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Haunted Sideshow

Dustin Putman

The Curse of the Cat People  (1944)

Reviewed for by Dustin Putman

The Film
3 Stars
(Release Date: June 26, 2018) – At a time when big-screen sequels were rare, "The Curse of the Cat People" arrived in theaters two years after the success of 1942's moody, mystical romantic thriller "Cat People." By all accounts, it was not quite what studio RKO had in mind for a follow-up. Despite the return of its predecessor's three lead characters (and actors Simone Simon, Kent Smith and Jane Randolph, respectively), screenwriter DeWitt Bodeen all but completely excised the horror elements as well as the shapeshifting cat-people legend of the first film. In its place is something altogether different yet arguably just as successful. A gently foreboding, rather magical ghost story, "The Curse of the Cat People" focuses on Amy Reed (Ann Carter), the sensitive young daughter of Oliver (Kent Smith) and Alice (Jane Randolph), as she struggles to find her place in a world hesitant to accept her. Amy is badly in need of a friend, and she finds an unlikely one in the form of Oliver's dead ex-wife Irena (Simone Simon).

Nicely directed by Gunther V. Fritsch and Robert Wise (the latter would go on to be a prolific filmmaker who helmed 1961's "West Side Story," 1963's "The Haunting," and 1965's "The Sound of Music") and lovingly lensed by cinematographer Nicholas Musuraca, "The Curse of the Cat People" is said to have been a personal, semi-autobiographical project for producer Val Lewton. At least one detail from his childhood—attempting to mail invitations via the hollow of a tree—is used as a key early plot point when Amy does this very thing and no one shows up to her birthday party. Additionally, setting the film in the illustrious burg of Tarrytown, New York, provides sumptuous atmosphere and an opportunity to touch upon a famed story located there, Washington Irving's "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow." Most essential is the indelible treatment of young Amy herself, confidently played by Ann Carter. "The Curse of the Cat People" is unexpectedly perceptive in its sympathetic observance of the pangs of childhood and the wondrous possibilities of imagination.

Blu-ray Picture/Sound

"The Curse of the Cat People" makes its Blu-ray debut with an absolutely gorgeous 1080p transfer. With the exception of a few minor age-related speckles and scratches on the print, the film looks like it could have been shot last year rather than over seventy years ago. The black-and-white photography features a spectrum of tones, a vivid grayscale, and pleasing blacks. Resolution and clarity are impressive, while a fine, even layer of grain does nothing but contribute to newfound details in faces and textures. On the audio front, the Mono 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio track first and foremost is a showcase for composer Roy Webb's handsome music score. Action-oriented sonic activity is rarely called upon and doesn't need to be, while dialogue is effectively situated within the mix. Viewers should be thrilled by the A/V presentation on this disc.

Blu-ray Features
  • Audio Commentary with Author/Film Historian Steve Haberman
  • Audio Commentary with Historian Greg Mank and Actress Simone Simon
  • "Lewton's Muse: The Dark Eyes of Simone Simon" Featurette (31:19, HD)
  • Audio Interview with Ann Carter (19:06, HD)
  • Theatrical Trailers (2:44, SD)
  • Still Gallery (4:30, HD)
Bottom Line
"The Curse of the Cat People" is a misleading title of a wonderful, unassuming supernatural drama. Those expecting a direct continuation of "Cat People" are clawing up the wrong tree; while a trio of characters and actors are carried over, this is by and large a different kind of story told in a bewitchingly tender chord. Much like Amy's ghostly friend Irena, the film casts a bewitching spell on the viewer. Scream Factory's Blu-ray release is top-notch, loaded with quality special features and excellent picture and sound. Highly recommended.

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© 2018 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman

[Blu-ray Review] Cursed Films (2020)

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