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Putting Out Fire with Gasoline (First Time Around)

In honor of Halloween, today’s post concerns one of my favorite horror movies – the RKO production of Cat People from 1942, produced by Val Lewton and directed by Jacques Tourneur.

Beginning in the early 1940s, RKO Radio Pictures released a cycle of low-budget but poetic horror movies designed to compete with the wildly successful monster movies that Universal Studios had been churning out for over a decade. Cat People is the first and probably the most famous example of this unique and celebrated breed of horror. Although directed by Jacques Tourneur, a great director in his own right who would go on to make Out of the Past (one of the masterpieces of film noir), Cat People today is more often than not discussed as the work of its producer, Val Lewton, rather than Tourneur. In our auteurist age, where movies are typically thought of as personal expressions of their directors, even by casual movie fans, this makes Lewton something of an anomaly.

When the Ukrainian-born, former MGM writer Lewton was given his own B-horror production unit at RKO early in 1942, he was given three rules to follow: he had to use titles for his films that were supplied by his superiors, he had to work with a meager budget of only $150,000 per picture and he had to bring in each film at a running time of under 75 minutes. Within those parameters, Lewton could do as he pleased and he had a talented group of writers, directors, actors and technicians under his command. He would re-use this team (including writer DeWitt Bodeen, cinematographer Nicholas Musuraca and directors Tourneur, Robert Wise and Mark Robson) over and over through classic chillers like Curse of the Cat People, I Walked with a Zombie, The Leopard Man and, my personal favorite, The Seventh Victim. If Lewton is today considered the primary “author” of these movies, it’s because they have more in common with each other than any of them do with other films made by the same directors that were not produced by Lewton. Also, as Kent Jones points out in his excellent documentary Val Lewton: Man in the Shadows, Lewton was the definitive hands-on producer who practically “pre-directed” his movies on paper before shooting began.

So what are the hallmarks of a Lewton production? First of all, he worked exclusively in the horror genre but he had unique ideas about how horror should be conveyed. The horror in the RKO cycle is almost always supernatural in nature and yet there’s also a certain amount of ambiguity surrounding the supernatural elements – Lewton liked to keep these elements off-screen and out of sight. Cat People, for instance, is about a “cursed” young woman who literally turns into a giant cat when driven to extreme emotional states. However, you never see her as the “cat person” because after the transformation has taken place, she is either kept off-screen or hidden in shadows onscreen (as is the case with the film’s justifiably famous indoor swimming pool scene). Low-key lighting was very important to Lewton’s films because he felt that keeping crucial visual information shrouded in darkness would allow the audience to imagine what was there. Lewton knew that the horror you can imagine is more frightening than anything you can be shown.

Also key to Lewton’s universe is having a strong-willed but sympathetic female protagonist. In Cat People it’s a young Serbian woman named Irena (played with an appropriate mixture of creepiness, stubbornness and vulnerability by the wonderful French actress Simone Simon), who suffers from the aforementioned ancient curse. Or is it simply a figment of her imagination? After a whirlwind courtship with Oliver (Kent Smith), a successful, blandly handsome engineer, the disturbed young woman gets married but, fearing the transformation that may take place in the heat of passion (paging Dr. Freud!), she refuses to consummate the marriage. As time goes by, Oliver grows impatient with his beautiful but frigid bride and enters into a relationship with Alice (Jane Randolph), an attractive co-worker.

It is within these characters and their interrelationships that the film’s modest genius resides. Oliver comes across as a nice guy on the surface but the closer one looks the more he seems uncaring and a little too quick to jump into the arms of the next attractive woman who comes along. The moment in the film when he and Alice give Irena the brush-off in a museum is genuinely heartbreaking. For her part, Irena comes across as both killer and victim; Cat People may be typical of the 1940s in that it “others” female sexuality but the tension between the filmmakers’ conflicting desires to make Irena the character of whom we are afraid and with whom we are meant to most closely identify makes the film look unusually complex today. The one time Irena acts on her murderous impulses is when a psychiatrist, Dr. Judd (winningly played with repugnant self-satisfaction by Tom Conway), betrays her trust and makes unwanted sexual advances towards her. In other words, the good doc gets what’s coming to him. This strategy of having the viewer identify with “the other” character is unusual even in today’s horror movies (see my recent post on Guillermo del Toro) but it is also precisely what makes Cat People a beautiful, poignant and, finally, tragic film; Val Lewton knew how to make us locate the horror within ourselves.

