CAT PEOPLE is the iconic low budget creepy horror film from celebrated director Jacques Turner, producer Val Lewton, and DP Nicholas Musuraca. Set in contemporary New York, it tells the story of a recent Serbian immigrant called Irena (Simone Simon, with a haunting, lilting accent that does much to add to the mystery of film) Irena is haunted by the mythological tales from her home town of a strange cult of cat people or witches who fled persecution from Serbian King John. As the movie opens, Irena is drawn to a black panther at the zoo, and while she lives in fear, she also causes fear in animals. She is befriended by a straight-laced all-American apple-pie man called Oliver (Kent Smith). He marries Irena despite the fact that his similarly straight-laced co-worker is clearly in love with him, even putting up with Irena's demands to stay celibate as she fears that if they had sex this would trigger her into becoming a vengeful, violent cat woman.
The brilliance of the film is how it takes a low budget, a handful of sets, and no stars, but manages by sheer force of directorial and cinematographic brilliance to conjure up a pervading sense of uneasiness and fear. Key scenes include Oliver's co-worker Alice (Jane Moore) being stalked home on a dark night, harshly lit by street-lights. Another has her dive into a swimming pool out of fear, and the camera turn and turn, showing the reflection of water on the walls. It's hard to say why this is so very creepy. And yet, decades later, the film still has the power to mesmerise and fascinate.
CAT PEOPLE has a running time of 78 minutes and is not rated.
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