Sep 23, 2016 Web Exclusive
There are a lot of things that should throw up red flags in any new relationship, but if your fiancée believes she’s descended from a line of Serbian witches who turn into throat-ripping panthers at the first touch of intimacy, boy, you best run.
That’s the main lesson we learn from Cat People, Jacques Tourneur’s 1942 horror film for RKO Pictures, which this week received a new Blu-ray release from the Criterion Collection. Simone Simon plays Irena, the movie’s potential were-panther, and Kent Smith stars as Ollie Reed, her patient husband; Jane Randolph is his coworker and best pal, Alice, and Tom Conway her highly unprofessional psychiatrist, Dr. Judd.
The movie’s surprisingly scintillating subject matter certainly feels more at home in its racier, 1982 remake starring Nastassja Kinski, but the methods the 1942 version uses to address sex (while also tiptoeing around it) are fascinating to watch. While Cat People isn’t among the scariest films ever made, there are a trio of truly suspenseful scenes which, quite ingeniously, leave just enough up to the audience’s imagination to dial up the tension. It’s better looked to, however, as a compelling exploration of complex (and taboo, for the time) themes than for its slim chances of scaring any modern horror fan’s pants off.
The primary bonus feature here is a documentary entitled Val Lewton: The Man in the Shadows, which is narrated by Martin Scorsese and clocks in longer than Cat People itself. The doc chronicles the career of producer Val Lewton, a former poet/novelist who was hired to RKO to package low-budget horror movies – and left an enduring stamp on the entire genre. While it’s a bit drier than the similar b-movie bio-documentaries appearing on many of Shout! Factory’s Mystery Science Theater 3000 sets, it does a great job framing the impact left by Lewton’s filmography, illustrating their point with many clips from his films. Also included are an audio commentary, a vintage interview with Tourneur, a newer one with cinematography John Bailey, as well as the theatrical trailer. For old Hollywood horror fans, it’s an attractive and recommended release, with the bonus materials going a long way to round out its appeal by putting the movie in its full context.
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