Thursday, October 11, 2018

THE CURSE OF THE CAT PEOPLE (1944) Blu-ray review

The Curse of the Cat People (1944) d. Gunther Von Fritsch / Robert Wise (USA) (70 min)

Despite identical cast and characters from Cat People, this peculiar sequel (featuring neither cats nor curses) is more childhood fable than atmospheric chiller, which may confound fans of the original. Producer Val Lewton and co-directors Von Fritsch and Wise concern themselves this time not with the sexuality of shapeshifting cat women, but with the loneliness of a young girl.

The story picks up five years after the events of the 1942 film, with returnees Kent Smith and Jane Randolph’s characters of Ollie and Alice Reed, now happily married, though Ollie’s former marriage to Irena (Simone Simon) still casts the occasional shadow. Their daughter Amy (Ann Carter) is a dreamy child unable to fit in with her peers, finding solace in a world of imagination, much to the chagrin of her father. The companionless child’s desperate search for “a friend” leads to a peculiar relationship with an aging stage actress Julia Farren (Julia Dean), whose gift of a ring conjures the image of Irena to Amy.

Dewitt Bodeen’s multi-layered storyline is engaging and the sentimental journey charming, though Lewton’s hijacked title may leave some viewers feeling hoodwinked. (The film did not do well with either audiences or critics of the time, but has grown in estimation over the years.) That said, Carter gives a wonderful central performance, with the relationship between Dean and estranged adult daughter Elizabeth Russell a fascinating one to observe, while Lewton regular Sir Lancelot shines as the kindly house servant Edward. A terrific offering, often neglected when “Christmas Horror” lists are circulated, and well worth tracking down and snuggling up with.

Shout! Factory’s high definition presentation offers Gregory Mank’s archival commentary track (which features audio excerpts with Simone Simon), as well as a stellar new track with author/historian Steve Haberman. Both of these are fantastic supplements, equaled by Constantine Nasr’s 30 min featurette, “Lewton’s Muse: The Dark Eyes of Simone Simon” examines the actress’ life and career from her screen debut in Durand contre Durand (1931), her tempestuous relationship with Hollywood and its studios (and studio heads), the tabloids that whipped up flashy stories of her myriad romantic relationships while digging at her heavy French accent, and her star-making roles in Jean Renoir’s Le Bete Humaine (opposite Jean Gabin), The Devil and Daniel Webster, and, of course, Cat People and its sequel. It’s a lovely tribute to a mysterious and fascinating personality and talent who has slipped into near-obscurity, remembered only by classic horror fans (such as Nasr, who lovingly narrates the documentary short).

There’s also a 20-min audio interview conducted in 2007 by Tom Weaver with Curse of the Cat People’s real star, Ann Carter, who shares her memories of being a young actress, and specifically with the film. The package is capped by theatrical trailers and a stills gallery.

The Curse of the Cat People is available now on Blu-ray from Shout! Factory and can be ordered HERE:


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