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20th Century Flicks:

The Curse of the Cat People

Dirs: Robert Wise & Gunther von Fritsch, 1944, USA, 70 mins, 35mm, Cert: U

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Thu 13 December // 20:00

Tickets: £5 (full) / £4 (concession)

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After the runaway success of Cat People (1942), RKO set producer Val Lewton the task of making a sequel. What he returned with bore little relation to its predecessor, nor the lurid title he had been provided with, but was instead a magical, melancholy drama about a young girl with a runaway imagination. Several years after the events of the original film, Oliver and Alice (Kent Smith and Jane Randolph) have a daughter named Amy, an introverted six-year-old whose tendency to get lost in daydreams frequently gets her into trouble with both her teachers and classmates. Upon seeing a photograph of her father’s dead wife Irina (Simone Simon), she creates her as her imaginary friend, but a later real-life friendship with an ageing neighbour will come to place her in grave danger.

Part of Lewton’s extraordinary run of B movies of the 1940s (which also included landmark horror films I Walked with a Zombie and The Seventh Victim), Curse...’s subject matter and fairytale elements might initially seem far removed from the producer’s more famous pictures. Yet beneath the surface differences, it shares their great virtues: a finely-evoked unsettling atmosphere of dread, the privileging of suggestion over the explicit, and a poetic, humane understanding of the melancholy which resides on the darker side of people’s lives. An acknowledged influence on Guillermo Del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth, it also stands alongside The Spirit of the Beehive and Spirited Away as one of the finest examinations of the powerful mystery of the childhood imagination.