into bed. It was a perfect time to become a couch potato with a great, creepy DVD double feature of Val Lewton's "Cat People" and its' sequel, "The Curse of the Cat People". For those who don't know their film history, Lewton was the legendary Producer of a series of classic, low budget, horror/supernatural flicks for RKO Pictures in the 1940's. Because of their small budgets, these films depended more on good writing and haunting atmospherics, rather then the usual corny, special effects to scare audiences. Lewton's movies might have at the time been considered "B-films", but they were extremely well made and most effective. The first film is the classic "Cat People". In the film, Ollie Reed (Kent Smith) meets Serbian born, Irena Dubrovna (Simone Simon) at the panther cage of the local city zoo. She is a beautiful, yet lonely woman. The two become a couple and very soon are married. But their happiness is short lived. Irena seems obsessed with folk stories from her Serbian village's past about a race of evil people, who can change into cats. At first Ollie just laughs these obsessions off as a joke. But soon he realizes something is seriously wrong, when his new wife refuses to consummate their marriage out of fear, that her erotic passions will turn her into one of these feline creatures and kill him. Things become even more dangerous, when Ollie seeks emotional comfort from female co-worker, Alice Moore (Jane Randolph). The two soon realize they are being stalked by something. Is it a jealous Irena? A cat creature or just their imagination? The scariest thing about this movie is what you don't see. You hear strange cat-like sounds. You do see mysterious shadows. But you never really see the creature that is stalking these characters. Lewton and the film's Director, Jacques Tourneur make sure, that the viewers use their own imaginations, when it comes to the big moments of this film. The script (by DeWitt Bodean with Lewton's big imprint) is well written and emphasizes both human psychology and eroticism. It's pretty rare to find a film from the 'Hayes Office' movie era, that so frankly (and erotically) points out the sexual component of marriage. The cast to this film is fantastic. The beautiful actress, Simone Simon exudes a troubling sensuality, that just makes the title role. You don't know if she really is a 'Cat Person' or just plain nuts (or both)! Kudos should also go to fine performances from Jane Randolph as Ollie's romantic co-worker and Tom Conway as a 'wolfish' psychiatrist, who attempts to help Irena. Look out for a great cameo by a Elizabeth Russell, who plays a mysterious woman, cat-like in appearance, who twice, erotically whispers the word, "sister" to Irena at her small wedding party. What a movie! The sequel, "The Curse of the Cat People" is hardly a horror film, rather it is a film about human psychology with traces of what might be the supernatural. In the film, Ollie & Alice are now married and have a pretty, 6 year old girl named Amy (Ann Carter). Amy is a lonely child, who dosn't seem to fit in with other kids. She recieves a 'wishing ring' from a somewhat looney, old neighborhood woman (Julia Dean). Amy's wish is for a "Special Friend". The "Special Friend" comes to her in the form of the now deceased, Irena. She angelically befriends Amy to compensate the child's lonliness. The film looks at the power of the human mind. Is this really Irena? Or is it just the imagination of a little girl? Can the psychological hold that Irena's memory (or spirit) have on this family finally be broken? This is a very different type of film from it's predecessor, though it still works with the same psychological themes.I don't think the film has the same level of tension or suspense, but it is still a very interesting story. The script is well written and again the same actors give solid performances. Juvenile actress Ann Carter does a good job in the lead role as the troubled, lonely daughter. This DVD contains both films on one disc. Extras include the original trailers and excellent commentary tracks from film historian, Greg Mank. His commentaries include both the history of the productions and a well thought out analysis of both film's themes. For a night of classic horror and psychological supense, I would highly recommend "Cat People" and "The Curse of the Cat People".
on October 20, 2005
Just CAT PEOPLE alone makes this DVD double-entendre worth every penny, but it's sequel is just as superior. Nonetheless, both movies are essential for owning and viewing pleasure. Simone Simon just steals the show as the poor woman who is haunted by the idea that she is a descendant of the so-called "Cat People", This creates some real problems for her marriage, and her husband's co-worker starts to fall in love with him. The husband tries to get her a therapist, but even he decides he can't help her because he wants to lay in bed with her (it's not really said but it's implied). All the while, Simon's character tries to fight off her secret, but in the end, we see it all...and we know it's too late for her. The scary scenes here are done very well for a movie of its time, and the pool scene and the scene where the "other" woman is walking alone at night and the bus comes up...it made me jump. A very good film and the way the scares were done, you can see it in many horror films made after this beauty was completed. CURSE OF THE CAT PEOPLE follows in much the same vein, with Simone Simon returning to do what she did best in the first film. Now a child is thrown into the mix and we are seeing the struggle of her dealing with the "cat people" instinct again. But I don't want to give anything else away for the sequel. Just pick up this two-movie set and watch for yourself. Both are scary, both beautifully done, and both have one of several strong ingredients in their potent mixture: the beautiful Simone Simon.
