Favorite Horror Films of the 1940s: Cat People




In 1942, producer Val Lewton and director Jacques Torneur, advanced the making of horror films by expanding the possible topics and boundaries. This extraordinary film is not one that relies on a standard “monster”; instead, Torneur employs psychological suspense and subtle development of terror.

This film offers a sophisticated and understated treatment of sexuality and its impact on people. The main character, Irena, a fashion designer, born in Serbia, and played by Simone Simon combines the modern world of high fashion in New York City with the old world beliefs that she is descended from people who are shape-shifters and who turn into big cats when sexually enticed and aroused. Torneur builds a new variation on the established theme of lycanthropy, in which a male changes into a wolf. Additionally, the film demonstrates the tension between science and superstition, the modern era versus the medieval times, and religion versus secularism.

While to a contemporary audience, this movie might seem dated and subdued, I believe it still carries great impact in its study of horror that is felt rather than seen, slowly created rather than visceral, and suggestive rather overt.

Cat People did very well at the box office, but it received a mixed range of reviews at the time. Since the 1940s, it has come to be seen as one of the more important horror films of the 20th Century.  If you have the opportunity, I recommend watching Cat People.




18 thoughts on “Favorite Horror Films of the 1940s: Cat People

  1. There has been a long association about the female of our species as felines. The male of our species changes into a wolf who rapes and kills, the female, a cat, who seduces and kills. In general, horror films, like this one, tend to bring myths to film that do shed a light, as written in French’s commentary on religious and societal perceptions of humans, at their most primitive state of being who are seen as being evil as an inherent state of being. Depicting humans as crazed animals and monsters tells us what about how we feel about our species beyond the science vs superstition and religion vs secularism? At a primitive level, we fear ourselves. K. D.


      • Thank you for your outstanding commentary. I now is see horror films and books from an entirely different view point. I find them to be remarkable, inasmuch, as they reveal what we fear most, ourselves, as conditioned by societal and religious doctrines of fear, that often lead to murderous episodes in human history. For example, the 100 years of burning so-called Witches where tens of thousand of innocent women died due to religious hysteria. Karen


  2. What did you think of the 1982 remake? Nastassja Kinski was alluring in the featured role. My date at the time nearly freaked when the panther tore off Ed Begley’s arm.


  3. I watched this flick, last night. I actually liked it. Though not an excellent movie, I felt it was a very good horror movie. And it was more of a psychological study, than a visual spectacle. I like the fact the movie had no special effects what so ever. If it had, that could have made it outdated, compared to modern visual effects.
    Came across your Blog, through your twitter page!! 🙂


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