Catching Up: “Cat People (1942)”

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Some horror films can only be appreciated, if that. When it comes to considerably older films, really of any sort, it’s either hit or miss. What once worked long ago, may no longer be as effective, if at all. Of course, the question of weather or not it was effective originally may come into play, too. It could very well come down to the person who’s watching the film.

The RKO Pictures film “Cat People” is, because of time, just not what I was expecting. If anyone watches it today, I’m sure it won’t be what they hoped for either. The only way this might not be true is if you go in to this classic with educational purposes in mind. While I wasn’t sure what to expect from this film, good or bad, I was certain that at least I could learn something from it. That’s better than nothing. However, now having said that, I’m wondering if I even truly got that out of this viewing. Perhaps, like with other older horror films, I’ll just have to watch it a few more times and see if there’s something I missed the first time.

Lessons Learned?

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If there are any lesson’s to be learned from this film, it’s that slow building suspense and the lack of anything can be far scarier than continuous scares and violence. It’s because of this that I found two scenes to be the most enjoyable, which is better than nothing, but sadly can’t fully outweigh all the boredom that I had to get through before these moments. What makes it all worse, is that the first scene didn’t even occur until about 44 minutes into a 73 minute film.

The first scene involves Jane Randolph’s Alice is being stalked. We suspect, as does she, that it’s Simone Simon’s Irena, but we’re not too sure. Helping with this is the nighttime setting, lack of score playing, and general uncertainty. The film worked hard to make you doubt weather or not Simon was just crazy or was really this ancient creature. In the end, after some well executed fear and silence, you get the reward. I was impressed as I actually managed to jump a bit, which by that point I really didn’t think possible. I must admit I was foolish in thinking that with that sequence occurring, this film was really ready to take off and make it worth it. Sadly, it didn’t. What can you do?

And of course, the next scene, which occurs a short time later, is when Randolph is going for a swim. At some point she becomes convinced there’s something stalking her and she jumps into the swimming pool. It’s a fascinating scene for two reasons, one of which shows why I jumped at the opportunity to see this film when it aired on Turner Classic Movies (TCM). The first reason is the simple fact that I finally got to see the sequence in its entirety. It now makes sense. When I first saw it, it was in a documentary called “Nightmares in Red, White and Blue” (which is a pretty brilliant and informative film for any horror fan), but that was the beginning and end. I’d never really sought the film out nor was it just easily available. The second reason is it shows control. The control and overall effect of suspense building isn’t as strong as the previous scene, but it’s good enough. It demonstrates so much. It was done in the dark, and shadows played the part. In the end, I relearned what I already knew. A little goes a long way. I also learned, which upon thinking about it as I type this sentence, psychological manipulation was a part of this film. I’m not too sure how much, but it’s there and has me hopeful for the next time I see this film. Hopefully I don’t have to wait too long for that viewing.

Cat Nap

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No one ever said that taking a nap wasn’t a possibility when watching an older horror film. However, even if someone had, they’d probably hope that wouldn’t be what you end up doing. Otherwise, what’s the point of watching the film at all?

This is where I had the biggest problem with this film. While I didn’t fully fall asleep, or even come a little close to it, I certainly was bored. Bored beyond belief, which again, with a 73 minute film, surprised me. There was enough there that should’ve held my interest, but it didn’t. Not like I was hoping. Eventually, because I wasn’t fully invested, I didn’t even really have any idea as to what was going on. Even some of the themes being explored, which even though not directly stated because of the restrictions of the time, they were clear, but I couldn’t tell. I wasn’t focused. That’s pretty sad when you think of how little this film demanded from me.

Yes, there was an overall mystery, which slowly built up, showcased some really strange things happening and provided some psychological elements too, which I also largely missed, but it still wasn’t enough. I just didn’t care. The events just happened and I went along and accepted them. No thought. Nothing. I should say too, that while the previously mentioned suspense scenes are fine individually, that’s really where I notice the suspense at all. I think I could tell where it was attempted, but because there was no way for me to really respond, it didn’t quite register as suspense. In some ways, thanks to this writing, I’m not even certain if I did in fact notice it or if this is just reflection. Whatever it is, it’s still sad. I can live with not responding to a scary moment or a suspenseful and fear driven moment, but I can’t when I don’t even feel I noticed it. How can I even pretend to appreciate what was done if I’m not aware that something that should be appreciated even occurred?

While this film ended up being a supreme disappointment, I’m glad I sat through it. It’s another film I’ve checked off my list of films to see. It also prepares me for the inevitable second viewing, whenever that will be. Perhaps then I’ll be in a better mindset to see what’s been done and going on before me. Perhaps I can just get in a better mindset to feel what I’m supposed to feel. If not, this could just be another film I can stand watching, but one that never convinces me it’s worth owning. I’ll just develop a different kind of love/hate relationship with it. It wouldn’t be the first time.

Originally Released: Dec. 25, 1942

Director: Jacques Tourneur

Writer: DeWitt Bodeen

Starring: Simone Simon, Kent Smith, Tom Conway, Jane Randolph and Jack Holt

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