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About michaelgloversmith

Filmmaker, author and Film Studies instructor. View all posts by michaelgloversmith

55 responses to “Putting Out Fire with Gasoline (First Time Around)

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  • Jasmin Williams

    I agree with many of the points brought up within this analysis of Cat People. Val Lewton is a producer known for his directive efforts that leave a hint of his style of every film that he’s touched. However, for the sake of delving into certain concepts within the film Cat People, I will speak more on Jacques Tourneur and how he managed to make a great film with the stipulations given. Tourneur was able to come up with anything he wanted within 75 minutes, a $150,000 budget and the loss of the option to choose his own title. Horror films were typically made with big budgets during this period which makes this film even more of a underdog. Tourneur uses the theme of the supernatural and religion to reel the audience in. We see this because Irena’s hometown village was haunted and there’s mention of devil worshiping. Not only does Irena have this condition that follows her because of her haunted past, but because of any emotion that she feels to intensely, mainly sexuality or aggression. This film is made in the 40s, which is still during a time where women are thought of as second rate citizens compared to men. Irena refuses to make love to her husband because of the fear that she will turn into a beast. Is that a metaphor for the disgust and disdain for women’s sexuality during the time or no!? People say that what is going on within art is a reflection of the views, morals and concepts of the time. There are multiple references to cats and killing them or them being haunted within the film and often times womens’ body parts are referred to as kitty’s or pussys! This movie had to do with creating a low budget horror film because that was a new genre of film to express artistry. However, its way of reflecting the times is the underlying message that women being in control of their sexuality is scary. The female libido is something to fear and that is dangerous, and should be at the discretion of a man. I think the movie was very well made for the time and the Simone Simon definitely earned her paycheck.

    -Jasmin

  • annette braggs

    this film remind me of a person trying to something that they are not..In this film there is a good side to this person and there is a bad to this person. In this film the bad side of the person do not come out until she realize that her husband is having an affair with someone she knows. and she turn into the bad person that is inside of her This film is very short and right to the point . This film explain the up and downs in this film . this film also explain that if a women wants to pay a man back for his wrong doing she can what ever way that is possible by killing the man or by using her sexuality to persuade him. this was a very short film so you either get it or you do not get it. .

  • Patrick McKenna

    My biggest question is if Irena even knew or not that she was a cat person. She feared the possibility or even probability in her mind yet she never straight up warned anyone of what she has done. If the wedding went as most do and the priest said “kiss the bride” and they did, would it have all been out in the open right then. I thought it was the expression of love through physical form that could set Irena off rather than just a kiss from anyone. What kind of husband was Oliver anyway. He chooses to wed a woman who fears being a cat woman and doesn’t express her love for him physically and then he seems to have a problem with all these things shortly after. Perhaps it is a generation gap that losses me slightly. To me it is unrealistic to not realize what you are getting into at lest partly. The whole morphing into a cat creature is another story but the relationship end of things is goofy. Oliver tells his coworker that he isn’t interested in her when she expresses her desires to be with Oliver. Then just a few scenes later Oliver gives his wife the cold shoulder and turns down Irena’s desire to spend time with Oliver so that he can go do whatever with his coworker for an hour. I would like to argue that Irena was the most stable person in that relationship despite the fact that she was a cat person. Then that scene at the pool was cool. I liked the use of shadows and I was happy overall that this film was in black and white.

  • Juana Ortiz

    I like that you use poetic horror to describe Cat People. I think that the movie is indeed very poetic in that it’s imaginative in how it portrays horror and in that the horror stems from a seemingly kind, beautiful, and elegant woman. I know that at the time the movie was released it was very successful and given the year it probably was in fact horrifying for viewers. I thought the movie was a classy type of horror but ultimately a tragedy. I understand the horror aspects of the movie: the supernatural, the references to evil, being stalked, not knowing when Irena will turn into a cat and attack. As you mentioned the viewers imagination on what’s taking place when the cat is attacking is [more frightening than anything we can be shown]. We fill in the gap for those scenes in our mind and make it horrific for ourselves. I love the use of lighting and shadows in this movie. However, because of the particular plot of the story I would say it’s more tragic than horror. I sympathize with Irena and I dislike all the other main characters.

  • Ashley Tobias

    Val Lewton, the producer did really good job on being different. The first thing I thought at the end of this movie is how creative. The entire movie displayed a metaphoric situation between a fearless feline and a scared human being. Then it had me think maybe that’s why the movie is under the horror category. People are usually scared of their fears; in Alice case she feared of turning into a cat. Almost reminds me of our conscience and that’s what kept me interested.

  • Stephanie Saucedo

    This film, Cat People, produce by Val Lewton is one of true masterpiece of create a film that is based on a low-budget and his creativity. It is unusual for a producer to be in charge to direct a film that is based on his artistry. I always thought the director were the main boss to direct a film, like Steven Spielberg.
    The key element is presented by Fear. This plot of this movie make it interesting because it is about a Serbian immigrant, Irena Dubrovna who accepts she is a relative of The Cat People, an ancient tribe whose members are cursed to become blood-vicious animal when aroused. I felt sad for Irena, because she was trying to overcome with this fear but in the end her fear turn against her. But I can’t help find noticing that displayed the dangerous dark side of female sexuality. Oliver Reed is a jerk for leaving Irena that soon when they are barely married over seven months.
    Also, Jacques Tourner is famous for his technique by strongly heavy on darkness and shadows to establish danger atmosphere.

