Monday, August 1, 2011

Preview: Scary Cats

A staple of horror movies are scary creatures. Most of the time, monster movies frighten us with creatures that are inherently scary (Arachnophobia with its spiders, Jaws with one big shark). Occasionally, a movie will come out of nowhere and change our views on a previously benign animal, like Cujo did to Saint Bernards. And of course, there are the classic monsters with human features: such as vampires, werewolves and others that aren't in those Twilight or Underworld movies.

But can cats be scary? Well, yeah. Cats have been featured in some horrific films too. Take for instance, that abysmally horrible Catwoman movie starring Halle Berry, Sharon Stone and that Merovingian guy from those crappy Matrix sequels. Not that it was a horror film, mind you, but it is scary that someone thought this movie was a good idea.

Seriously, though, cats are (to me) kind of freaky critters. How "scary" they actually are might just a matter of personal opinion. I've known many people who love cats, and also scores more who detest what they refer to as "untrustworthy, vile creatures." Yikes. That's a bit... much, isn't it?

Those feline haters would then probably get a real kick out of Cat People, the 1942 film directed by Val Newton. In this tale, a lonely Serbian woman falls for and marries an American man but refuses to consummate their union. The reason? She believes she descended from a cursed people from her country. In that folklore if she were aroused, she will turn into a panther. A man-eater, like the Hall & Oates song. Alas, there is no passion for the newlyweds. This naturally causes all kinds of problems, whether they be real and fantastical.

The trailer for this bizarre tale of felines and sexual repression can be seen here.

The success of Cat People spawned a more benevolent (and seemingly misnamed) sequel, Curse of the Cat People, that is most noteworthy for being the second film directed by Robert Wise (The Haunting, West Side Story, The Sound of Music). In 1982, Paul Schrader wrote and directed a loose remake that was much less subtle in its eroticism. It starred Natassja Kinski (herself a bit of a sex kitten of an actress at the time), Malcolm McDowell and the dad from Home Alone. The remake wasn't so good, but it did feature an awesome David Bowie song.

Now, when I say "black cat," what's the first thing that comes to mind? Bad luck? Halloween? That old Janet Jackson song? The cabaret with that iconic poster? That fake-looking thing from "Sabrina The Teenage Witch?" Or does your mind conjure up this?

As much of a staple of Independence Day and New Year's celebration is this black cat is, it doesn't fit with the horror film theme I'm going with. With all apologies to Katy Perry, baby that's just a firework.

No, the Black Cat in question is a classic Japanese horror film from 1968, and its a very dark tale indeed. The movie, Kuroneko (translated as "black cat") is a creature story, a revenge tale and a supernatural fable all combined like a sushi roll of terror. In this film, directed by Kaneto Shindō, the story begins in feudal Japan with two women who are brutally attacked and murdered by a roving band of samurai mercenaries. Later, samurai are discovered to be dead, all having been killed by slashed throats. Convinced that these slayings are the act of an onryō, a vengeful dark spirit, the governor summons a lone warrior to confront these ghostly killers. Shindō invokes the same raw sensibilities he exhibited in 1964's Onibaba, another tale where women slay passing samurai. Atmospheric and spooky, Kuroneko is a unique terror tale that represents some of the very best in Japanese cinema.

So there you have it, my dear readers. These are two classic films with a sleek and sinuous tone that is ever so appropriate for the feline predators found within. Do yourself a favor and don't miss them. No matter how scary they are, no matter how hard your heart will pound, it can't be any harder on your body than watching Halle Berry's Catwoman.

And if you find yourself too frightened in the theater aisles, just remind yourself that, like vampires, these werecats are only fictional. I mean, they just can't be real... right?

(Cure that scary Vincent Price laugh)

Showtimes for the films:

Cat People
Thursday, Aug 4th
Friday, Aug 5th

Thursday, Aug 4th
Friday, Aug 5th

Final Notes about the screening

Bring in an item for the Austin Pets Alive! drive and receive a free small popcorn! Check their wish list here.

Double Features:
"When two movies are grouped together under the same thematic heading, one ticket is good for both features when viewed back-to-back on the same day." (cha-ching!)

"Hassle-free downtown parking available for $6 at the One American Center for all summer films! Since you’re also supporting the theatre when you buy parking, they're giving you a free small soda each time you park there for a film. Buy online with your film tix and print out your confirmation e-mail or buy directly from the garage attendant (cash only). Attendant will have your soda ticket as well."

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