Times have changed. And whatever effect this movie had on audiences in 1942 – my dad long insisted it was the scariest movie he had ever seen – has long dissipated. Watching it over 75 years later, it’s really hard to understand what was so unique and terrifying about it.
I watch a lot of old movies but I must admit I don’t watch a ton of old horror movies. To the extent that I do, they’re usually silent and it’s easier for to “appreciate” them because I am more aware of the limitations. The limitations in 1940s Hollywood were mostly self-imposed through the Production Code. And, given that, it’s harder to try to imagine the film in context. (At least for me it is.)
For a mainstream Hollywood movie, this is relatively moody; there are lots of shadows – in fact, we never almost never see the “cat people” but only see shadows – and lots of atmospheric lighting. But the story is no more than a spin on werewolves and not a whole lot happens in the movies very short runtime. It’s basically the atmosphere; if it appeals to you then you’ll find something to enjoy in this movie. But if you don’t love the moodiness, it’s hard to imagine that you’d find the story particularly compelling, or the performance from Simone Simon (yes, that’s her name) particularly good.
Honestly, I think the standards in Hollywood horror must have been so low in the 1930s that this seemed like something new and scary. But I think about the iconic images of Dracula and Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein and I’m not even sure I see that here. (Of course, the point of this movie is that you don’t really see the monster.) Maybe the low lights of the era were so low that this seemed like a masterpiece but, honestly, it’s really hard to see that now, in 2018.