The Curse of the Cat People ★★★★½

This is a badly titled, but excellent, film, produced by Val Lewton, who was for a time the breadwinner for RKO Studios. Made after the unexpected smash hit, Cat People, this film is a sequel of sorts. The story focuses on Amy, the daughter of Oliver and Alice Reed, who married after the death of his first wife (the cat person of the title), Irena, and her strange friendships with one real and one imaginary (or is she a ghost?) friend.

Despite the title, there are only a couple of scary moments in this film, two of them focused, interestingly, on the Headless Horseman. But one of them, the little girl falling on the bridge the Horseman's supposed to cross in the middle of the night, is very well done.

The real power of the film is the little girl's connection to her friend, Irena, who appears to her after she acquires a 'magic' ring from a strange old lady. She may be a figment of the lonely girl's imagination, but several of the things she says indicate that she is the ghost of her father's unhappy first wife, Irena, come to help make things better between Amy and her father. Those moments of melancholy, where Irena mentions coming from a great darkness and peace and how nobody can follow her back there, are some of the best of the film. Played by Simone Simon, she is beautiful, sad and sweet, in stark contrast to the dangerous anger she portrays by the end of Cat People. Indeed, she says Amy called her from her place in the darkness to be Amy's friend, perhaps a way of making up for some of the pain she caused Oliver and Alice in the past.

This film remains difficult to explain. There is a touch of horror, but a great deal more fantasy and a plea for understanding for all those people in the world who live more in dreams than in reality. That plea not only extends to Amy and Irena, but also perhaps to Lewton himself, whose unhappy childhood is in pieces on display in Curse of the Cat People.