Spooktober 22, Day 15: Cat People (1942)

Alright, beasties. It’s that spooky time of year again. For this edition of Spooktober, I’m going to do a post a day but, like a great haul after trick or treating, I’m hoping to mix it up and deliver some surprises. There’ll be reviews, new or old, seen/unseen, TV or film. Depending on my wicked mood, there may also be lists, audio, or video. I hope you’ll enjoy it and remember: stay spooky.

Another film that escaped my eyes for too long, the 1942 version by Jacques Tourneur of Cat People is a film that resonates all these years later, in large part because of its subtle, unhurried narrative. It’s more psychological, and its scares exist in the question of: will it or won’t it happen? You’re feeling the lead’s own trepidation, and the strength of her belief, and that’s a tricky but mighty compelling tactic when done well.

Irena Dubrovna (Simone Simon) is a fashion designer in NYC who begins a romance and then marriage with Oliver Reed (Kent Smith). She has a fear about consummating the union though. She’s worried that she is cursed, and is destined to turn into a panther.

source: RKO Pictures

This is only an hour and 13-minute movie and feels like a brief but impactful foray into Irena’s plight. The premise allows for a nuanced peer at a web of emotions, fears, and doubts through the notion of something supernatural with a deft hand. Oliver, his coworker (and, also, love interest) Alice Moore (Jane Randolph), and Dr. Louis Judd (Tom Conway) are all concerned and have their own perspective on what Irena is going through.

It’s a strange, introspective little film that looms large. Jacques Tourneur builds a sense of isolation and the cinematography creates a unique story with suspense that creeps over the course of the film, much like the iconic sidewalk scene (you’ll know when you see it). Simone Simon conveys a palpable melancholy, and has a presence, even when off-screen.

Visually it ensnares the viewer, and there’s something seemingly simple but impressionable about Cat People that scratches under the surface. It most likely isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, and by no means is it a conventional horror.

Inventive with a restrained and stalking presence, Cat People is a classic, that I’m sure will only be more interesting with future watches.

Cat People is currently streaming on HBO Max

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