Holy Horror began with movies from 1960 on. You see, I had watched the 1982 remake of Cat People without ever watching the original from 1942. The remake has Paul Gallier, the brother of Irena, as a religious leader. He doesn’t cite the Bible, so the movie fell outside the limits I set for that particular book. I recently watched the 40-year older original version and was surprised to find not only the religion intact, but also the Bible as part of the story. Both versions integrate religion and horror and some of the scenes are very close between the two. The original centers around Irena Dubrovna, a Serbian immigrant. In addition to originating the The Lewton Bus technique, the film also introduced a religious origin for the horror. When Irena meets Oliver Reed, she explains to him that in Serbia, in her home village, some witches were driven out into the woods of the surrounding mountains by the Christians. There they formulated a curse leading to becoming cat people when aroused.
Irena, fearing sexual arousal, spends time apart from Oliver after they marry, mainly watching the black leopard at the zoo. One of the custodians warns her it’s an evil animal, a monster as described in the book of Revelation, which he quotes. Of course, this leopard is an ordinary big cat, and the woman to whom he quotes Scripture is a cat woman. Irena knows inside that she’s one of the cat people, but nobody will believe her. The film also makes use of a quote from John Donne regarding sin. Indeed, the film makes it clear, even after Irena dies, that she had never lied. While she’s stalking Oliver and Alice in their office one night, Oliver pulls down a T-square, the shadow of which forms a cross on the wall, and he abjures her, in the name of God, to leave them alone. Religion, the clash of religions, makes the monster.
Cat People, despite having had a mixed reception, was an influential movie. Like much of early horror, it’s tame by today’s standards. And yet it’s aged well. I didn’t expect to be drawn in as much as I ended up being. After all, I’d seen the remake first. America at the time had a fear of the Balkan region, where mysterious eastern Europeans still had tales of vampires, werewolves, and cat people. Of course, the last of these was invented for the film. The director, writer, and producer wanted to create an intelligent horror film, which they did. Moody, atmospheric, and based on religious tension, it is worthy of a Holy Horror sequel.