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Cat People (1942) v Cat People (1982)

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message 1: by Alex DeLarge (last edited Jan 31, 2009 09:32AM) (new)

Alex DeLarge | 226 comments I finally watched the original CAT PEOPLE and loved it! Last year, I viewed Schrader's remake in high-definition and it almost made me skip the Tourneur version: I'm so glad I didn't! Here are both of my short essays:

CAT PEOPLE (Jacques Tourneur, 1942, USA) Irena is a Femme Feline; a satanic curse boils through her veins arousing her violent passions, modern Psychology impotent to cure this arcane affliction. Director Jacques Tourneur’s low budget classic attains cult status with high scare value; he relies on ambiguous flirting shadows and clever mise-en-scene to impart palpitating horror. What begins as lightening-quick romance and marriage between Irena and Oliver soon spirals towards infidelity as she curtails her burgeoning sexuality, for fear of awakening the beast within. As Oliver’s affections become diverted towards Alice, Irena stalks the night with cat’s grace…and hunger. Tourneur’s film purrs with anticipation and suspense as Irena fights to regain self-control but ultimately becomes victim, transforming into an evil shadow, her soul corrupt and damned. In one scene, Alice walks the darkened streets between orbs of sickly light, and the clacking high-heels that follow soon become the soft echoes of padded feet. As her pace (and pulse) quickens she reaches her destination as the bus’s airbrakes hiss like an angry panther…and the nearby tree branches shiver as if some strange form has passed between them. Tourneur again creates suspense as Alice takes an evening swim, the watery shadows painting spider webs upon the walls, and a deep guttural growl breaks the surface tension. Alice screams…and so do we. When Oliver and Alice are cornered in their workshop, he displays a protractor like a crucifix, its penumbra casting away the evil spirit. The horror remains elusive and unseen without need for cheap special effects; the psychiatrist’s death is seen in a flurry of fur, flashing claws, and grim silhouette. Finally, Irena despises what she has become and takes control, holding the key to her own destiny. (B+)

CAT PEOPLE (Paul Schrader, 1982, USA) CAT PEOPLE is a beautifully photographed erotic thriller that tries a little too hard to take itself seriously and ends up eliciting a few sniggers and guffaws. Irina and Paul are siblings separated at birth but joined by an inescapable curse: when they make love they transform into a black panther and must kill to become human once again. Paul has incestuous desires to quell the terrifying curse and Irina has eyes only for zookeeper Oliver…but Irina must deal with Alice first. The HD-DVD looks absolutely fantastic and delivers the beautiful cinematography and deep color that make this film really stand out and worth your time. The story itself is rather bland and there are some major plot holes: for example, how did the police, Oliver, and Alice come to be at Irina’s house investigating her brother for murder? There seems to be some missing scenes here and I suspect Schrader edited this for time constraints. The ending is just rather silly where Oliver gets it on with Irina AFTER she killed and mutilated his best friend…I guess that’s a turn-on for any guy: My wife and I laughed out loud! It is sad to see such beautiful animals caged in tiny cells and I’m glad many zoos have created natural habitats for their exhibits. This film falls somewhere between two and three stars for cinematography alone but I can’t recommend it as a whole. (C-)

Bonus Essay!

CURSE OF THE CAT PEOPLE (Robert Wise, 1944, USA) Amy subsumes the familial trauma, unspoken but inherent in her childlike sensibilities attuned to the deathly hallow, those arcane emotional relics of her parent’s past. The Goya painting is a shrine to Irena, a blasphemous vestige of a corrupt and violated soul; a sincere metaphor for her love cursed by demonic possession as Irena became victim of her own lineage. Oliver and Alice are now married, yet they choose to hang the painting in their house, though they supposedly burned all other evidence of their past affliction. Amy is lost in fantasy; she is cursed for being different from other children because she is too imaginative, and her parents struggle towards conformity and acceptance. The patriarchal order is upset as Amy witnesses her mother’s abusive argument with daddy: this is every child’s worst nightmare. She soon escapes and befriends a delusional old woman with a despotic daughter; the old lady gives her a wishing ring. After seeing an old photograph of Oliver’s first wife, her magic ring grants her an invisible friend…. Irena. This is not a horror film but a psychological study of childhood; the loss of innocence, how conformity is thief of our individuality, like a cat stealing the breath of imagination. But the film can also be read as a supernatural nexus between Amy and Irena’s salvation: cursed by a demon and summoned by the little girl’s purity, Irena may finally commit the one act that can save her own soul. As Amy wanders into the frozen night, the penumbra of nightmare chasing like stampeding hooves, she stumbles towards the neighbors house wherein dwells the demented daughter. As death walks the ghastly corridors of this archaic mansion, Amy’s trust is put into the hands of a murderer…but it’s Irena’s virtue that redeems the trinity. (C)

NOTE: After writing my thoughts about CURSE, my grading may be a bit harsh. Robert Wise's use of shadows and sound is excellent and the story, if considered a drama and not a horror film, is interesting. But for now, I'll stick with my intitial grade.




message 2: by Maryse (new)

Maryse (belle_maryse) | 24 comments Great review. I only saw the 1982 version and was rather disappointed with it (it didn't really have much of a story). I've always been interested in the 1942 version after it was mentioned in "Kiss of the Spider-Woman" but I haven't seen it yet. Thanks for the enlightening review


message 3: by Alex DeLarge (new)

Alex DeLarge | 226 comments You're welcome! Now rent the original as soon as possible:) Or buy the great Val Lewton DVD set; I think you can get it from Amazon for approx. $50.


message 4: by Maryse (new)

Maryse (belle_maryse) | 24 comments Just saw the 1942 version. Definitely better than the 1982. The dark street scene was my favorite. I loved how the camera shifted from Alice's heels to Irena's quickening pace. Hehe, I think I screamed when the bus came in. It's surprising to think that this movie was done on a low budget.


message 5: by Alex DeLarge (new)

Alex DeLarge | 226 comments No need to be ashamed rob...Kinski is hot and Bowie is always cool. Am I the only one who owns the original pressings of his group Tin Machine?


message 6: by Phillip (last edited Feb 12, 2009 07:45AM) (new)

Phillip i've never seen the original. it sounds like a must-see.

i saw the remake and echo rob's sentiments....mmmmm, nastassya.


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