Blu-Ray Review: ‘Cat People’ [Criterion Collection]: classic horror film gets a beautiful HD release.
One of the most striking cinematic examples of less is more is Jacques Tourneur’s 1942 horror classic Cat People (released on Blu-ray September 20th via Criterion). A film that plays upon the anxieties that pop up in a new romantic relationship, it focuses on Irena Dubrovna (Simone Simon), a Serbian immigrant who falls in love with engineer Oliver Reed (Kent Smith).
Every time things get amorous between them, Irena fights the carnal urge, convinced she will turn into a killer panther. Reed is convinced she’s delusional, but when she becomes jealous over his relationship with a co-worker (Jane Randolph), Oliver begins to fear Irena’s claim of a supernatural curse might be real after all.
Featuring the evocative black and white cinematography of Nicholas Musuraca, Cat People is an exercise in restraint, Tourneur crafts a web of suspense from shadows and light, most effective in a sequence where Randolph is being stalked while swimming, with dappled light from pool waves adding a otherworldly glow to the proceedings. His cinematic approach was in many ways a necessity to overcome a small budget and fight the puritanical censorship of the era. It also marked the beginning of a fruitful partnership with producer Val Lewton. The duo would go on to work on two other classic horror films including I Walked With A Zombie, and The Leopard Man.
And thanks to Criterion, Cat People looks more gorgeous and evocative than ever before, with a pristine New 2K digital restoration. It’s never looked better, with each shadowy frame replete in luxuriant inky glory. Audio-wise, Cat People also impresses, with a crisp standard audio track.
Extras are sparse but illuminating. A commentary from a 2005 home video is ported over, featuring musings from film historian Gregory Mank along with an audio interview from Simone Simon.
The TCM documentary Val Lewton: The Man in the Shadows is also included here, featuring narration rom Martin Scorsese. It’s an excellent look into the workings of the old Hollywood studio system and insight into Lewton’s unique approach to filmmaking. Other extras of note include a 1979 television interview with Tourneur, and a featurette with John Bailey, the cinematographer from the 80s remake.
Cat People remains a timeless classic, and thanks to Criterion it has a home video release that honors its legacy as one of the most influential horror films of its kind.
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