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OC Film | ALTERNATE SCREEN

Horror Prowls on Halloween Screens

1942 cult classic 'Cat People' shows its fangs in Newport.

October 29, 1998|ZAN DUBIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Grrrrrrrrrroowl. Hissssssssssssss! "Cat People" sinks its claws into the psyche for an erotically tinged horror-thriller Friday night befitting Halloween weekend.

Now elevated to the rank of cult film, the 1942 thriller by director Jacques Tourneur can be seen in a screening-cum-costume-party at 6:30 p.m. at the Orange County Museum of Art in Newport Beach.

The first vivid hint that something's fishy comes early in the film starring the kittenish Simone Simon as Irena, a mysterious young Yugoslavian woman new to Manhattan, and Kent Smith as Oliver, the man she meets while idly sketching the big, caged cats in Central Park's zoo.

Allowing Oliver to walk her home, Irena tosses the drawing she'd made: It's a seething black panther gored by a silver sword.

When Irena's new beau brings her a kitten as a gift, the snarling little fur ball recoils from her touch. Later, Irena's mere presence causes pure pandemonium in a pet store where the couple exchange the kitty for a canary, which Irena soon literally frightens to death.

So what does she do with the limp yellow birdie? Flings it into a hungry panther's cage back at the zoo, grinning all the while. Plainly, the woman's past has begun to paw its way to the fore: In her native village, it seems, her mother had been one of the cat people, women, specifically, who can turn into leopards and destroy the men with whom they've been amorously involved.

This doesn't stop Irena and Oliver from marrying, but the deep fears and superstitions Irena has lived with so long prevent any consummation of the marriage, so she seeks a psychiatrist's help.

As the newly retained Dr. Judd (Tom Conway) begins to develop carnal designs on Irena, she becomes jealous of the deepening intimacy between Oliver, a graphic designer, and Alice (Jane Randolph), a co-worker. This sets the stage for the film's ensuing three horror sequences, all involving nighttime or menacing shadows, in which Irena stalks Alice on little cat feet, so to speak.

One of these vignettes ends when Alice finds her bathrobe clawed to shreds; the movie's climax unites its key characters in an action-packed scene that transpires--where else?--at the zoo.

Tourneur's "Cat People" was dismissed initially by critics as just another horror movie. But audiences lapped it up, and it broke box-office records at Hollywood's old Hawaii theater.

A 1944 sequel, "Curse of the Cat People" didn't do as well, nor did a 1982 remake starring Nastassia Kinski.

Screening attendees are invited to come to the museum in costume. Arthur Taussig, OCMA's adjunct film curator, will introduce the movie and lead a discussion about it.

Running time: 1 hour, 13 minutes. Black and white. Unrated.

Orange County Museum of Art, 850 San Clemente Drive, Newport Beach. 6:30 p.m. Friday. $3 members, $5 nonmembers. (949) 759-1122.

*

All Hallow's Eve meets Hollywood times three at Cal State Long Beach with screenings Saturday of "Enter the Dragon," "Halloween" and "Alien."

On hand to introduce his landmark film at 8 p.m. will be "Halloween" director John Carpenter, accompanied by actors Charles Cyphers (the sheriff) and Arthur Malet (the graveyard keeper).

Jamie Lee Curtis made her cinematic debut in the edge-of-your-seat, 1978 chiller, which spawned five sequels--including this summer's "Halloween: H2O," also starring Curtis--and umpteen bloody imitators whose killers wield hatchets, razors and chain saws.

Halloween's triple bill is part of the university's Wide-Screen Film Festival (movies will be shown in the 35-millimeter format in which they were shot on a 21-by-50-foot screen) at the Richard and Karen Carpenter Performing Arts Center.

The plot of "Halloween" is simple: A maniac murderer strikes on the witching eve, then returns 15 years later for more fun with kitchen knives. Reactions to the movie have been mixed and many. Some critics condemned its graphic, trendsetting on-screen violence and screeched that its multiple slashings appeared to be precipitated by illicit sex.

There was and is, however, consensus over Carpenter's excellent craftsmanship, and the screenplay he penned with Debra Hill has been praised for reaching beyond the banal.

Imbued with mythical qualities, its star psychotic is portrayed not merely as a man, but as the supernatural embodiment of evil. Also, the movie remains one of the most successful independent pictures ever made, grossing $60 million in its first three years.

The film also stars Will Sandin and Nick Castle, as the young and older murderer, respectively, and Donald Pleasence as the shrink who tries to treat him.

The first screening of the day will be "Enter the Dragon," director Robert Clouse's 1973 martial-arts fest starring actor Bruce Lee in his final screen appearance. Last will be director Ridley Scott's original 1979 "Alien," with Sigourney Weaver starring as Ripley, a role originally written as a male character.

"Enter the Dragon," 4:30 p.m. Running time: 1 hour, 37 minutes. Color. Rated R; "Halloween," 8 p.m. Running time: 1 hour, 33 minutes. Color. Rated R; "Alien," 11 p.m. Running time: 1 hour, 57 minutes. Color. Rated R.

Richard and Karen Carpenter Performing Arts Center, 6200 Atherton St., Long Beach. Each film: $7 general, $5 students and senior citizens. (562) 985-7000.

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