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Sunday, October 01, 2006


Directed by Jacques Tourneur

Times were lean for good horror movies in the 1940's but thankfully those into darker fare had the seedy and menacing world of film noir to discover. Born in the Great Depression, these flicks were laden with crime, heartbreak, menace, deceit and body counts that rivaled anything horror was producing. Next to the gun wielding tough guys and back stabbing dames of film noir the tired Universal monsters, now paraded out in increasingly demeaning sequels, looked a bit shabby and tame indeed. But there were a handful of exceptions of interest to monster kids and most of them were produced by Val Lewton for RKO Pictures. The best of these were both directed by Jacques Tourneur, "I Walked With a Zombie" (1943) and "Cat People" (1942). Lewton and Tourneur were in agreement that the best chills could be produced by playing with the imagination of the audience, suggesting horrible things with shadows and sound, giving people the black canvas where they could etch out the creature for themselves, without ever really revealing anything. This worked incredibly well with "Cat People". Simone Simon plays a European immigrant in New York City who lives in fear that she carries with her a Slavic curse that will turn her into a murderous black panther if her sexual impulses are awakened. When her husband starts getting friendly with another woman we find out that jealousy can bring out the beast as well. The modern urban setting, sense of dread and use of long shadows owes much to film noir and a few years later Tourneur would create "Out of the Past" (1947) for RKO, one of the genre's crowning achievements. As for horror cinema, well, it was going through a Post-War transition but, as always, would return with a vengeance.


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