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THE CURSE OF THE CAT PEOPLE – The Dungeon Review!

Posted in horror, movies, USA with tags , , , , , , , , , on December 8, 2009 by goregirl

The sequel to yesterday’s film ‘Cat People’ came packaged on the same disc. Although it features the three main characters from the first film, it really is a sequel in title only. Apparently the film became a very personal project for Val Lewton. Much of this film mirrors Lewton’s own life. Apparently more than just a little Lewton lies in the father/daughter characters of Oliver and Amy Reed.

‘Curse of The Cat Woman’ finds Oliver now married to Alice. The two have a six-year-old daughter named Amy. But their prodigy is troubled. She is a loner who is easily lost in her own imagination. The other kids don’t like to play with Amy because she is easily distracted and ruins their games. Alice and Oliver are concerned about their daughter, as any parent would be. But Oliver is deeply worried by Amy’s similarities to his first wife Irena, who’s life came to a tragic end. Amy wants to be a good girl and please her parents but making friends is not easy. She attempts to play with a trio of girls who run away from her. As she chases after them she comes upon an old house where a woman is calling to her and tosses a ring to her from a window. When the family servant suggests it might be a wishing ring, Amy whole-heartedly embraces the idea. She wishes for a friend, and her wish is granted. Unfortunately it is a friend only she can see and it happens to be her father’s dead first wife Irena.

Where ‘Cat People’ was definitely Simone Simon’s film, ‘Curse’ definitely belongs to Ann Carter who plays Amy Reed. In fact, Simon has a relatively small part and doesn’t appear until half way through the film. Ann Carter is excellent as Amy and gives a nice natural performance. The fact that she is adorable doesn’t hurt matters. One of my favorite scenes involves Amy chasing a butterfly during a field trip. A classmate offers to help her catch it and sweeps it into his hat, inadvertently killing it in the process. Amy looks him square in the eye and slaps his face. This incident, in fact is the catalyst that moves the film forward. Parents Alice and Oliver are called in to the school to discuss Amy with her teacher, Miss Callahan.

They bring back an actress who had a very brief, but memorable moment in the original, known only as “cat woman”. In the original film her voice is dubbed over by Simone Simon as she utters only the word “sister” in her mother tongue. In this film she plays Barbara, the daughter of Julia Farren. She speaks with no accent and there is no indication that she is from Irena’s home country of Serbia. Julia refuses to acknowledge that Barbara is her daughter and believes her to be nothing more than the woman who takes care of her. It is Julia who gives the wishing ring to little Amy and the two become friends. This inspires considerable jealousy from the unloved and lonely Barbara. It seems clear that they included the character to illustrate the possibility that Amy could share a similar fate when she is older. I actually had empathy for Barbara. I guess Mr. Lewton did too. In the original ending Barbara’s lonely existence ends on a sour note, with her being carted away to an insane asylum. Val Lewton re-shot this scene after the production was completed and I personally loved his revised ending.

‘Curse of The Cat People’ is not a horror film. It is a psychological study of a lonely child living in a dream world. It is more drama than anything, but certainly the fantasy aspect is strong. The wishing ring and the appearance of the dead Irena could be written off as the hearty imagination of a child. But a subtle supernatural angle exists in other places as well, like the door in the Farren’s home which seems to be conveniently locked to everyone but Barbara. Certainly the films finale that sees lights flickering, could be credited to the storm, but it stops instantly when Barbara no longer feels angry.

I had some issue with the Alice character in this film. Oliver has become a stronger man, but still seemed a bit awkward around the women in his life. Alice, now a full-time mother and housewife takes over as the wishy-washy character. She says nothing about a picture, taken from Irena’s apartment that now hangs in their home. There is dialog early where Oliver states that Amy could be Irena’s daughter, which does not evoke the response I would expect from Alice. At one point in the film, Amy finds a picture of Irena in a drawer. Oliver can’t seem to completely let go of Irena, although it has been at least six years since her death. She doesn’t exactly confront Oliver about the pictures, but diplomatically suggests he not leave them around. I realize back in the day, you obeyed your husband, but that isn’t Alice’s style. In the previous film Alice is a strong, intelligent, independent woman.

The film was marketed with the tagline “The Black Menace Creeps Again!”. Cleary RKO wanted to cash in on the success of the first film. Only the subtlest of nods to its cat origins exists. There is a black cat in a tree observed by some school children, Irena’s oil painting that hangs in the Reed’s home, and a statue of a cat with a bird in its mouth in the Farren’s parlour. Otherwise, the film is pretty much cat-free. This was a very personal film for Val Lewton that reflects his own childhood and his relationship with his own daughter. As a horror film and a sequel to the original, ‘The Curse Of The Cat People’ fails. But as a film unto itself, it is an intriguing study of a lonely child. Recommended.

Dungeon Rating: 3.5/5

Directed By: Gunther von Fritsch, Robert Wise

Starring: Simone Simon, Kent Smith, Jane Randolph, Ann Carter, Eve March, Julia Dean, Elizabeth Russell, Erford Gage, Sir Lancelot