Val Lewton (1904-1951) was brought to RKO when that studio decided to compete with Universal in the horror genre. As it happened, RKO was teetering on the verge of bankruptcy at the time--and Lewton was given the audience-tested title CAT PEOPLE and ordered to create an inexpensive movie to fit it. Without the budget to create "a monster movie," Lewton responded with a remarkably artful film that relied on suggestion and implication. The result was a tremendous critical and popular office success and the first of nine celebrated horror films Lewton would make for the studio between 1942 and 1946.
Directed by Jacques Tourneur, the 1942 CAT PEOPLE offers the story of Slavic beauty Irena Dubrovna (Simone Simon) whose marriage to the all-American Oliver Reed (Kent Smith) goes awry when she confesses to her new husband that a man's kiss may turn her into a ravening beast. The idea is absurd, and Oliver quickly sends Irena into therapy with psychiatrist Louis Judd (Tom Conway)--but Irena's psychosis defies treatment. Or is it psychosis? For when Irena becomes jealous of Oliver's co-worker Alice (Jane Randolph), the young woman suddenly finds herself being stalked through the night by a cat-like creature that is more sensed than seen.
Directed by Robert Wise, the 1944 THE CURSE OF THE CAT PEOPLE is not so much a sequel to the original as it a cousin that makes use the same characters played by the same actors--but to a very different purpose. Oliver and Alice are married and have a child, daughter Amy (Ann Carter), who is given to strange flights of fancy--and who has an imaginary friend named Irena. Given their previous experience with the name, Oliver and Alice are not greatly pleased and become increasingly agitated as Irena evolves from imaginary friend to a tangible presence in their lives.
Both films are remarkable in distinctly different ways, the first celebrated for its covert sexuality and crawling sense of horror, the second celebrated for its portrait of a child's inner fantasy life. Of the two, CAT PEOPLE is generally regarded as the finer film--certainly it was a groundbreaker in more ways that one can count. Although less showy, CURSE OF THE CAT PEOPLE has also been unexpectedly influential.
It has been a very long time since a respectable print of either film has been widely available. Although these prints are not flawless, they are very good, and they probably represent a "best possible" situation short of digital restoration; the light and shadow for which Lewton films are so celebrated are in fine display. Film historian Greg Mank offers interesting commentary augmented with excerpts from an earlier interview with Simone Simon, and original trailers round out the package. Although this DVD is available on its own, it is also available as one disk in the five-disk retrospective THE VAL LEWTON HORROR COLLECTION. Recommended either way!
GFT, Amazon Reviewer
Don't be fooled by the lurid monster movie titles of these two films. Both films are well made stories of psychological suspense in the vein of the best of Rod Serling's TWILIGHT ZONE.
CAT PEOPLE is the story of Irena, a beautiful young Serbian woman, living in Manhattan but obsessed with both the legends of her Eastern European hometown and the large cats that live in the zoo near her apartment. A nice young man falls in love with and marries her despite her strangeness and even more disturbing things start happening. The film is ambiguous as to whether Irena is a supernatural being or simply severely emotionally disturbed. There are some very suspenseful scenes in the movie created by the clever use of shadows and sounds.
THE CURSE OF THE CAT PEOPLE is quite a different movie even though it uses the three major actors from CAT PEOPLE playing the same roles. This film is set several years later and Irena's husband, Ollie, is now married to Alice his friend and co worker from the first film. Alice and Ollie are living in Tarrytown, New York with their six year old daughter, Amy, who is "different". Amy has difficulty making real friends and seems to live in a make believe world which frightens Ollie who is "cursed" by memories of his first wife's emotional problems. Irena makes an appearance in Amy's life as a beautiful, loving, fairy tale like friend and it is up to the viewer to decide if she is imaginary or truly someone from another world. There is added suspense from a subplot concerning an apparently delusional elderly actress living in a house rumored to be haunted with her resentful daughter. Another excellent thought provoking film and definitely not what you would expect from the title.