  • Cynthia Bedolla

    “I like the dark, it’s friendly” said Irene… I found the quotes in this film very clever, as if it was it sort of giving us (the audience) an idea of what the film was really about. For example there’s another scene where Oliver takes Irene to exchange the cat for another pet and the lady at the store says “You can’t fool a cat, they seem to know who’s wrong”. Another scene is by the cages, and the guy who usually cleans/feeds the animals says “Like a leopard but not a leopard”. Which is exactly what goes on in the story line. Irene converts into something that is “like a leopard but not a leopard” psychologically she’s an idea of a leopard but physically she’s only human. The fact that we can travel through this psychologically phenomenon of hers and yet always go back to reality of her only being a human is magnificent. The scene where Irene is at the pet store is at the beginning of the film, and even that early in the film, they let us know that she is no good. In regards to “I like the dark….” her room always had the lights off, her coat and outfits were always very “dark”, even her paintings, it portrayed darkness and shadows. Which leads me to go into symbols. The first one I can think of and I thought it was very clever too was where Oliver has the cat inside the box, kinda of like saying “A box is full of surprises”. Irene “was a cat” and she was full of surprises.
    Another symbol that I would consider is “light”. In regards to how bright it was in the office during the day and how dark it was at night, regardless if the desks lights were on or off. The many different shadows. Also how as the storyline went on, Irene wouldn’t visit the cages during the day, her last visits where at night, as if she almost found a deeper connection with them during the time of darkness. (That itself, portrayed a much more suspenseful and intriguing story to me, and of of course it added fear throughout the film.) Therefore the leopard inside the cage illustrated how trapped Irene felt, and when she finally lets the leopard go, she is let go as well too. But as it happens, they are both due at the same time. Leopard gets run over and she dies in front of the open cage with a sword stabbed in her.

    “But black sin hath betrayed to endless night
    My world, both parts, and both parts must die.”
    Holy Sonnets, V. – John Donne.

    After viewing this film the first question I had for myself was “Where does the idea of Batman vs. Catwoman derive from?” I read a bit on the subject, however I will say, I found how connected it is. Irene never mentions family or parents, and Bruce doesn’t have a family nor parents either. Irene comes with this “curse” from where she is derived from, as well as Bruce, where they are both cursed yet blessed.
    Bruce is one person, yet Batman is another person. Irene is one person, and when she converts into a “Cat” she’s another. They both come out at night, and they very carefully keep themselves in the dark, away from others. (Maybe its just a coincidence, but it reminded me of it)

    -Cynthia Bedolla

  • Vivian Troche

    I really enjoyed the Cat People, and I agree that Lewton took a non-traditonal approach to the horror genre. I think that is why I enjoyed the film so much. We sympathize with Irena, the character that we are supposed to fear. The audience is able to seperate Irena the person from Irena the cat, and the cat side of Irena kind of acts as a doppelgänger. Another non-traditional technique Lewton used was not actually showing the monster in the shot. When Irena is in cat form she is either off screen or hidden in the shadows, and I agree that this makes it even scarier. I think if we saw Irena prancing around in a cat costume, it wouldn’t have the same effect. The dark and shadowy feel is what makes the film. The most effective use of shadows was in the pool scene. For example when Alice was changing for the pool and Irena was on the staircase, we didn’t actually get to see her because she was in cat form, but the shadows from the railings resembled the leopard’s cage from the zoo. These shadows tell us that Irena is in her cat form, but I also think the “cage” shadows show the audience how trapped Irena feels because of her condition. I think Lewton did a great job with this film, and I can see why RKO allowed him to take over their horror division.

  • Hanwen Zhang

    I like Cat People a lot. I do, and I did not expect I would like it that much. I slept only 4 hours before class, tired because of the exams and the fight I just had with my girlfriend Friday night.
    I even thought I could take a nap during the movie. However, I did not have a chance, and I did not even feel tired because Cat People is such a great movie. As like what you said in the class, Cat People may not be as scary as Horror film in nowadays. But the time did not make the film any less poetic.
    I like how the director hides the transformation scene from the audience. I agree that “the horror you can imagine is more frightening than anything you can be shown.” However, I also felt that because I cannot see the transformation scene. Irena to me much more like a human being who should be pitied for, not a huge cat which I should be scared of.
    I agree that What can I say? It is a tragedy of a beautiful girl. The museum scene is just heart breaking, I imagine how would I feel if I am the one, I am the poor girl, and I do not think anyone can handle the pain properly. I do not blame her at all throughout the whole film. She wanted to be cured, she needed help and asked help, and the one she trusted the most betrayed her. Reed, Her husband told everything to his attractive co-worker, Alice. And the psychiatrist who introduced by Alice is the worst kind you can possibly imagine.
    Sigh, Irena, you such a poor girl.

