For this semester in school, I enrolled in a film class showcasing horror movies by Val Lewton and Jacques Tourneur. The first movie we watched was 1942's Cat People. It was directed by Tourneur and produced by Lewton. The movie stars Simone Simon as Irena Dubrovna and Kent Smith as Oliver Smith. The film focuses on these two stars as they play a couple who meet at a zoo, fall in love, and get married. But there lies a problem. A problem in which Irena fears that if there were any moment of passion, even a slight kiss, she would turn into a cat and kill her lover, a curse that was passed on in her old village of Serbia. Oliver struggles to love Irena as he continues to try to convince her that it's all in her mind while Irena pleads against it and grows jealous of her husband's budding friendship with co-worker Alice, played by Jane Randolph. Tom Conway plays Dr. Louis Judd, a psychiatrist who tries to help Irena get through her fears but also starts to develop feelings for her.
A continuing point that gets made in my class, starting from the supernatural class I took over the past summer, was that horror - usually films of the supernatural - dealt with the eruption of the repressed, usually sexuality. This is showcased in films like The Innocents (my favorite horror film) and also in this movie. In this movie, if Irena's frigidity or passion is unwrapped, the horror comes out. Underneath, this film is about a woman unable and afraid to express and develop her sexuality. This is one plot point that makes it a very interesting movie to watch, as we begin to wonder if Irena isn't in fact crazy.
This wasn't my first time watching this movie. I had seen it previously during the summer and wasn't entirely sure how I felt about the movie. To me it was very slow but I did enjoy parts with Irena freaking out and her scenes with animals who all seem to have a sixth sense and would react wildly around her. One particular scene with a canary gets a good chuckle out of me and people who watch it. Second time watching, while I still felt was a little slow, I was more into the movie. Despite having over 90% over at Rotten Tomato, I do feel that watching this film may be a required taste for people use to watching movies of the now. But who knows, maybe there are some who'd enjoy it. Though I'm not too sure who among my friends would sit through it.
Another note about the movie: it was the first to use the horror technique bus. From wiki...
"Lewton and his production team claim credit for inventing the popular horror film technique called the "bus". The term came from the scene where Irena is walking behind Alice; the audience expects Irena to turn into a panther at any moment and attack her. At the most tense point, when the camera focuses on Alice's confused and terrified face, the silence is shattered by what sounds like a hissing panther—but it is a bus pulling over to pick her up. After the excitement dies down, the audience is left uncertain whether anything supernatural or life-threatening actually happened. This technique has been adapted into a great many horror movies since then. Anytime a movie creates a scene where the tension rises and dissipates into nothing at all, merely an empty boo!, it is a 'bus'."