Cat People (1942)

It could just be that writer DeWitt Bodeen had a problem with cats as many people do. Maybe he just liked dogs...whatever the reason, he gave us the script for one of the most sensational horror movies of the early years of Hollywood. Riding on the success of a film like "The Wolfman", "Cat People" tried to better the suspense by making a mystery rather than a slash-fest.
There are two styles to "Cat People", the cutesy, cutesy romance side and then the mysterious, unexplained thriller side.
Irena Dubrovna (Simone Simon) is a Serbian sketch artist. We first see her (after reading the title card about how ancient sin permeates society like a thick fog) in a park, watching a black panther. She is a fashion sketch artist and the few times we are privileged to see her work, it's quite stunning and sleek...much like the feline-imagery that she chooses to surround herself with. For as evident as cats are in "Cat People", the amount of times we actually see a domestic kitty is fairly rare. Instead, we see cats in paintings, sculptures, and we hear them too.
Irena is frustrated with her work at the park and she runs into Oliver Reed (Kent Smith), an all-American nice-guy. He seems so average that the couple's immediate connection seems very odd to the viewer. Perhaps something ordinary is just what Irena wants.
Invited up for tea, Oliver gets his first look at the oddity of the woman. She has a sculpture of King John (the Serbian king) spearing a cat victoriously over his head. When he asks about it, he gets an elusive answer. The truth of the matter is that there is a legend about the Serbian people.
When they were a pagan country, worshipers of Satan, the women were witches. They possessed the ability to morph from cat to human and back again. After King John Christian-ized the country, a few of the heathens escaped. The legend says that any embrace from a lover will turn the woman into a cat, blind with jealousy and she will kill her mate.
As Irena and Oliver's relationship continues to evolve, their physical relationship stays on the back-burner. They don't even kiss and yet Oliver feels some sort of great attraction towards this weird, superstitious woman.
For most of the movie, Irena is afraid. She's frightened of the legend, frightened that she might be one of the cat people, and worried of what this might do to Oliver.
She is pressured into seeing a psychiatrist by Oliver, who eventually becomes her husband. Though their marriage is never consummated, it seems that their love is still strong as ever and it's with the preservation of this in mind that Irena goes to see Dr. Judd (Tom Conway). Dr. Judd, as most pragmatists facing this situations, doesn't believe in Irena's myth; but he does find certain psychological truths in her story. He thinks that she's simply afraid of commitment. After many musings and hypotheses, Dr. Judd tells Irena that she's just a curiously overly worried girl. Realizing that this man would never believe her Irena doesn't attend any more sessions and her "condition" starts to deteriorate.
"Cat People" is a marvelous thriller because it doesn't have the special effects to back it up. It lets the viewer invent more of the situations, which I've always found to be scarier see here "Jaws" and "The Blair Witch Project".
Jealousy turns Irena from a subtle house-wife into the monster that may be metaphorical and may be physical.
"Cat People" is genuine enough to make us all intrigued in it, suspenseful enough to keep us watching, and weird enough to be original.
It's wonderful, cheesy, and stands above other thrillers of the time—"The Seventh Victim—as one of the quintessential pieces in horror cinema.

Score: ★★★½

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