Val Lewton finally got his due in 2005 with the release of a DVD boxset containing the nine horror films he produced at RKO during the mid-1940s. Lewton was given an amazing amount of freedom at the studio. RKO gave him a relatively low budget, a deadline and a title that marketing thought would get attention on the marquee. Val would deliver a movie around 70 minutes that reflected the prepicked title. Anyone who ever wanted to produce films would see this as a dream gig. Val used it as an excuse to produce subtle nightmares. Val couldn’t make a complete frightmare since he had to get the film pass the MPAA review board. The lower budget affected the low budget. And so instead of covering the screen in special effects, Val and his directors resorted to the subtle ways to shock an audience and make them fear what they couldn’t quite see. The first film under the RKO deal was the iconic Cat People. It’s tale of a woman who thinks she is from a race of people who turn into cats when aroused. Lewton knew that a sequel needed to be part of his deal and so two years later, The Curse of the Cat People sprang onto screens with a reunited cast.
Oliver Reed (Kent Smith) has moved on with his life after his separation from Irene (Simone Simon). He’s married Alice Moore (Jane Randolph), had a daughter (Ann Carter) and moved upstate to Tarrytown, near Sleepy Hollow, the home of the Headless Horseman. And his life gets affected by the undead. The daughter is a quiet kid who moves in her own world. Even at school she doesn’t enjoy playing with the other kids. She prefers to daydream. Oliver and Alice have done their best to keep silent when it comes to the tale of Irene. But one day the child sees a picture of Irene and she mysteriously appears. The two become fast friends which makes us wonder if this is a daydream or has Irene come to haunt the child of her old lover and rival. To add to the confusion of reality, the daughter also befriends an elderly neighbor, Mrs. Julia Farren (Julia Dean). The old woman can’t recognize her own daughter which creates a greater riff. Who is really real in this town already known for ghosts?
Lewton made The Curse of the Cat People so that it wasn’t just another tale of a people that turn into black panthers. There’s no real cat moments here besides a few minor moments. Lewton was able to reunite the cast in a tale that dealt with family fears. Who with a child hasn’t been a bit curious about those imaginary friends that lurk just outside of your view. Who wouldn’t fear your child’s imaginary friend being your ex-lover? The film is noted for allowing editor Robert Wise to finally have a screen credit as a director. Halfway through the production when director Gunther von Fritsch had fallen behind schedule, Wise left the editing room to call the shots and speed up the process. Wise would go on to direct Oscar winning films such as Sound of Music and West Side Story. Also among the cast is the legendary Sir Lancelot as the butler. He introduced calypso beat to America in Lewton’s I Walked With a Zombie.
The film might disappoint viewers who are expecting to see a family transform into fatal felines. But for those not expecting fur flying, The Curse of the Cat People is a sly horror film about the nightmare of an old love creeping into your new family.
The video is 1.33.1 full frame. The black and white transfer brings out the beauty of the shots including the snowy scenes at the end. The audio is DTS-HD Master Audio Mono. You can appreciate how these film knew how to heighten the tension with sounds. The movie is subtitled.
Audio Commentaries include two different tracks. Author/Historian Steve Haberman discusses a lot of what went into the production and Val Lewton’s work. The second track has historian Greg Mank that includes his interview with actress Simone Simon. She passed away in 2005.
Lewton’s Muse: The Dark Eyes Of Simone Simon (31:19) is a video essay By Filmmaker Constantine Nasr (Shadows In The Dark: The Val Lewton Legacy). He digs deep into how the studios manufactured an image of her being a difficult actress which ultimately harmed her career. There’s a lot of great photos of Simone over her career.
Audio Interview With Ann Carter (19:06) is moderated By Tom Weaver. She talks of identifying with the daughter character because she was an only child and enjoyed daydreaming.
Theatrical Trailers includes both The Cat People (1:06) and Curse of the Cat People (1:38).
Still Gallery (4:30) includes posters and publicity photos. “The Black Menace Creeps Again!” was the slogan.
Scream Factory presents The Curse of the Cat People. Directed by Robert Wise & Gunther von Fritsch. Screenplay by: DeWitt Bodeen. Starring: Simone Simon, Kent Smith, Jane Randolph, Ann Carter and Sir Lancelot. Rated: PG. Running Time: 69 minutes. Released: June 26, 2018.
Tags: Cat People, Curse of the Cat People, Scream Factory, Val Lewton