  • Marquita Monger

    I do agree that the lighting in this film was hand crafted that way to keep viewers intrigued about what’s in the darkness. Also the fact that this was not like your usual horror film. In most to all Horrors you see the killer but in this film you don’t. The fact that you wont see her as a cat in the film kind of left me having mixed feelings.The thought of wondering how she would have acted or where it would have taken my mind just to see her in that act so I do agree that one had to find the horror in oneself. every time she transformed I wanted to see it and analyze her transformation but I was robbed, at least it felt that way. but then on the other hand I liked the way my mind was imagining it all happen. I feel as though her turning into a cat every time aroused by love is maybe in her mind. what I mean by that is what if she is just hallucinating because she is scared of love.I’m not saying that this is the case. The scene of her at the museum took my breath away it was so sad. Although this film was low budget, its amazing how the not so modern touches turned out to be one of the good assets I liked about the film. This movie was not that scary to me but I love how the film writer and director portrayed this horror.

  • zhuyu187

    Cat People was definitely a masterpiece in Golden age. The technique of creating scary scenes is groundbreaking, director had a good control when comes to using of the camera and sound scary rather color, making up the scarcity of technique as to create scary atmosphere, although at the beginning the whole plot wasn’t really clear, it still had a right dimension to the suspense, Freudian psychoanalysis slowly leads to panic secret, then is love triangle by wicked revenge, the rhythm is very simply, but some details are relatively stiff. For the horror genre, the leopard woman really inherited the tradition of the black cat, the first time in the form of psychological fear to show the terrorist elements, Frankenstein and Dracula as the representative of the monster horror film in the forty years of the battle gradually fading. Through reflection, sound, light and other indirect images bring viewers feel horror. Feeling the director with such a fantasy suspense story of then American society “New Americans”: the inner state of the immigration. Coming to the United States to accept the United States, but it is difficult to come to the past life and experience in their hearts. Fear always exists in the constant hint. The role and the audience, the more the unknown credible, the less fear it will show up. In the second half of the period was really nice, there are two impressive, nocturnal is tracking the bus came verge sound most like beasts. Pool paragraph although it wasn’t that unique, it still gave audience a shoot.

  • lawrence willis

    “i’m jealous of every woman on the street because they’re happy and they can make their husbands happy” The reason Irene was so obsessed with Alice was because she knew she could never be her or be as normal as her. she would never be able to make Oliver as happy as Alice could because of the curse of the cat people weighed on her. It was all she could think about day and night. she would have nightmares about the curse she wouldn’t even sleep in the same bed as Oliver or even kiss him for that matter, afraid of what could happen if she became too emotional or too passionate. that caused her to become jealous of Alice and also the fact that her and Oliver was having a love affair. Nonetheless, Irene continually warned Oliver not to make her jealous but he wouldn’t listen. He didn’t believe of her stories “they’re just old myths” he said “don’t worry about, it just forget all about them”. As a result of, she felt so overwhelmed by the curse and with everything going on with her marriage she just wanted to end it all and that’s what caused her to go and meet withDr. Judd. She knew he would kiss her she knew that she would turn into the huge cat and Dr.Judd would eventually kill her with his sword and her kill him in the process. One must think, she could have easily lured Oliver into a trap to kiss her so she could turn into the cat and kill him and Alice, i mean that’s was who her quarrel was with in the first place, but she wanted to rid herself of the curse forever and the only way that could happen is if she died so to me her little visit with Dr.Judd was actually suicide. Great movie, very symbolic and poetic…

  • Destiny

    I like and dislike that movie because the characters in the movie made me upset. You have the main character Irene who is very insecure of herself to make her husband happy and dislike his coworker Alice because she envy her as an woman who have no worries and to believe she has a crush on husband. As I was watching the movie, you can tell whats going to happen next. you have Alice who seems to be a caring friend to Irene husband Oliver and trying to be supportive to Irene but deep down is secretly in love with Oliver. You can tell she love Oliver deeply, even though she knew Alice was going to take him away from her. She could have trap him into having sex with her or she could’ve kill Alice when she had the chance but instead she walk away. She warn Alice, Oliver and the therapist that she feel like she is curse and afraid to kill her husband but they didn’t believe her until she died at the end. Her letting the wild cat free and dying was an important scene because she didn’t want to be a curse cat so she figure letting the cat out, she can finally be set free.

  • Jessica Jamaica

    I highly enjoyed this film it was a horror film like nothing I have see before. Learning about Val Lewton the producer also gave the film a different light, because his background can be seen through Cat People. For example his technique of not showing a cheesy giant cat and instead leaving it to the viewer’s imagination was brilliant. The way Lewton used darkness as well to fit his film was great. The scene in which Alice is walking to her home in the dark being followed by Irene was eerie and suspenseful due to the viewer not knowing what would come out of the dark. It was also a good move to not make Alice a character you hated because although she does “steal” Oliver away from Irene it was Oliver who went after her. Feeling bad for both Irene and Alice added complexity to the film because you pitied the characters yet one was trying to kill the other one. Oliver was a funny character to analyze because in the beginning of the film the viewer believes he is a nice guy who loves Irene and is willing to wait for her, yet jumps to Alice when she confesses her love to him. Through the whole film Irene’s fear of intimate interaction seemed more symbolic than anything else especially when she kept mentioning morality and religious things. In the end Irene was finally able to set herself free through the hands of the perverse doctor Judd. Cat People is an excellent film that explores deep topics through symbolic events from beginning to end.

