<p>Cat People, The/Curse of the Cat People (DVD) (Multi-Title)</p><p>The studio gave Val Lewton small budgets and lurid pre-tested film titles. Lewton, working with rising filmmakers and emphasizing fear of the unseen, turned meager resources into momentous works of psychological terror. Directed by Jacques Tourneur, Cat People is the trailblazing first of Lewton's nine horror classics. Simone Simon portrays a bride who fears an ancient hex will turn her into a deadly panther when she's in passion's grip. Simon returns in The Curse of the Cat People, a sequel in title and a landmark study of a troubled child in fact. Robert Wise makes his directing debut, co-helming a gothic-laced mix of fantasy and fright so astute it was used in college psychology classes.</p>
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Val Lewton's name is synonymous with the subtlest, most mysterious brand of horror filmmaking in Hollywood's golden age, and the nine horror classics he produced at RKO between 1942 and 1946 constitute the most remarkable cycle of creativity in B-movie history. He and director Jacques Tourneur scored with both a popular hit and a masterpiece in 1942: Cat People. The story involves a pretty young Serbian woman in Manhattan (Simone Simon) convinced that her ancestors had practiced animal worship during the Middle Ages--and that she herself might shape-change into a lithe, ravening panther if her passions were aroused. The film is uncannily successful in keeping the viewer guessing whether this is a phobia borne of morbid obsession and sexual repression, or a genuine, horrific possibility. There are two sequences of matchless artistry and almost unbearable suspense--a lonely, echoing walk through pools of lamplight alongside Central Park, and a late-night swim in a deserted indoor pool--that build to throat-grabbing climaxes and remain milestones in the history of screen horror. The Curse of the Cat People (1944), a sequel that is not quite a sequel, is a pretend-horror movie that's really a contemplation of the fragility of childhood. --Richard Jameson
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