Friday, June 15, 2018

THE CURSE OF THE CAT PEOPLE (1944) (Scream Factory Blu-ray Review)


Label: Scream Factory
Region Code: A
Rating: Unrated
Duration: 70 Minutes
Audio: English DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono with Optional English Subtitles
Video: 1080p HD Full Frame (1.33:1)
Director: Gunther von Fritsch and Robert Wise
Cast: Simone Simon, Kent Smith, Jane Randolph, Ann Carter, Elizabeth Russell, Eve March, Julia Dean, Erford Gage, Sir Lancelot

Few Hollywood producers had such an atmospheric impact on their films as Mr. Val Lewton, the series of films he produced for RKO Pictures all bare his unique visual stamp, shadow-soaked atmospheric chillers with small budgets but Gothic-style to spare, and that can be said of this sequel to Cat People (1942). A haunting supernatural fantasy about a lonely young girl with a vivid imagination who conjures an imaginary friend.
Kent Smith reprises his role from Cat People as Oliver Reed, whom after the death of his doomed first wife Irena (Simone Simon, Cat People) has remarried, tying the knot with his former co-worker Alice Moore (Jane Randolph, Abbot and Costello Meet the Frankenstein, and also returning from Cat People), the couple have a six-year old daughter, Amy (Ann Carter), a daydreamer who has difficulty making friends her own age, which worries her parents. Lacking friendship she conjures up an imaginary friend, later shocking her parents when she recognizes a photo Oliver keeps if Irena tucked away among his personal belongings, the idea that the specter of his late wife might be his daughter's imaginary friend is understandably disturbing, believing that she must have seen a photo of his doomed ex at some point and Incorporated that in her imagination, and the film could very well play both ways. This revelation leads to some corporal punishment by way of a spanking that happens off screen, more disturbing is that her mother and a family friend speak of how important a first spanking can be for a young child! 

Around the same time Anne befriends an elderly woman living in the neighborhood, aging actress Ms. Farren (Julia Dean), a slightly mad old woman who lives in a mansion with her estranged daughter Barbara (Elizabeth Russell, The 7th Victim), but Anne's parents disapprove  of the friendship with the old woman, warning her not go there again, though the family butler Edward (Sir Lancelot, The Ghost Ship) adds to just not go alone, that he will accompany her there. The warning from her parent's turns out to be justified, not so much because the dame is weird, but because the woman's daughter turns out to be murderously jealous of the attention her senile mother lavishes on the girl, all the while failing to acknowledge her own flesh and blood daughter, with Ms. Farren mentioning several times that she believes her real daughter died in adolescence and that this woman, her daughter, is only a caretaker pretending to be her daughter. 

Co-directed by Gunther V. Fritsch and Robert Wise (The Haunting), the film offers plenty of that familiar Val Lewton light and deep shadow visual style with Gothic-laced fantasy and loads of suspense. While advertised as a horror film upon release this is really a kid fantasy film with suspense, a story about a confused girl in need of a friend whose parent's disapprove of her over-active imagination, with the introduction of some keen supernatural element. It's a terrific sequel to the original, one that keeps the themes of what came before but does something unique with it, bringing Irena that cat woman back as an Angelic presence, a sort of guardian angel and companion for the misunderstood young woman, which is strange redemption considering she's the murderess from the first film, but it really works.

The film has a nicely artful and shadowy look about it in addition to some whimsical snow-covered scenes in the woods and in the family garden when Irena appears to young Anne, it adds fantastical elements to the film and looks great. The psychological underpinnings of this one are varied and have been studied for decades by much smarter people than myself, they're definitely there to study if you're looking for them, but the film is also an interesting film on a surface level and makes for a great watch regardless of what you're reading into it.


Audio/Video: The Curse of the Cat People (1942) arrives on single-disc Blu-ray from Scream Factory through their new licensing deal with Warner Bros, presented in full frame 1.33:1 in 1080p HD, sourced from a fine grain master from the Museum of Modern Art in New York. This release is not advertised as a new 2018 scan so I assume it comes from the previously existing master used for the 2005 DVD, but I have no verification about that. The Nicholas Musuraca (The Ghost Ship) black and white cinematography looks wonderful, deep blacks and pleasing shadow detail, the contrast levels are pleasing and we get some nice detail in the close-ups.  Comparing the DVD to the Blu-ray the framing is the same, grain is richer and better managed, contrast is improved and blacks are deeper looking to my eyes, it's a nice HD upgrade without being overwhelmingly significant upgrade. For a comparison of the DVD vs Blu-ray check out the screenshots at the bottom of the review.
Audio on the disc comes by way of an English DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono track  with optional English subtitles, it's clean and free of distortion, it's a bit dated and flat but in good shape, the Roy Webb (I Walked with a Zombie) comes through nicely, too. 

Onto the extras Scream Factory carry-over the audio commentary with film historian Greg Mank, with audio interview excepts with actress Simone Simon, and the trailer from the 2005 Val Lewton collection release, and add a few extras of their own. New stuff begins with a new commentary with author/historian Steve Haberman(Silent Screams: The History of the Silent Horror Film) whose done quite a number of vintage horror commentaries for Scream Factory, he always brings a wealth of knowledge with him on these tracks, this one is no different. 

But wait, there's more! There's a audio interview with Ann Carter, moderated by Tom Weaver from 2007 and was featured in Tim Lucas's Video Watchdog magazine, Carter played young Anne in the film, describing her experiences making the film. We also get the 31-min video essay Lewton’s Muse: The Dark Eyes of Simone Simon –by filmmaker Constantine Nasr (Shadows in the Dark: The Val Lewton Legacy) which details the scandalous life of the French actress, plus  theatrical trailers for both Cat People (1942) and The Curse of the Cat People (1944), and a gallery of posters and ads for the film.   

Special Features:
- NEW Audio Commentary with author/historian Steve Haberman
- Audio Commentary with historian Greg Mank, with audio interview excepts with actress Simone Simon
-  NEW Lewton’s Muse: The Dark Eyes of Simone Simon – a video essay by filmmaker Constantine Nasr (Shadows in the Dark: The Val Lewton Legacy)(31 min) HD
-  NEW Audio Interview with Ann Carter, moderated by Tom Weaver (19 min) HD
-  Theatrical Trailers for Cat People (1942) (1 min) HD and The Curse of the Cat People (1944)(2 min) HD
-  Still Gallery (5 min) HD

The Curse of the Cat People (1944) is a wonderful child fantasy/suspense film, it's a surprising sequel but it works on it's own term and plays well. The cast is great, Simone Simon is an ethereal beauty and her charms though relegated to a smaller part in this sequel are considerable. Great to see this get an HD release from Scream Factory with some notable extras, here's hoping we see more Val Lewton classics turning up on Blu-ray through their licensing deal with Warner Bros. 

Top: Scream Factory 2018 Blu-ray 
Bottom: Warner Bros. 2005 DVD 

Screenshots used in this review and comparison were sourced by me from both the 2005 Warner Bros. DVD and 2018 Blu-ray release from Scream Factory.

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