    • michaelgloversmith

      So glad you mentioned the suspenseful scene where Irena follows Alice. The “jump scare” of the bus pulling up that serves as the punchline to that scene was the first time that type of effect was EVER used in a horror movie. 10/10

  • Esteban Landeros

    This is a great analysis. There are a variety of great points made about this film. I also agree with the fact that Irena was portrayed as both the killer and the victim. I saw her as a victim since the scene where she comes in to the house and finds her husband, Oliver, with his co-worker, Alice, and he tells her that he had found a great psychiatrist for her who was recommended by Alice. I figured a husband should keep those problems quiet from her especially knowing how ridiculous she felt about her problem. What got to me was also the scene at the museum. I felt very bad for her because she was simply trying to be a loving wife by intending to spend time with her, but he ends up brushing her off. Although she was portrayed as a victim, the horror still comes into play when she becomes a killer. It came to me as a surprise as how someone looking as calm as she is and very soft spoken becomes a killer when she is infuriated or even jealous. Furthermore, as you have stated in this analysis, the lighting and sound of this film made the horror be noticed. Just to add on, the part where Alice is walking through the dark street really built a suspense being that the footsteps just kept getting louder and closer and the sudden moment of surprise as the taxi arrived was unexpected since I thought Irena as a Cat was going to attack her. Val Lewton seriously made a GREAT example of himself with this film in spite of the fact that he had very strict rules to follow.

  • Deja

    I thought the movie was a classy type of horror but ultimately a tragedy. I understand the horror aspects of the movie: the supernatural, the references to evil, being stalked, not knowing when Irena will turn into a cat and attack.

  • Justin Machado

    While many hints of evil undertones where verbalized in the movie Cate People, I found the film lacking in its delivery and persuasion of the truly horrifying. During the films most ominous moments, the scare factor barely stimulates one’s senses. After only laying witness to a very subtle sadistic smile in response to the passing of her pet bird, the foreign born main character Irene playfully tries to grasp her avian gift in any manner but that of a malicious feline, which she is presumed to embody. Even during the films climax the main character passivity down plays the undertones of horror as she is directed in more of kitten like fashion, rather than that of the self-aware cat person she has supposedly evolved into. The true brilliance of the film comes not from the paltry dialogue and plot, but rather from the amplifying contrast of extreme shadows and darkness chosen by the director. This misc-en-scene seems to have become the defining iconography for the horror genre for the audiences’ imagination of what lies in the dark shadows as well as what lurks just off screen, proves to be this films largest amplifier of scare. Considering the meager budget Universal allotted for Cat People, the production staff delivered a film worthy of many accolades.

  • Rene Arteaga

    Three ways you described this film in class were: 1) poetic; 2) atmospheric; and 3) complex in terms of its themes. The first descriptor can easily be noted throughout the duration of the film. Whether it was a blunt metaphor/allusion (such as the pet store scene/ Irena’s glorified statue), or a subtle use of symbolism (such as the Egyptian statue or the idea of Irena and the panther dying simultaneously), there were poetry characteristic undertones constantly being expressed. The next variable- atmospheric- was quite straightforward as well. There was a heavy emphasis on utilizing shadows and lighting because, “low-key Lightning was very important to Lewton’s films,” which lead the trait easy to find. Finally, there remains the factor of complexity. The film is typically categorized as a supernatural horror genre that STEMS from a production company that at the time was looking to mirror Universal’s cliché supernatural monster horror films. Thus, it is an easy argument to make that this film does indeed visit the realm of inexplicable happenings. However, because Lewton/ Tourneur hide any direct exposure to the monster (in hopes of stimulating the viewer’s imagination),they raise the question as to whether the monster’s are actually even there, or if this is all just a “figment of the imagination.” The themes themselves are quite tricky and complex- with respect to Irena’s ancient cat people curse along with the underlying themes of feminism and sexuality- but moreover, the reasoning and logic behind this film are also quite shadowy (no pun intended). One could make the argument that this is in fact a psychological horror rather than a supernatural one. Ultimately, however, by raising this question, Lewton executed a fantastic job in producing a film that evokes curiosity in the thoughts of an audience.

