Irena is a Femme Feline; a satanic curse boils through her veins arousing her violent passions, modern Psychology impotent to cure this arcane affliction. Director Jacques Tourneur’s low budget classic attains cult status with high scare value; he relies on ambiguous flirting shadows and clever mise-en-scene to impart palpitating horror.
What begins as a lightning-quick romance and marriage between Irena and Oliver soon spirals towards infidelity as she curtails her burgeoning sexuality for fear of awakening the beast within. As Oliver’s affections become diverted towards Alice, Irena stalks the night with cat’s grace…and hunger. Tourneur’s film purrs with anticipation and suspense as Irena fights to regain self-control but ultimately becomes victim, transforming into an evil shadow, her soul corrupt and damned.
In one scene, Alice walks the darkened streets between orbs of sickly light and the clacking high-heels that follow soon become the soft echoes of padded feet. As her pace (and pulse) quickens she reaches her destination as the bus’s air-brakes hiss like an angry panther…and the nearby tree branches shiver as if some strange form has passed between them. Tourneur again creates suspense as Alice takes an evening swim, the watery shadows painting spider webs upon the walls, and a deep guttural growl breaks the surface tension. Alice screams…and so do we. When Oliver and Alice are cornered in their workshop, he displays a protractor like a crucifix, its penumbra casting away the evil spirit.
The horror remains elusive and unseen without need for cheap special effects; the psychiatrist’s death is seen in a flurry of fur, flashing claws, and grim silhouette. Finally, Irena despises what she has become and takes control, holding the key to her own destiny.
Final Cut: (B+)