Curse of the Cat People, The (1944)
Release Date: March 2nd, 1944 MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Director: Gunther V. Fritsch, Robert Wise Actors: Simone Simon, Kent Smith, Jane Randolph, Ann Carter, Eve March, Julia Dean, Elizabeth Russell
he number of cast members has increased; somehow, Simone Simon is back, along with most of the original cast; and the screenplay is again penned by DeWitt Bodeen. But this time, the film is co-directed by Robert Wise (who would go on to direct “West Side Story,” “The Sound of Music,” and “The Sand Pebbles”). It doesn’t help. “The Curse of the Cat People” is slower, less exciting, and barely a horror film. Although it’s admired for the unique viewpoint of the youthful main character, it’s not much of a continuation for the moderately impressive original from 1942.
The Reed family has moved to Sleepy Hollow, employed a Jamaican servant, and no longer work for a ship construction company. Alice (Jane Randolph) and Oliver’s (Kent Smith) bewildered child Amy (Ann Carter) doesn’t have any friends – a birthday party with no guests introduces her immediate weirdness. She daydreams nonstop, perpetually confused about wishes, fantasies, and reality. When the other children won’t play with her, and her father insists she lead a normal childhood, Amy begins visiting a creepy, rumored haunted house, accommodating a crazy old Broadway lady (Julia Dean), who believes her daughter Barbara (played by Elizabeth Russell) is dead – even though she currently takes care of her. Amy is also visited by the ghost of Irena (Simone Simon, getting top billing despite first appearing over 30 minutes into the film). Oliver insists it’s an infantile fancy, but his previous marriage to the murderous Irena still torments him. His present wife Alice (Jane Randolph) insists that Amy is dreaming up companions out of loneliness and wishes for her husband to be there for the distraught child.
Only a little over a year after “Cat People,” this sequel, which follows everything set up by the original, abandons all that was effective. It’s based around a child, showing a different perspective that should have been scarier as audiences witness everything through the little girl’s eyes. But this diverting isn’t nearly as interesting, while the ghost of Irena fails to be ominous in any way. “The Curse of the Cat People” isn’t a horror film centered on the titular monstrosities, but rather a ghost story about the curse – oddly mixed loosely with the legend of Sleepy Hollow. In fact, there aren’t even any cat people in the film.
The 2nd installment in the “Cat People” franchise (followed by a vastly updated, provocative remake in 1982) continues with the same actors and a familiar premise, yet provides a different style of thrills due to the addition of even further supernatural elements, a curious kid with otherworldly visions, and a mysterious old woman who fancies eerie stories. Sadly, these are offset with a slower pace, less menacing atmosphere, and virtually no villain. It’s disappointingly inferior though largely expected.
– Mike Massie