Note: This is a series of 31 iconic horror film reviews I plan on doing throughout October. See the introduction post for more information and the list of films.
I picked “Cat People” for this horror history series primarily because there aren’t a lot of great choices from the ’40s and I wanted to represent every decade. It also didn’t hurt that it has very good reviews (it currently has a 92% on Rotten Tomatoes). Unfortunately, after watching the film I regret picking it for one of the 31 slots. “Cat People” isn’t even close to being scary and I have no idea why it’s considered a horror film (it’s more of a romantic drama with a bizarre story). It’s basically just a non-funny B-movie that in my opinion, is one of the well-reviewed horror “classics” that you can skip.
“Cat People” stars Simone Simon as Irena Dubrovna, a young Serbian woman who comes from a town where many of the Christian residents turned to witchcraft and devil worship after being enslaved. She believes that her ancestors could transform into cat people and it quickly becomes clear that she believes she has inherited their power. She has become a bit of a loner in fear that she will transform into a panther if sexually aroused and kill her lover.
However, Irena meets a man named Oliver Reed (Kent Smith) and they quickly wed even though she is still scared about the evil within her. She avoids having sex with her husband, who is at first understanding of her fears. Eventually, Irena becomes more and more distant with Oliver due to her continued fear. Meanwhile, he starts to grow closer to his assistant Alice (Jane Randolph) and Irena becomes more jealous of her, leading to her true nature being unleashed.
First of all, a film about a person who can turn into a panther is quite ridiculous, especially for a movie seemingly trying to be serious. If the concept was used for a cheesy-on-purpose B-movie, fine; but it doesn’t work as a serious film. In addition, there are absolutely no scary moments whatsoever. For some reason the film has made a lot of “best horror films” and “scariest moments” lists but I have no idea why. Most of the film is just a romantic drama and the “monster” makes only a few appearances, none of which are scary.
The film believes that using shadows and implying the “monster’s” presence can be scarier than actually showing the monster. For some movies, that definitely can be true as long as the method is used sparingly. However, “Cat People” uses this way too much instead of just showing the monster. Overusing this method helps make the film the least scary of the six I’ve done so far (and considering none of those were scary either, that’s saying something). Also, while those films made up for their lack of fear with good acting, stories, scenery, or cheesy scenes that made me laugh, “Cat People” doesn’t really have any of those elements.
About the only positive I can come up with is that it stars the adorable Simone Simon. While she isn’t a particularly great actress in this film (not bad but not great either), her character is impossibly cute and quite sympathetic. This isn’t a great match for a woman who can turn into a panther when sexually aroused, however. Her character has some problems, mainly because she is so likable yet inevitably becomes the “villain.” The rest of the acting performances are so-so with no real standouts or terrible performances.
“Cat People” is a weird film. For some reason, reviews of the film when it was in theaters were mixed (a much better assessment of the film in my opinion). However, more recent reviews consider it a “landmark” horror film and it even made it into the Library of Congress National Film Registry. I agree more with horror film director John Carpenter, who thinks the film is overrated. I couldn’t find anything historically important or memorable about the film and I regret even putting it on this list. You can watch it for yourself but I personally think it’s a horror “classic” that should be skipped.