Christmas films are often associated with warmth, family, togetherness and a general infusion of the joys of the festive season, not horror. However, there are a number of horror films set at the festive season, a time when you would least expect the evils of the world to be on display. Therefore, this year the Alternative Christmas Film Advent Calendar, inspired by last year’s selection of Anna And The Apocalypse, takes aim at Christmas horror films.
1942’s Cat People is regarded by many as an early horror classic, while it’s 1944 sequel isn’t as widely seen, or known. Not as dark as the original (which isn’t a necessary watch to engage with this mostly separate feature), but still with its elements of horror, The Curse Of The Cat People is possibly the most conventional Christmas film in this year’s calendar.
Six year old Amy (Ann Carter) is something of an introvert within her class. She has few friends and prefers to spend time on her own exploring instead of playing games with the class. Her imagination and behaviour reminds her father, Oliver (Kent Smith), of his estranged ex-wife Irena’s behaviour before she passed away. However, Irena (Simone Simon) appears in a ghostly form to Amy. The two form a close friendship that’s supposed to remain a secret, all Amy’s parents (her mother, Alice, played by Jane Randolph) think is that she has an imaginary friend. However, as more details of this bond unravel the two become increasingly concerned about their daughter and the things that she’s seeing.
Irena isn’t the only person that Amy gets to know over the course of the film. After walking into a mysterious house in which it’s believed by the local children a witch lives. After venturing in the young protagonist discovers ailing retired actor Julia (Julia Dean) and her daughter Barbara (Elizabeth Russell). There’s a clear rift between the two figures in the house, made darker and more mysterious by the fact that Julia claims that Barbara isn’t actually her daughter, claiming that her real daughter died when she was the same age as Amy and that the person she lives with is some form of disguised spy.
Yet, throughout the film the emphasis is on the friendships and bonds that Amy creates throughout the film, particularly that with Irena. As their bond strengthens Christmas comes more into play, with the final stages playing out across Christmas Eve. There’s something about the idea of people coming together that boosts the festive spirit held within the film. However, Amy’s parents still continue to worry, with their concerns only increasing as the film goes on and their daughter’s behaviour becomes more and more unusual and like that of Irene’s before her passing – her ghost, on the other hand, is a presence of calm and kindness.
With all of this going on the horror elements are never forgotten – this is a ghost story after all, and isn’t A Christmas Carol? While the film isn’t a direct horror there are, what may be seen as, some underlying eerie moments, and undeniably a handful of themes relating to the genre. In a number of scenes campfire style spooky stories are retold – such as tales of the Headless Horseman and Sleepy Hollow – and yet it all goes towards the idea of people coming together at Christmas. There’s a slight warmth to a number of the scenes between Amy and Irena, as they converse in the snowy garden while carollers sing in the background – the initial title for the film was Amy And Her Friend until studio RKO changed it to something seen as more marketable to bring in the profits, as Arnold Schwarzenegger classic Jingle All The Way shows, Christmas is nothing but commercialism.
Certainly the most conventional Christmas film in this year’s calendar there’s a fair share of warmth and goodwill within The Curse Of The Cat People and its themes of friendship during the festive season. However, with a plot that revolves around ghosts and multiple mysteries surrounding the living and the dead there are a number of horror related elements within this film. It might not be the scariest, it’s certainly not trying to be, but there are at least one or two moments that might create a slight chill within some viewers watching the cold and frosty settings of a number of scenes.
The Curse Of The Cat People can be watched in the following places:
You may have a physical copy of the film on DVD or Blu-Ray, or even VHS (remember those?). If you don’t and you want to watch the film it’s always worth looking at JustWatch to see where you can buy, rent or stream the film in your country.