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This post is continued from Part 1: at the link above!
And now Part II
From page 112 Chapter 7 J.P Telotte Dreams of Darkness
FANTASY as REALITY, REALTY as FANTASY
The Curse of the Cat People (1944)
-The child per se makes us uneasy, ambivalent ; we are anxious about the human propensities concentrated by the child symbol. It evokes too much of what has been left out or is unknown, becoming easily associated with the primitive, mad and mystical. – James Hillman ” Abandoning the Child” in Loose Ends–
To continue with this blog post about one of Lewton’s very precious stories, less darker than his others, and dealing with childhood, the fears of and by children.
All of Lewton’s works dealt with subject matters that forced us to push the boundaries of ‘the familiar’ and challenged us to face a darker more mysterious reality of the natural world, and the incomprehensible landscape of the human psyche.
Curse of the Cat People (1944) acts as a cinematic continuum to Lewton’s Cat People 1942, featuring Simone Simon once again as the alluring, and sensual Irena Dubrovna Reed, who may or may not have belonged to a race of beings that could shape shift into the physical form of a large cat or black panther, when sexually aroused.
The symbol of Irena synthesized the fear of women’s sexuality, sexual freedom, the women’s body, and often the correlation that is made with women’s emotional existence and madness. What is engendered in Cat People (1942) is far less about a woman who can morph into a predatory feline, and more about the collective fear of ‘The Monstrous Feminine.’
While Amy is not Irena’s biological daughter. Amy is truly more of a progeny to Irena and the mystique she embodies, because they are both alienated figures who are frustrated and misunderstood. Who stand outside the social community which is pumped from the veins of ‘rational’, normative thoughts and behaviors. Amy is the figure of ‘The Fearing Child’, an innocent who not only has ‘power’ she can wreak havoc in our ‘normal’ world.
Both characters are imaginative, and rely on their senses. They are more connected to the natural world, to the darkness which is associated with the feminine energy and less intellectual which is considered a masculine marker. They are considered emotional, irrational and dangerously unpredictable. Oliver Reed is just as frightened and moreover threatened by his six year old little girl as he was of his beautiful and tragic wife Irena, who was more a victim than ever the ‘monster’ she was perceived to be.
In Cat People, Curse of the Cat People, I Walked With A Zombie, The Leopard Man, The 7th Victim and Isle of The Dead there aren’t concrete Monsters as in Universal films as in Frankenstein’s creation, Dracula or The Wolf Man.
RKO studio heads had a mistrust of Lewton’s creative vision, his unconventional approach to some esoteric subject matter or volatile subjects such as a woman’s sexual desires. Lewton, rather than using literal lumbering, fanged or hairy monsters, used the powers of suggestion and shadow to tell the story.
Lewton disliked mask like faces, that were hardly human, the kinds of images that were expected from the horror genre he was infiltrating. Lewton liked to reveal the monsters that were lurking in the subconscious primitive recesses of our own imaginations. Shadows become the monster in these films, they are the mysterious layer that surfaces in world that only makes sense in the light of day. And Amy draws the shadows to her…
They do not have scary faces, they are quite human and in fact ordinary. He takes the ‘familiar’ and inverts it, subverts it, rattles the soundness of an accepted experience, and turns it into either an illusion, a nightmare, or a fit of paranoia. He taps into our childhood fears, and sets those fears on the frightened characters in his shadow plays. Usually because the thing they fear, is uprooting of their own personal desires and the fear of coming face to face with them.
Oliver couldn’t handle Irena’s sexual desires, nor her desirability, it triggered too much of his own primal urges, and so he demonized her, a fragile girl in a foreign country who believed in folklore from her very ancient set of beliefs handed down for centuries.
A story which quite often itself was ambiguous as to whether the threat was real or imagined. RKO wanted to be in competition with Universal, so they added footage of a menacing Panther which was inserted into several scenes of Cat People.
Black Sunday 1960 ‘La maschera del demonio’ & Jo Gabriel’s ‘Waking the Dark’
Here is a music/film mash up tribute to Bava and Steele, using edited clips from the classic film and a song off my neo-classical lo fi album The Last Drive In!
Mario Bava’s masterpiece of Gothic horror starring the legendary Barbara Steele is the vengeful witch Katia Vajda / Princess Asa Vajda who rises from the tomb to possess the body of her descendant!
“STARE INTO THESE EYES… discover deep within them the unspeakable terrifying secret of BLACK SUNDAY… it will paralyze you with fright!”
MonsterGirl (Jo Gabriel)
BLACK SUNDAY/LA MASCHERA DEL DEMONIO Directed by Mario Bava & starring the immortal iconic otherworldly —Barbara Steele
This timeless Gothic masterpiece is also known as The Demon’s Mask, Revenge of the Vampire and House of Fright. It is the Maestro Bava’s first film as a solo director, since first working as a cameraman with another auteur of the dark Riccardo Freda, Bava co-directed I Vampiri (1956)
With the presence of the enchanting & luscious beauty of Steele– the film becomes a romantic exercise in the Gothic style of European horror. Her eyes alone could mesmerize an audience with an effervescence that few possess with their gaze.
Bava also controlled the prowling camera style and Nedo Azzini’s sets are emblematic of the netherworld the story is steeped in.
Like a malefic allegory shown with gruesome keenness, Black Sunday is loosely based on Nikolai Gogol’s The Vij.
Barbara Steele manifests two characters the mirror image of each other–Princess Asa Vajda is tortured and burned as a witch. This is how the film opens with a ferocity that propels the film into a whole other level of classical horror. It is the stuff that dark fairy tales are made of… and nightmares.
The iconic spiked Devil Mask that is pounded into Asa’s face for the crime of adultery, or what was considered to be an act of ‘witchery’ Women’s wiles have always been considered powerful, tempting and dangerous to men.
The local Inquisitor calling Asa a witch, condemning her to such a brutal death bears ironing for he is Asa’s own brother. Once Asa returns to claim her revenge she vampirizes Katia in order to rejuvenate her life force.
It is now 200 years later, and Katia Vajda the descendent of the persecuted Princess Asa, is the spitting image of the beautiful ‘witch.’ Asa and her lover Javuto (Arturo Dominici) rise up from the tomb, cobwebs, scorpions and spiders to wreak revenge on the legacy of the Vajda family curse.
One of the most memorable scenes in horror film history is the resurrection of Javuto from the crumbling ground, the smoky dark clouds surround his devil-masked rotting visage underneath–as he claws his way out of his grave and lurches off into the ghostly night.
The special effects, masks, faces, matte painting etc. were done by Bava himself with brother Eugenio Bava. The face of Asa which bears the marks of the spike holes from the devil-mask adds a chilling effect to the film. It also creates the image of the monstrous feminine that strives to conquer and drain the life from those she’s fixated on. The two characters that Steele plays are contradictory figures, one virginal and innocent, the other blood thirsty and evil. Asa was unholy because of her sexual desires.
Black Sunday’s expressive influence and it’s grande sense of classical horror is rooted in the idea that a woman’s sexuality cannot be destroyed, and will always inevitably return by it’s own primacy enduring the scars of the violence inflicted upon her. That which the world order, particularly religious zealotry and patriarchal law attempt to oppress with come back twofold just to shake up the order of things.
The ultimate threat appears as the merger of the two Vajda’s women Asa & Katia… the virgin and the whore. Bava continued to make films where men desperately tried to destroy the lure of women’s desire and their desirability…
STARE INTO THESE EYES… discover deep within them the unspeakable terrifying secret of BLACK SUNDAY… it will paralyze you with fright!