    -Rene

  • Eduardo Pina

    This horror film follow the structure discussed in class. It has a group of individuals (Alice, Oliver, Dr. Judd) that represent normalcy and one individual (Irena) who goes against normalcy. Irena being a foreigner is seen as an odd individual to the audience and other characters within the film. They do not believe her stories about the cat people and assume that she is just weird. The film deals with the supernatural due to these people turning into big black cats. Irena struggles to convince the others of her condition as she is a descendant of these cat people. My first impressions of this film was confusion and more confusion. I did not notice all the symbolism placed throughout the film until we discussed as a class. What I found very interesting was the ending with her setting the panther free and essentially letting herself free as well. As both die at the same time the audience is left to discuss and think about what exactly the director was trying to say with that scene. Overall i thought the movie was great for what it was at its time.

  • Miguel Herrera

    I found the film on the mysterious side of film-making. It’s a film you really need to ponder about as soon as you finish the last scene. What makes a film great is the ability to change the viewer’s perspective from the beginning of the film. Cat people was a film I assumed would be another film about a monster with no meaning, but this film changed my mind immediately. I enjoyed it, and I’m not a fan of the Horror genre.

  • lucya95

    This movie was very unlike a lot of the horror movies we see today. It really felt like the subtleties throughout the film made it a standout. Irena wasn’t a full on villain and Oliver wasn’t the epitome of a good guy. They both swished between two types of character and it made the film much more intriguing and thought provoking. At first Oliver really comes off as a classic, all-american guy but as the film progressed his selfishness really comes out and at first sign of an out (Alice being interested) he quickly begins to disregard Irena. Irena starts off as a very vulnerable and sad character but, I believe towards the end her character fully accepts the “curse” she may or may not be under thus becoming what she most feared.

  • Eli

    Irena was someone I was able to sympathize with throughout the entire movie. The film began with the audience feeling sorry for Irena. Who couldn’t? A poor foreigner who feared loosing her husband because of a horrible curse she couldn’t control. And who couldn’t cry with her when Oliver decided to leave her for Alice like Irena meant nothing to him. I even felt sorry for her when she began to terrorize everyone and became the monster because in the end she did what was right and everyone knows that doing what is right can be the hardest thing to do.

    Irena had a statue of a man that she admired for saving her village from the cat people. Carrying that curse did not allow Irena to be happy with herself and it did not allow Oliver and Alice to be happy together. She discovered that the solution to her problem would be to rid herself of that curse and would only be able to do that by taking her life. That is why she let Dr. Judd kiss her. She knew that emotion would turn her into the monster and Dr. Judd would kill her like the statue of the man she admired. She did not die, however, until she let the panther out of his cage. I believe her death happened after because she would not be able to self actualize unless she killed herself which would not be complete until she let the panther out the cage (who was soon after run over). She had to kill the panther because leaving it behind would mean leaving herself behind therefore not completing her journey.

    Joseph Campbell had said that for a hero to complete their journey of self actualization, the hero must sacrifice themselves for the greater good and emerge a new person. What was so great about Irena was that she was the hero and the villain of this film. Campbell’s quote allowed me to understand what you had brought up in class about Guillermo del Torro’s horror films and what he says about loving his monsters.

  • Aurelio

    Cat people movie, I found that it lacked the stimulating factor of really horrifying during the showing in class. During the scene of Alice Moore ominous feeling of being stocked by the cat type creature was one of many of ominous moments in the cat people film but these scenes barely even stimulated ones senses of fear not like the films of horror that came out after the cat people being released such as Halloween 1978 and the exorcist 1973 these films actually had your stimulus of fear following through every scene.

  • Katherine Rodriguez

    I really enjoyed Cat People. I think it was a great movie and i love how creepy and dark it was. Irena is my favorite character because she is mysterious and creepy. The way the movie was made fascinates me. How dark it was and how the “evil cat” was left off screen. I agree with you, the museum scene was very heartbreaking. Irena just wanted to be with her husband and they shooed her away. Alice is horrible knowing that Oliver is married and she still tears the couple apart. Oliver is just trash. Dr. Judd was a pervert and not a good shrink.
    For a horror film, it is something I’ve never really seen on any of the movies i have watched. Especially keeping the “evil” off scene.

  • Long Phan

    This movie somehow really gets under my skin. I remember we talked about in class that most of violent scenes are off-screen; instead, they are implied and not seen.Also,they did not use a lot of shocks and blood in the movie, but it’s frightening in a mysterious way, and it’s hard to describe that fear. I think it’s an excellent approach because it made your imagination creating your own fear.

    First of all, the director amplifies the fear of cats , specially black cats, that somebody have : They are sneaky, have scary eyes in the dark, and somehow symbolizes deaths in some cultures. I actually had a chill when I first saw Irena’s drawing about a black panther getting stab with a sword. It’s foreshadowing her future as a cat people. I personally sympathize with Irena’s life. It’s just as a lot of people in the modern time who are so different than others. Instead of understanding what they go through, people in society tend to think they are weird and crazy. Irena goes through the same. Nobody believes her, and they think she needs medical help. At the end, she all ends up alone and dead. I most certainly don’t think she is a villain at all. The villain is the husband who can easily betray his wife. The villain is the girl who tries to take away an innocent girl’s marriage, and the villain is the doctor who tries to take advantage of a vulnerable girl.

