DirectorGunther von Fritsch/Robert Wise
Release Date(s)1944 (June 26, 2018)
Studio(s)RKO Radio Pictures/Warner Bros. (Shout!/Scream Factory)
- Film/Program Grade: B+
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: A-
- Extras Grade: B
Val Lewton was on a roll when RKO came to him and asked him for a sequel to the very successful Cat People from two years before. He had been given much creative freedom with the films that followed such as I Walked With a Zombie, The Leopard Man, and The Ghost Ship, meeting the requirements set forth upon him, but also utilizing unorthodox and multifaceted themes. The same then happened with The Curse of the Cat People in 1944, which wasn’t as financially successful as its predecessor, but still carried Lewton’s own personal touches.
The story picks up not long after the events of the first film. With Irena (Simone Simon) now tragically dead, her husband Oliver (Kent Smith) moves on with his life, marrying a former co-worker named Alice (Jane Randolph) and raising a child named Amy (Ann Carter). Leading a seemingly happy existence, Oliver is haunted by his past, but also distracted by his troubled daughter. A loaner with few friends, including an elderly actress (Julia Dean) who lives down the street with her callous daughter (Elizabeth Russell), Amy begins seeing an imaginary friend in the form of Irena. Distraught by this, her parents become concerned with her seemingly unhealthy obsession, but is this a case of supernatural intervention or is it all in Amy’s mind?
Co-directed by Gunther von Fritsch and Robert Wise (this being Wise’s directorial debut as he took over for Fritsch during the production), the film also contains autobiographical elements of Val Lewton’s childhood, as well as his own daughter. A story about the psychology of a child’s mind and how it reacts when it isn’t given the attention that it needs from parental figures, it’s completely removed from the horror/thriller storyline of the first film. On the other hand, there’s also the supernatural element. Amy doesn’t actually see Irena until she sees a picture of her. Up until then, Irena’s visits are merely a shadow. It means that nothing about Amy is ever set in stone. We never get a definite answer as to whether Irena is real or imagined, leaving it up to the individual viewer to decide for themselves, something that has given the film longer legs than it would have had if RKO had insisted on Lewton giving a more definitive ending to the film.
Unfortunately, RKO wasn’t happy with the final product anyway, even insisting on a few re-shoots to tie the story more to the original film, including the addition of two young boys seeing a black cat in a tree, which goes nowhere and has no impact on the film’s story at all. Despite these minor additions, The Curse of the Cat People is considered to be one of the best sequels ever made. It completely subverts expectations by going in a totally different direction which, depending on your viewpoint, can be a good thing or a bad thing. It’s not really a horror film so much as it is a psychological family drama, which is ultimately far more interesting than simply delving into learning more about and trying to make more sense out of Cat People.
According to the inner artwork of Scream Factory’s new Blu-ray release of the film, the transfer for it is sourced from a “high definition master created from a nitrate fine grain [print] from the Museum of Modern Art in New York.” This isn’t a new transfer, but it didn’t need to be one anyway. It’s a lovely presentation of the film. Grain is handled well, revealing an abundance of fine detail. Black levels are deep with excellent delineation while grays and whites are both solid with appropriately-adjusted brightness and contrast. It’s also quite stable with only the mildest of wobble and free from dirt and debris, with only the mildest of scratches leftover. Flicker is also present but extremely mild. It may be a slightly older presentation, but it’s a potent one nonetheless. The audio is included in English mono 2.0 DTS-HD with optional subtitles in English SDH. Dialogue is well-prioritized while score is bright and effective. Everything is clear and precise with only one very brief dropout and some minor crackle and hiss.
In addition, there’s a wonderful extras package as well. Included is a new audio commentary with author/film historian Steve Haberman; an audio commentary with historian Greg Mank featuring audio interview excerpts from Simone Simon; Lewton’s Muse: The Dark Eyes of Simone Simon, a new 31-minute video essay about the actress by filmmaker Constantine Nasr; a new 19-minute audio interview with actress Ann Carter by Tom Weaver, introduced by Constantine Nasr; theatrical trailers for both Cat People and The Curse of the Cat People; and a still gallery with 52 promotional and on-set photography images. Both commentaries offer up a wealth of information pertaining to nearly everyone directly involved with the film, and Nasr’s video essay is excellent and entertaining as well.
Although Criterion released Cat People on Blu-ray sometime ago, it was up in the air as to when the other Val Lewton films would be released, and by who. Hopefully, this is the beginning of something great between Shout! Factory and Warner Bros., and I hope that they get more of these titles on Blu-ray. Their first is a knockout, and with a great transfer and extras, it’s the kind of treatment that The Curse of Cat People truly deserves. Highly recommended!
- Tim Salmons