I have heard about this movie for years (ever since the Simpsons Treehouse of Horror comic book did a parody) but never seen it until last night. Full disclosure: I take a medicine with dinner that makes me very sleepy. Cat People is so heavy on atmospherics and psychology instead of thrills that I sort of nodded off. When I went to read the entry about it in the Essential Horror book, they mentioned the swimming pool scene and I thought, "What swimming pool scene? Uh oh." I thought I had dozed for a couple of minutes but, rewatching this morning, I realized I had missed a huge chunk. Now that I have really seen it all, I feel prepared to comment on it.
The story is that a guy named Oliver Reed meets a foreign cutie named Irena Dubrovna at a zoo. He falls for her so hard he marries her without their ever having kissed. She comes from a village in Serbia where the locals were hardcore into Satan worshiping and witchcraft. After King John of Serbia cleaned up the village, the witches fled to the mountains and became cat people, somehow. Irena believes she is from a long line of people who can transform into cats and also believes that, if she gets too hot n heavy with anyone, she will tear them to pieces.
Of course, haven't we all felt like that at times? Like we might destroy anyone dumb enough to fall in love with us? Well, this makes the threat literal. Irena is obsessed with a panther at the zoo and even slips it a dead bird when she gets a chance. As Irena and Oliver's marriage stretches on with no physical contact, Oliver realizes he is in love with one of his best friends, a lady who is not afraid to get touchy. Most of the second act is Irena stalking and threatening Oliver's friend/new love. In the meantime, Irena has been seeing a shrink about her issues and he is being totes inappropriate with her as he gets a crush on her.
Lots of Freudian symbolism in the movie (keys, walking sticks, rulers) and subtle scare effects add up to a pretty creepy classic. I'm surprised it took me this long to watch. Things do eventually hit the fan and not all the characters make it out alive but this is one very ambitious horror movie from the 40s it is easy to like and set apart from the pack.