"A Kiss Could Change Her Into a Monstrous Fang-and-Claw Killer!"
Cat People (1942) Directed by Jacques Tourneur, tells the story of an American man (Oliver Reed) who marries a Serbian immigrant (Irena) who fears she will turn into a cat person from her homelands fable stories if they are intimate together.
I was looking forward to seeing this movie because I have heard a lot about how much it has influenced the horror genre. Watching it it’s easy to see why as James Rolfe said in a video for Cinimassica’s monster madness series “this was one of the first films to realize that what you don’t see is often scarier than what you do see” http://www.cinemassacre.com/2007/10/09/cat-people/. Some examples I can think of that use this idea are monster movies like Alien (1979) and Jaws (1975), we don’t see the monster clearly until the last half hour or so.
One of the most effective scenes in the movie is the famous bus scene. One of the characters is stalked through central park then a bus comes out of nowhere to make the audience jump out of there skin. Unfortunately I had seen the scene before and knew what was going to happen but it’s still very effective. A similar scene can be found in almost every modern horror film with varying degrees of effectiveness. A good example is the sequence near the beginning of An American Werewolf in London (1981), were two protagonists are stalked by an unseen threat. Then just when you feel safe the Werewolf strikes out of nowhere.
Another fascinating thing about this movie is the way they have used light and shadow. There is a great scene outside the Irena’s apartment where we see bars projected over the windows with shadow. This symbolizes a cage like the one we saw a panther in at the beginning of the film.
There is a lot of symbolism and subtext in this film that hint at its sexual undertones. There are a huge amount of differing opinions concerning this movies subtext. One opinion is that the movie is about the outsider in America, IMDB user Balok-2 says “I don't think that you can find a more stereotypical square-jawed All-American Boy than Kent Smith. He even eats apple pie every time he's in the restaurant!”, then he goes on to talk about how Irena comes along and entices him away from the right girl, and she will never fit in and be a real American http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0034587/board/nest/170655523.
I personal found the subtext of the movie to be an outdated very 1940’s message about sexual purity with a Christian undertone. I say Christian because I seem to remember lots of crucifix symbols and bible quotes. I could be totally wrong but that’s just my initial impression.
Regardless of the subtext I did really like this movie. Although the acting is a bit clunky and dated in places some scenes feel almost modern. It’s hard not to appreciate this film especially when you think of all the movies that it’s influenced.
One last point that I found fascinating was that producer Val Lewton was just given the title Cat People by the studio and asked to build a movie around it. I guess the end result was far different to what the studio people had in mind.