Wednesday, 6 June 2018

Winter Chills- Part Three: Cat People (1942)

I’ve been left on my own for five-and-a-half weeks...
What to do, what to do?  Well, for a start: I’m going to watch all those horror/fantasy/sci-fi films I’ve always been meaning to get to
… and write about them here!

Long before David Bowie was 'putting out the fire - with gasoliiiine', a man called Val Lewton was tasked with producing horror films for RKO pictures on literally a fraction of what studios like Universal were spending.

A sensitive intellectual, as Martin Scorsese says in his documentary on Lewton, he was "lacking the temperament for the film industry but had the perfect temperament for film". Lewton took a drop in income to take on this challenge and his first film for RKO became Cat People. Sady, I can still barely claim to have seen it because the quality of the You Tube upload I endured is awful. But despite the cropped picture and constantly dropping-out audio, I can see this is a masterpiece.

Like The Damned this is the second time in a week I've wished more films were still made in black and white - the photography is exquisite and the direction flawless.
It's for good reason that the two stand-out scenes: the infamous 'Lewton bus' (a far more sophisticated fore-runner to the modern 'jump scare'), and the night-time swimming pool stalking are mainstay clips in almost every documentary about horror cinema.

But it's the sequences I hadn't seen before which really got to me, including the wedding dinner in the Serbian restaurant where a mysterious cat-like woman stops conversation by fixing a terrified Irena with her gaze and addressing her as "my sister?".  
Well aware of his budget constraints, Lewton turns it to his advantage - everything is subtle shapes in the shadows, hints and implication. Even the beginnings of Irena's transformation are terrifying in their subtlety - her darkening face and hardening stare seen over Dr Judd's shoulder as she suddenly drops out of view and he screams.

From my far-from reliable research, this was the film which kicked off New Zealand's very long running Sunday Horrors, back in 1981, although I missed it then (it was probably passed my bedtime on a Sunday night).

I've also never seen the 1982 remake but don't doubt I'll be repulsed by its apparent reversal of everything which is merely suggested in this beautiful film. 
I don't just want to see this original version again - I want to own it, in 'pin-sharp crikey-vision'. This one's a keeper!

1 comment:

  1. Oh I love this film SO MUCH!! I first saw it on TV in the... early 90s maybe? I can’t imagine what timeslot it would have played in, I probably recorded it. Ah, so good!