1940s | The Cat People (1942)
Film 2 of 8, representing the 1940s, Classical Hollywood, and Film Noir
Expectations: Moving onto the 1940s I’m on the look out for Hollywood moving away from the old world (Europe) and looking at horror at home, utilising American actors in home grown stories taking place in the here-and-now rather than the bleak, gothic, past. I’m also going to be looking for a movement away from the stage and film, and horror filmmaking, becoming comfortable as an established art, and the start of what would become modern filmmaking practices. The film itself is regarded highly, and an often discussed example of where horror drew on the principles of film noir to create horror in the shadows. So I’ll have my eyes peeled for those off camera scare tactics that would become staples of the horror genre.
So onward to the 1940s, and another cup of coffee.
Reflection: ‘The Cat People’ is a great example of turning point in Hollywood toward more modern horror. Although the themes of the film are nothing new, in fact it’s essentially a rip off of the well trodden werewolf story (wolf changed to cat, man changed to woman), the movie itself completely turns its back the trend set by Universal. There’s no moors, castles, or period costumes here, rather a modern urban setting, with contemporary characters who live contemporary lifestyles. There’s also a comfort in filmmaking on display here; the editing is tight, the shot structure is neat and precise, and there’s a sound understanding of how to manipulate what happens in the frame. For example, a scene where the first appearance of the cat-woman is teased, a panther’s roar is mixed with the screech of a buses breaks as it appears rapidly into frame, creating an early example of that very familiar horror tactic, the jump scare. By this point cinema and horror has become far more aware of the medium and how to use it to manipulate the audience and get reactions. However, for all the technical advances there is some horror lost in this contemporary setting. By brining horror into the modern day there seems to be a reluctance by the filmmakers to show that there could be anything too horrific on the streets of modern day America. Instead the horrific elements of 20s and 30s gothic horror are replaced by the lavish amounts of melodrama that would become the staple of what we know today as Classical Hollywood.