Monday, 18 October 2010

Cat People (1942)

"Kiss me and I'll claw you to death!"
Fashion illustrator Irena Dubrovna from Serbia living in New York is forced to confront her native hereditary fears when she falls in love with New Yorker Oliver Reed. She believes she suffers from an ancient curse where whenever she is emotionally aroused she would turn into a panther and kill. Her fears of the curse put strain on her marriage so Oliver sends her to psychiatrist Dr. Judd to cure her out of concern of these ridiculous and childish fears.  However her irrational fears reveal to be a reality.

Director Jacques Tourneur knows how to bring an eerie mood to a scene though a cleaver use of lighting techniques echoing from the film Noir genre. The majority of the film seems quite dimly lit with cleverly devised dramatic shadows that build upon moods of mystery and climatic suspense building.
A scene that reflects these qualities the best is the pool scene where Irena terrifies Oliver’s co-worker Alice Moore. The psychedelic reflection of the water moving on the walls is very powerful as it reflects Alice’s confusion to the ominous echoing growls. A dark shadow is also seen circling the walls like an animal circling its prey, but not actually seeing the creature leaving the audience in suspense to what is to happen Also it was picked up upon that though out the film Tourneur projects subtle vertical shadows around Irena giving the impression she is trapped in this curse like a wild animal.  

“More often than not, it's much better to show nothing than anything at all. Hitchcock knew this, and that's how he essentially became known as The Master of Suspense. Had he shown Norman's "mother" from "Psycho" killing the girl in the shower in greater detail, the horror of the scene would have been more greatly ineffective as compared to just how haunting it is today.” - John Ulmer
Hitchcock like Tourner does not let the audience see the panther transformation or its attacks but they see enough to understand the exact happenings through shadows and brief flashes of images in fast paced editing building the scene through suggestion.

The most famous scenes in the film are the stalking scenes. The most recalled being the sequence of Alice being followed down the street becoming very anxious as tension builds then a bus suddenly pulls in to the screen. The purpose of this sequence is to catch the audience off guard and to keep them suspecting the unexpected. The techniques of this scene are now commonly used in films modern film to give them the “jump factor” – the same use of the bus has been seen in Final Destination 2.

Cat People  is
 “one of the first to make an explicit link between horror and female sexuality, something that has since become a staple of modern-day horror films.” Links can be made between Irena turning into a panther and protection of her sexual innocence against men. She comes across as being seductively innocent and mysterious with kittenish characteristics when she first appears. Later on in the film her mysteriousness is twisted into insanity because of strong beliefs of the curse. Comparing her to Alice, a strong business woman, soon makes her less desirable to Oliver. Oliver leaving Irena for Alice subjects her into a jealous rage, yet appearing helpless as she watches her lover give up on their marriage as she constantly pleads the truth. In the end the couple realise to late as they stand over her body.
“Oliver kneels down to inspect it and speaks the film's final words to Alice:
“She never lied to us.”

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