1001 Films: Cat People (1942)

“A cat just walked over my grave.”

The problem with horror is that it isn’t scary, at least to a fully grown cycnical adult who refuses to jump through the hoops of unbelievability that’s needed in order for it to be. However, the one time in the genre where it actually turns out to be scary is when it skips past the silly “jump scares” and moves into a much more mature setting where it decides instead to just merely unsettle us. Cat People is a film that attempts to unsettle its audience with the idea of a group of powerful witches that have the ability to change into cats.

One day Oliver Reed (Kent Smith) lays his eyes upon the most interesting Serbian artist in the park, Irena (Simone Simon), and eventually he marries her. However, the marriage is troubled by her insecurity and deep seated fear that any form on intimacy will make her succumb to some cultural and historic primitive aspects of herself that will make her turn into a cat (more specifically a panther) and destroy this man she loves so much. This strain forces Oliver away and brews jealousy into Irena’s heart which makes these primitive elements out of her, and more cat like attacks begin.

The film is ridiculous. I’ve done my best to describe it in the tone that the film hopes to deliver but doesn’t quite nail down perfectly. The silly idea of a woman turning into a cat added to the fact that it’s representation (and execution) of how and when these occurrences happen feel to be done at the fancy of the writers rather than any form of thematic point makes the film’s ‘scare’ tactic fail completely.

Like Dracula (another film in my horror marathon) I felt too often like the film attempting to tell me how I should feel rather than rather than properly emitting the situation I needed to invest in to become truly unsettled. Nothing is more evident than the scene of Alice (Jane Randolph), the woman from Oliver’s office that he eventually wants to leave Irena for, being terrorized by Irena. The scene is simple and Alice does all the fright for her character as well as the audience making the audience’s reaction unnecessary, and even the way in which she reacts remains unbelievable.

One of the few ideas I feel the film tackles relatively well, mainly because it’s only done within the span of half a scene, is the difference between the mind and the soul. While all of this crazed talk of Irena becoming a panther continues Oliver forces her to see a psychiatrist – hoping this will help heal her. The doctor, Dr. Louis Judd (Tom Conway), in a meeting with Irena discusses her fears and how illogical they are only to ask why she doesn’t want to meet anymore. As plainly as ever discussed Irena explains that the Dr’s assistance and expertise lies only with defects and trouble of the mind, her problems lie with her soul and therefore cannot be dealt with by his hands. Which is a moment that I feel the film, and a lot of philosophy majors, had a resounding fist pump to the Freud’s, which was fun. Otherwise the relationship, and rest of the film, remained preachy and uninteresting.

Rating: 2.5/10

1001 Films: I Walked With a Zombie (1943)

I don’t want to go so far as to say that films in the 30s and 40s came from a much more forward and simpler time, but they did. It shows a lot in the narrative as characters can seem very one note at times but even more than that the message involved can feel very obvious.

When looking at the monster features and their deeper meaning we can see that each monster represents a different part of the human psyche that we all feel or fear. Zombies represent those of us who’re distanced from the world and become numb to outside stimulus. After hearing the story of how Paul (Tom Conway) treated his newest employee, Betsy (Frances Dee), with a sense of coldness we can only imagine that the correct response, after enough time, would be to not care. So it’s obvious that we would see Paul’s wife, Jessica (Christine Gordon), as a zombie.

However, instead of grounding this in reality we shift the story to the Caribbean, add some voodoo (because that’s all over the Caribbean in the 40s?) and you have a perfect metaphor for all the problems that are with the world.

The problems I have with this movie are inherent with films from the time. It was obviously made in the vein of those low budget features where everything was done as quickly and cheaply as possible, including the addition of Carrefour (Darby Jones), a tall lanky black man who has bug eyes just so that we have a figure to be afraid of rather than worry about the real terror which is the soulless eyes of Jessica. We continue to empathize with Paul Holland and his wife and want so much for Betsy to succeed in curing Jessica instead of looking at the real problem, which is the family dynamic that eventually placed Jessica in this state.

It’s a terribly dated film with a message and plot that continues to ruin films of today.

Rating: 3.5/10