on September 29, 2015
The first movie Cat People I'd give 3, or 4 starts at most, as it's somewhat slow and predictible, though not without charm. It's the 2nd movie however, Curse of the Cat People, that really steals the show. Though it shares characters and some background history of the first movie it really does stand on its own, this time with a little girl as main character whose imaginary friend may look eerily familiar. Beautifully shot, unpredictable and generally more intriguing and satisfying a movie than its predecessor, "Curse of the Cat People" made this twofer a keeper for me.
on December 4, 2014
This movie is where I got my name from. My mom told me about this movie when I was a little girl. She told me when she was carrying me, if I was she was having a girl, she would name me after the main character in this movie. She got her wish, and here I am!
on May 30, 2011
Should be called "Curse of the Studio Executives" for insisting on a totally inappropriate title for this little gem of a film. Story centers on a little girl and her distant, unaffectionate father, who does everything wrong as a parent. Ann Carter is captivating in the role of Amy Reed, the little lost girl, who finds redemption in the ghost of her dad's dead first wife, the "Cat Woman" of the earlier film. Don't expect a horror movie, because this is a fantasy film of the highest order, and one every member of your family will enjoy,
on October 3, 2010
Cat People / The Curse of the Cat People
CAT PEOPLE (1942)
"Even as fog continues to lie in the valleys, so does ancient sin cling to the low places,
the depressions in the world consciousness."
Irena's perfume. Strong. Sweet.
Irena Dubrovna, cat-like, beautiful and haunted. Haunted by ancient recollections that she may have descended from those in her native village who, under the spell of the evil one, had turned to all manner of witchcraft and sorcery. Enter King John of Serbia, who, as represented by a statue in Irena's apartment, vanquishes the evil that has befallen them. Those who weren't immediately put to the sword escape into the surrounding mountains where they might continue their evil ways in relative obscurity. Among other things, the witches have developed a manner of being able to transmogrify into beastial creatures such as a wolf or panther.
Irena as portrayed by Simone Simon meets Oliver Reed (Kent Smith) while she is sketching a caged panther at the Central Park Zoo. Boy meets girl. He is immediately smitten by this exotic creature. Kent Smith's is rather dull and the juxtapostion of his character to the much more interesting Irena is quite effective. Jane Randolph as Alice is hopelessly in love with Oliver. When Irena's fear and obsession are perceived as mental illness, Alice is not above recommending psychiatrist Louis Judd (Tom Conway) whose reputation as a womanizer she is quite well aware of.
CAT PEOPLE uses sound effects to heighten suspense. This is especially evident in a scene wherein the cat-like Irena is stalking Alice down a lonely tunnel. You hear the footsteps of the two echoing loudly in the tunnel. Now only Alice's footsteps can be heard. She turns with dread to see nothing, no one following her. She hurries along the way and, of a sudden, a bus appears with screeching air brakes. The other (quite famous) scene again involves Ireana stalking Alice at an indoor pool. It still remains as one of the most effective uses of sound ever in a film. What is most striking is the absense of music which in both cases might have proved distracting and might have even diminished the power of the scene.
According to film historian Greg Mank, the film premiered at NYC's Realto theater on December 7, 1942 and had its Hollywood premier the following January at the Hawaii theater.
The staircase from THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS appears in several scenes. This would not be the last time that an artifact from that film would be used in Lewton's RKO films. More about that later.
There was a report of a deleted script scene involving Irena's dying grandmother. As the priest is administering last rites, he feels her hand transforming into a a beast's paw with very sharp talons. (I would have liked to have seen that, or at least have Irena make reference to it, oh well)
Simone Simon would reprise the role of Irena in CURSE OF THE CAT PEOPLE. But this time as a beautiful angel.
"It's just that cats don't like me."
"I like the dark, it's friendly."
The film, directed wonderfully by Jacques Tourneur and script by DeWitt Bodeen, is a marvel of suspense and horror. With some very effective music by Roy Webb and the able editing of Mark Robson, CAT PEOPLE is (and will remain) one of the finest in the genre.
The photography by Nicholas Musaraca captures beautifully the chiaroscuro of horror with his brilliant web-like shadows. The scene of the doomed Irena returning to the zoo in a fog-shrouded mist is just one example of many. Irena: a lonely and tragic figure.
This film is a must-see for all true horror fans.
"But black sin hath betrayed to endless night
My world, both parts, and both parts must die."
Holy Sonnets, V. --- John Donne