Let Me Paint You a Picture

Movies were made to be shared

<i>Cat People</i>
Cat People

Kitten to 'Cat'

My daughter did not inherit my gene for horror. That curiously unsettling pleasure that since childhood I have derived from ghoulies and ghosties and things that go bump in the night, in literature and comics and on film and TV, was not passed along to Rosalind. In fact, when she was very young, she was so resistant to anything scary that most Disney cartoons were off-limits – their malevolent stepmothers and puppynapping villainesses were too much for her. It was years before she could watch her favorite film, The Wizard of Oz, without fast-forwarding through, as she called all frightening scenes in movies, "the dumb parts." Moreover, as a child of the Saw era, she assumed stomach-churning gore was de rigueur for all film horror, even from the days of the Hays Office, so she saw no need to acquaint herself with the original Universal classic creature features. I never saw any need to change her mind any more than I felt a need to force her to experience the cold-sweat-inducing, shift-in-your-seat, peer-through-your-fingers fun of a Freaks or Alien or Rosemary's Baby. But when she entered high school, Rosalind's cinematic tastes grew more adventurous, and Hitchcock became her gateway drug to the joys of clammy palms and shouting at the screen, "Don't go in there!" So when I suggested that the original Cat People was closer in style and spirit to Rear Window than Final Destination, she was game to take in a showing at the Paramount. The result, Rosalind herself says, was "mind-expanding." She'd never seen so much suggested by so little: an isolated individual on a dimly lit street or in a basement pool, silence except for one's own footsteps or a distant echo of a radiator, and shadows – deep, velvety, enveloping shadows that might contain nothing or might contain anything, even a fetching Serbian designer who transforms into a marauding black panther. As I had done years before when I first saw the film as a college student at the University of Texas, my daughter lost herself in those gloriously dark shadows conjured by producer Val Lewton, director Jacques Tourneur, and cinematographer Nicholas Musuraca. It may have taken the horror of the unseen, horror conjured by the mind and one's own maddening uncertainty, horror suggested with masterful subtlety, but at long last, swallowed in the shadows of Cat People, my daughter and I shared a shiver, a marvelously delicious shiver.

Cat People screens Thursday, Aug. 4, 7pm, and Friday, Aug. 5, 9:05pm.

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