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Classic 1942 horror film produced by Val Lewton concerning Irena, a Serbian woman living in America who believes that if she is ever kissed by a man, she will transform into a deadly panther. Her American co-workers try to persuade her otherwise, including a man who wants to marry her. Turns out, she's right and they're wrong. Despite some wooden acting, a low budget and rather primitive special effects, Cat People remains an effectively spooky (if not quite scary) film to this day, largely because of director Jacques Tourneur's use of visual and psychological suggestion to encourage the audience to imagine what might be lurking in the shadows.
Spawned a sequel (kind of), The Curse of the Cat People, which follows two of the characters from the first film and (apparently) a third one who had seemed to be dead at its end; it didn't really deal with the "cat people" angle at all, and dropped the "dangerous sexuality" theme in favor of exploring the importance of childhood imagination. It's not even in the same genre as the original, being more of a drama about family life than a horror film. That said, it's well made and worth seeing in its own right.
There was also a 1982 remake directed by Paul Schrader and starring Malcolm McDowell and Natassja Kinski; it was a great deal bloodier and more salacious than the original, expanded the original's sketchy backstory into a proper origin story for the cat people, and generally preferred to show what the original merely suggested. It's also very... very... slooooow.
- Brother-Sister Incest: In the 1982 remake, Paul suggests this to Irena as a way of solving the "we turn into deadly panthers after we have sex with normal people" problem.
- Cat Scare: A pioneering example in the original, often claimed (especially by the makers) to be the first using the brakes of a bus to make a sound very like the hissing of a great cat. Further uses would become known as Lewton's Bus.
- Did Not Do the Research: The original makes much of the story that "King John" of Serbia "drove out the Mamelukes". Serbia has never had a king called John, and there were never any Mamelukes in Serbia.
- Footprints of Muck: As seen in this clip.
- Hollywood Psych: A shrink in the original tries to convince Irena that her belief that she'll turn into a great cat if a man kisses her is just a delusion fostered by fear of male sexuality. He tries this out with a... practical demonstration. It doesn't work out the way he thought it would.
- He's also hilariously Freudian, absolutely convinced that her belief comes entirely from her own mind, despite it being established as a folktale from her Serbia.
- In Name Only: The Curse of the Cat People has very little in common with Cat People beyond featuring the three main characters of the first film.
- Magic Pants
- Night Swim Equals Death: Subverted. It doesn't actually end with a death, but the suspense built up around it makes it look like it will.
- Our Werebeasts Are Different: Humans turning into panthers in sexual situations
- Sex Is Evil: In both versions, though the 1942 version requires a much smaller trigger to the evilness.