The first of the horror films producer Val Lewton made for RKO Pictures redefined the genre by leaving its most frightening terrors to its audience’s imagination. Simone Simon stars as a Serbian émigré in Manhattan who believes that, because of an ancient curse, any physical intimacy with the man she loves (Kent Smith) will turn her into a feline predator. Lewton, a consummate producer-auteur who oversaw every aspect of his projects, found an ideal director in Jacques Tourneur, a chiaroscuro stylist adept at keeping viewers off-kilter with startling compositions and psychological innuendo. Together, they eschewed the canned effects of earlier monster movies in favor of shocking with subtle shadows and creative audio cues. One of the studio’s most successful movies of the 1940s, Cat People raised the creature feature to new heights of sophistication and mystery.
“This little miracle is still taken for granted. This is a mistake. Its insouciant sexuality is still titanic. Its frankness is as scary as it is vital and engrossing. It’s the first American horror movie about ordinary people giving into temptation with complete awareness and agency.” – Brooklyn
“…holds a place in film history as a landmark of the power of suggestion: the idea that you could make a good horror film on the cheap by simply not showing what everyone is supposed to be frightened of.”
“It resounds as one of the great films about sexual repression… Rather than assuming the role of a femme fatale, Irena becomes a victim of society. Her husband’s journey is to overcome his “mistake” in trusting in someone outside of his pack, and Irena’s mistake was to trust him. The horror of the film comes as much from the idea that there is no happy solution to their marital problem as it does from the idea of a humanistic black panther roaming the streets.” – Justine Smith, Vague Visages
“Rewatching the still-shocking psychosexual masterpiece Cat People, one cannot help but be mesmerized by the brilliance with which Tourneur works within the magnificent limitations of Lewton’s RKO unit, and the tragic empathy and sophistication he imbues in this yarn about a Serbian émigré (Simone Simon) whose talons come out when she gets hot and bothered. Tourneur made many great films, but Cat People alone cements his standing.” – Film Comment
- 10/13 | 6:00PM