Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Off Script: The Curse of the Cat People

Film: The Curse of the Cat People
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

I’m all for a good sequel, but for something to be a real sequel there has to be a genuine connection to the original film. In the case of The Curse of the Cat People that connection is tenuous at best. We’ve got the same cast who are playing the same characters, which seems like it should be the sort of connection we need. Plot-wise, though, there’s absolutely no connection between the original film and this sequel. Evidently when the story was written there was absolutely no connection, but the studio wanted to build on the success of the low-budget first movie, and so the name was changed to become a sequel.

The Curse of the Cat People isn’t really a horror movie. It’s a lot closer to a film noir with some horror elements. It does a lot of things really well. In fact, it does just about everything well except make a solid connection to the film of which it is supposed to be a sequel. It brings up some very interesting ideas and goes in some fascinating directions even if it doesn’t all work completely.

We start a number of years after Cat People took place. We know this because Oliver Reed (Kent Smith) and Alice Moore (Jane Randolph) from the first film are now married and have a 6-year-old daughter named Amy (Ann Carter). Amy is a loner and a dreamer and doesn’t really have any friends at her school. She’s far more prone to wander off chasing butterflies than actually connecting with anyone of her own age. Her parents are naturally concerned and try to put a stop to her living in a fantasy world. The severity of the problem comes home when Amy reveals that rather than mailing the invitations to her birthday party, she has placed them in the hollow of an old tree. As it happens, her father once told her it was a magical mailbox.

In attempting to separate Amy’s fantasy world from reality, Oliver and Alice are terribly unsuccessful. Amy does make a friend, though, in the person of Julia Farren (Julia Dean), an old stage actress who as gone a bit potty. Her daughter Barbara (Elizabeth Russell) lives with her and cares for her despite her mother being convinced that she died years ago and that the woman living with her is actually some sort of spy or imposter.

Eventually, Amy finds a picture of Irena (Simone Simon), Oliver’s first wife and the focus of Cat People. Suddenly Amy’s imaginary friend takes shape in the person of Irena. This is disturbing to Oliver, of course, who tries to get his daughter to not only give up her imaginary friend but also to give up the idea that Irena is actually appearing in their back garden. Eventually, Amy runs off to the Farren house where she discovers that Barbara Farren may not be the only person there who is a little bit off.

There are some elements that really work here. Throughout the film, it’s unclear whether or not Amy is actually seeing Irena or if this is all just an elaborate fantasy world. The moments that Amy spends in Irena’s company are visually interesting. In fact, Amy’s fantasy world is actually pretty compelling—compelling enough that it might be her reality and the reality of the film. There is a case to be made here that Amy is not merely a child building her own fantasy world but a child at the beginning of a life of psychopathy.

Like many a film from this area, the ideas on parenting are pretty strange. In this case, the parenting is some of the worst in film history, or at least the worst that doesn’t delve into active abuse of one sort or another. The parents know that Amy has a serious problem telling the difference between the real world and the world in her head. After a lecture on this because of her failed birthday party, they encourage her to make a wish on her candles, assuring her that birthday wishes come true. By the end of the film, they are actively willing to accept any fantasy world that Amy wants to claim.

There’s the guts of something good here. Forcing this to be a sequel that isn’t really a sequel damages its credibility a bit, though. Its 70-minute running time doesn’t help a great deal either. Finally, the ending doesn’t really fit with the rest of the film. The Curse of the Cat People makes a huge leap in the last five minutes and follows it with another huge leap. The ideas are good and it wants to be something really interesting. It just can’t stick the landing.

Why to watch The Curse of the Cat People: A great look at a strange fantasy world.
Why not to watch: Perhaps the worst parenting in a movie pre-Village of the Damned.

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