    This movie is great. It’s supposed to be categorized as a supernatural horror genre film, but I would argue that this is more as psychological horror. Look at how complex of Irena’s personality is, will you be sorry for her? The every powerful scene where she dies after opening the black panther’s cage is such poetic. I’d assume she finally let herself free after a long painful life she had been living.

    Again, I don’t think none of modern film can create such a film as this now. They rely on technology too much so they forgot that the soul of the film is not there anymore.

  • Jibril Brown

    I Also feel like Cat people is a tragic movie even more so than a horror because there are less frightening parts in the movie and more saddening parts like the museum scene you described. Other examples would be when Irena saw Oliver and Alice at dinner together, when Oliver envolved Alice in his and Irena’s private life together, and how Oliver didn’t believe Irena or take her as serious as he should have. With so much harm done to the protagonist of the movie it is vary easy to sympathize with her to a point where you root for her even though she’s also the monster of the movie. And even being the monster of the movie it seems like she Attentionally avoids getting her deserved revenge on Alice, Who stole her husband, and Oliver, Who neglected her and left her for another woman, and instead trys to save her relationship by only trying to scare Alice away and get mental help. Irena had plenty of opportunities to be a ruthless killer however after being heartbroken she didn’t choose to do that but instead gave herself to the Doctor, Who was also taking advantage of her, as a form of suicide. It seemed to me that irena only wanted to live a happy life with her husband but after struggling to fight the curse and being betrayed so much she didn’t look towards vengeance but death as her escape. If this movie were to be remade I feel that it would be much more horrifying if Irene was more vengeful, if there were more victims of death, and if the horrifying cat monster was made using today’s special effects and costume design and impicated as a visible part of the movie

  • James Zuniga III

    Cat People does a great job of keeping the viewer interested and thinking throughout the film. The parallels between Irena and the panther and the incredible use of darkness from Lewton and Tourneur are just a few notable factors to attribute to the eeriness of the horror. It is interesting how the film was made for the audience to build a connection and a sense of sorrow for the “other” character (Irena). Typically in a horror film, the the audience is following the group being terrorized and connecting with them. The decision to not show Irena become the cat is great because it leaves a lot to the imagination which in some cases can be more frightening than anything that could be visually seen.

  • Denise Olivares

    It is easy to mistake shock as horror. Most of what mainstream horror films boast is shocking, make-you-jump-in-your-seat scares with little substance. What I thoroughly enjoyed about Cat People (1942) was all that was unseen. As you state, “Lewton knew that the horror you can imagine is more frightening than anything you can be shown.”, the real fear was palpable in the moments that were left to our imaginations. The inspiration drawn from German Expressionism used in the suspenseful scenes crafted a sense of fearful anticipation. Low-key lighting and focused brightness in combination with eerily sinister shadows let the audience know something dreadful was coming. In my favorite scene of the film, Irena follows Alice home as she parts ways with Oliver. Irena follows her down a long, lonely sidewalk. The darkness of the night, intensified by the stark shadows and focused points of light and sound filled both the viewer and Alice with full-fledged fear. We see Alice walking down this sidewalk that seems impossibly long; the only sounds we hear are the clicking of her heels against the pavement and just as we feel like she is surely caught – rather than see a terrifying cat, we hear the roar masked by an approaching bus. Talk about the original fake-out! This scene shows the genius and purity of what a successful horror film can accomplish.

  • Dillon C.

    Cat People displayed the epitome of a classic horror, a slow and suspenseful plot leading up to the climatic ending, while also being an atypical horror. Cat People was more of a psychological horror film, nothing was implied as a fact but was left up to the viewers imaginations.

    Being limited to a black and white film, it is brilliantly produced, the director really played with shadows exquisitely. In scenes like the sidewalk stalking and the panther shadows at the pool, it exhibited highly contrasted black and whites which helped strengthen the mysterious and ominous vibes accumulated throughout the film. Because we’re so accustomed to modern films full of color, I believe that a black and white horror film has a deeper psychological impact on modern viewers.

    Another aspect the film really developed well was Irena’s normalcy role. Throughout the film, Irena showed signs of both humane and a mentally ill villain. Irena knew she had a problem, or so she called a curse, she actually wanted to resolve it. Yet, Irena also showed signs of a villain, when she playfully taunts Alice in the pool as if she has seen a monster and her strange interaction with the parrot which she ends up “mistakenly” kills. It really leaves the viewers pondering and pitying Irena’s character.

