Researching Cat People (1942) for a cartoon I was going to do I ended up reading the movie’s plot summary on Wikipedia. What a genius plot! (Spoiler alert) It’s a love triangle with a supernatural twist, as Irena, the mysterious Serbian woman newly arrived in New York, lives under a curse which turns her into a savage beast ‘when roused to passion’. She stalks her husband’s lover, Alice, and in a famous scene, terrorizes her when she’s in the basement swimming pool of her apartment building. Ultimately Irena kills the psychiatrist who comes onto her, then kills herself by walking into the panther cage at the New York zoo. The story’s got just about everything and what it says about female sexuality is pretty out there for 1942. This is the true power of the horror story – what it can smuggle in under the cover of darkness.
Wikipedia says the movie was based on a Val Lewton short story called The Bagheeta but it seems that the movie’s plot is actually very different to the story. It looks like the credit lies with the script writer – Homer DeWitt Bodeen. I don’t really understand why the Cat People idea hasn’t become a perennial franchise for Hollywood in the way that Dracula has – producers looking for strong leading ladies should look no further.
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