Cat People (1942 franchise)
"She was marked with the curse of those who slink and court and kill by night!" In the 1942 horror film, an American man marries a Serbian immigrant who fears that she will turn into the cat person of her homeland's fables if they are intimate together. In the 1944 urban fantasy sequel, which contains no cat people, the young, friendless daughter of the American man befriends the ghost of her father's dead first wife and an aging, reclusive actress.
- Cat People (1942)
- Curse of the Cat People (1944)
- Release Date: 1942; sequel in 1944; remake in 1982
- Country/Language: US, English (with a little Serbian)
- Genres/Technical: Horror (gothic horror), Thriller, black-and-white; Horror (southern gothic / American gothic), Fantasy (urban fantasy), Drama, black-and-white
- Starring: Simone Simon, Tom Conway, Kent Smith;
- Director: Jacques Tourneur; Gunther von Fritsch, Robert Wise
- Writer: DeWitt Bodeen
- Producer/Production Co: Val Lewton and RKO Radio Pictures
- View Trailer: (link), (link), (link)
- Rated: (not rated) (perhaps equivalent to a PG for off-screen violence and subtle Adult Content)
The two original films are not rated, and would probably be equivalent to a modern PG for off-screen (and generally bloodless) violence, and mild pre-Hays Code adult content (for the original film, it's implied that Irena believes that lust, envy, jealousy, and other sins will turn her into an evil cat and thus she refuses to sleep with her increasingly frustrated husband to protect him, but young viewers will have to read between a few lines to figure this out; the film otherwise comes across like a variation on old-fashioned werewolf films.)
The 1982 remake, rated R (for Violence, Profanity, Nudity, Sexual Situations, and Adult Content) brings the sexual subtext of the original film into the open, with added themes of incest and cannibalism tossed in for good measure.
A rough measure of how "Lovecraftian" the work is:
- Ss___ (One and a Half Tentacles: Barely Lovecraftian)
Witch cults retreating into the wilderness to practice their wickedness in isolation, hereditary curses passed through mixed bloodlines, a doom from the distant past, cats, and a dark, vaguely Gothic, dream-like setting; the first film is just a Necronomicon or name-drop of Yog-Sothoth or some-such short of being Lovecraftian (the sequel is even less Lovecraftian, but the sequel, though more an Urban Fantasy than the Gothic horror of Cat People, is still a nice, dreamy, atmospheric little film and worth seeing at least once, and might provide a little material for a very "low-Mythos" scenario with subtle and ambiguous supernatural elements).
Note: This rating is not intended as a measure of quality, merely of how closely related to Lovecraftian "Weird" fiction the work is.
- (review neeeded)
Spoiler Section (Highlight to Read)
CAT PEOPLE (1942) - Irena Dubrovna, a New York City--based fashion designer who hails from Serbia, begins a romance with marine engineer Oliver Reed. After the couple gets married, Oliver becomes concerned about Irena's notion that she is cursed and may transform into a large cat in the heat of passion. Confiding in his beautiful assistant, Alice Moore, about his marital issues, Oliver unwittingly triggers Irena's curse, with tragic results. CURSE OF THE CAT PEOPLE (1944) - In this sequel to "Cat People," Oliver Reed is married to the lovely Alice Moore; their daughter, Amy, a withdrawn young girl with a vivid imagination who soon begins talking to visions of her father's deceased former wife, the cursed Irena. When Amy unintentionally incurs the wrath of a mentally unstable woman, the girl's relationship with Irena's apparition comes into play. CAT PEOPLE (1982) - In this sensual and violent horror tale, Irena Gallier (Nastassia Kinski) has a dark family secret, one that resurfaces dramatically when she reconnects with her estranged brother, Paul (Malcolm McDowell). Living with her sibling in New Orleans, Irena finds herself enamored with zoologist Oliver Yates (John Heard), even as her brother makes his own advances toward her. It's not long before the dark and dangerous curse of the Gallier clan rears its feline head.
Comments, Trivia, Dedication
- The original films were preceded by a short story published in the July 1930 issue of Weird Tales, "The Bagheeta", written by the films' producer Val Lewton. Set in 17th Century Ukraine, "The Bagheeta" is the story of Kolya, a 16-year-old boy who helps his uncle forge armor. The town is thrown into turmoil when a shepherd comes to town, bringing a slaughtered sheep and tales of a Bagheeta prowling the area: a black leopard which can change into a beautiful woman. According to legend, only a virgin male capable of resisting the seductive powers of the Bagheeta can vanquish the monster; if he succombs to the seduction, the woman will turn into a black leopard and eat him. Of course, Kolya volunteers for the quest into the dark forest to confront the creature. The youth finds an easily kills a black leopard lurking in the forest, and the ease with which it was killed leads him to doubt whether the monster is real, and even whether Christianity is real. The story ends with Kolya resolving to exaggerate the tale and add elements of the Bagheeta mthology into what would otherwise seem to be the slaughter of a simple animal.
- Epigraph from the film: "Even as fog continues to lie in the valleys, so does ancient sin cling to the low places, the depressions in the world consciousness." - Dr. Louis Judd, The Anatomy of Atavism (Dr. Louis Judd is the fictional psychiatrist from the original films)
- One of the sequel's themes, a child on the verge of insanity because she lives in a fantasy world, was personal to producer Val Lewton who behaved in a similar way as a child. His wife has said that she felt he never truly came back to the real world as an adult.
- A more explicit darker-and-edgier (and even less "Lovecraftian") 1982 remake of the original film introduces an incestuous love triangle involving the woman's brother, a lot more blood and gore, and a feverish 1980s music-video aesthetic to take the place of the moodier black-and-white noir atmosphere of the original films by Jaques Tournier and Robert Wise....
Associated Mythos Elements
- fiction: Val Lewton's short story, "Bagheeta"
- race: Cat People
- race: Faerie Cats
- deity: Bast
- Irena Dubrovna-Reed (Serbian immigrant and one of the "Cat People"
- Oliver Reed (the American engineer who falls in love with Irena)
- Dr. Louis Judd (psychologist for Irena); re-appears in The Seventh Victim (1943 film)
- Alice Moore-Reed (Oliver's co-worker in the original film, and wife in the sequel)
- Amy Reed (The Reeds' daughter, lost in a world of fantasy; Irena is her imaginary friend)