  • Demetrius E. Larkins

    This is an amazing screenwriting of both Cat People and of Val Lewton. Despite the low budget and short play time, Cat People was a great movie. Irena’s character was creepy, yet sad. During the film, she did transform into a Cat until her heart was broken. It was as though

    A great touch to the film is how often at night Irena stayed awake singing in a dark room while other large cats from the zoo made these loud sounds. Almost as though they were communicating and the males were giving mating calls. At other times it seemed very strange how Irena spoke slowly and barely smiled. Most of the time she only smirked. Irena could tell that she was being betrayed by Oliver and that Dr. Judd thought she was crazy. All of her suspicions were confirmed when she would snoop around in the shadows and hear every word Alice, Oliver, and Dr. Judd would say. That eventually made Irena more upset.

    During the swimming scene, Alice arrived to use the pool. The woman who gave Alice the key told her when she was done to turn off the lights. Moments later Irena arrived as well asking for Alice’s whereabouts. As Alice was leaving the pool area her hair was completely dry as she turned off the lights. It was unclear that she actually got into the pool. Moments later the cat would get affairs then Alice sees the show of what appairs to be a larger cat. Closely observing when Alice started screaming, not every scream came from her lips. Almost as though Irena was mocking her with her own screams to freak Alice out more.

    Just before the fight with Dr. Judd, It was suspected that Irena would win, despite Dr. Judd having the long blade. Cats have great reflexes and Big cats are extremely fast. Alice was stabbed with the large blade that Dr. Judd carried with him inside his cane. It was as though Irena entered the fight weakened by heartbreak, because Oliver who she loved wanted Alice instead. With her final motions, Irena would stumble to the zoo to release a large black cat, just before it was hit by a car. It is unclear if Irena would have been able to use the Big cat she released to transfer her spirit into, since cats have 9 lives. This we will never know. A fantastic film.

  • Chantiyanna Thigpen

    I was very nervous to watch Cat People but, the movie was not as horrifying as I thought it would be. The Cat People was definitely a thriller it did not capture enough grim for it to be a horror film. Irena one of the main characters believes she is a cat person. Irena marries a man named Oliver and tries to explain to him that she is a cat person. The description and mystery of her transfernation surrounds the plot of the movie. This aspect of the movie is very suspenseful leading up to climax. For the time period The Cat People had some supernatural aspects. Even though we did not see any vivid transform of Irena becoming a cat we know she did. Once Alice the coworker began have an affair with Oliver Irena started her transformation in to a Leopard. When the therapist Dr. Jud kissed her that was another time she transformed and it was this moment she had embracedone being a Cat Person. This was a very controversial movie it definitely played on your emotions. One moment you would feel disgust for Oliver because he is a cheater. Then another sad for IRena because she is experiencing all of this and being attacked. Then you have the pervert Dr.Judge who is abusing his authority. All in the midst of feelingredients thrill throughout the movie.

  • Francisco Martinez

    Cat People is a film that trickles down the supernatural, physical, and psychological fountain of sub genres in the world of horror. Irena’s “curse” accounts for the supernatural aspect of the film but it is also the premise and the backbone that drives the plot. Oliver met Irena at a park where they had panthers locked in cages. Irena was drawing a panther when Oliver approached her and began a conversation. As they leave to get to know each other more, the audience sees what appears to be a drawing of a panther being stabbed by a sword. This image is then seen at Irena’s apartment where she has a small statue of King John of Serbia stabbing a cat with his sword. The motif ends near the end of the film when Irena lunges toward her psychiatrist, Dr. Judd, after he kissed her. He had a hidden sword within his cane that he used to stab Irena in what appeared to be her cat form. These symbols add to the superstitious element of the film while keeping the audience wondering if Irena does actually become a giant cat.
    Perhaps that’s what brings an aesthetic flavor to the film. The viewer never sees Irena become the giant cat. Whenever Alice, Oliver’s co-worker, felt like she was being watched or followed, one could hear growls and other noises amidst the dark shadows. One of the pivotal scenes is when Alice comes out of the pool when she hears something coming down the stairs. She jumps back into the pool and looks around but all she sees is the darkness alone with the sounds of a giant beast. She screams for help and when the lights get turned on, the viewer sees Irena in human form taunting Alice and then departing in search of her husband. Alice then realizes that her robe was torn to shreds by some kind of animal. This accounts the physical aspect of the film adding to the concept of Irena becoming a giant cat. Certainly, the use of physical noises and the lack of “the monster” on screen creates intensity and suspense.
    Although the first two subgenres are obvious, one of the questions that enhances the film’s aesthetic is whether Irena does become a giant cat or not. The viewer never sees her become the beast. There are two hints that suggest she does when she attacks her psychiatrist and when she allegedly appears at Oliver’s job as a panther. There is a possibility that Irena as well as the other characters are hallucinating through their fear. It could be that the viewer is presented with scenes such as the attack against Dr. Judd as being all in the mind of Irena. The shadows show a cat attacking the psychiatrist but it could have been the way Irena saw herself. Perhaps Alice was becoming paranoid with all the scary things Oliver told her about Irena. These possibilities account for the psychological essence of the film.
    These sub genres seem to appear to the viewer in this order offering an inconclusive but intriguing story that exemplifies the horrors of human nature.

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