If you come to Curse of the Cat People (1944) expecting a sequel to Cat People in the usual sense of a horror sequel, you’ll be disappointed (as I was, the first time I saw it). Usually, in a horror sequel, the monster from the first film returns to wreak havoc on a new set of victims; here, the victims from the first film return to wreak havoc on a new monster — only, in this case, the “monster” isn’t a troubled young woman, but an over-imaginative young girl.
In Curse of the Cat People, all-American lukewarms Alice and Ollie (the couple from Cat People) are now married and have a daughter. Amy is an imaginative child, shunned by other children because she’s apt to forget the game they’re playing and wander off in her own little world. Her father Ollie is worried. His experience with Irena in Cat People has led to him being mistrustful of everything that smacks of his former wife’s mental problems. He thinks there’s “something moody, something sickly” about young Amy’s tendency to go “moping and dreaming” on her own. “She could almost be Irena’s child,” he muses to this wife, who gently reminds him that she’s the one to know this can’t be the case. But when, having been shown a photograph of Irena, Amy identifies this dead woman as her new playmate, Ollie first tries to get her to admit she’s lying, then gives Amy her first smacking. He tells Amy’s teacher that his first wife “told lies to herself and believed them”, and that she then went mad, killed a man, then killed herself. (And so he seems to have forgotten his own last words at the end of the previous film: “She never lied to us.”)
What makes it worse is that Amy’s imaginative friend, played by Simone Simon of the first film, is entirely benevolent. The “curse” of the sequel’s title isn’t the fact that Amy is haunted by her father’s first wife, but that Amy’s father is haunted by a fear of people who show any signs of being different. And although his new-found distrust of imagination does, finally, add a new dimension to his character, at two dimensions he’s still far short of the norm, and really not the best person to be deciding how to bring up a sensitive, imaginative child.
There are none of the shocks or spookiness of the first film, apart from a few moodily-lit Gothic moments thanks to a subplot involving a senile old actress who insists the woman sharing her house is not her daughter but an impostor. Instead, the film goes for gentle family melodrama and moments of lightly enchanting childhood fantasy. It’s a sequel to Cat People more in the thematic sense, as it deals with how those “normal, happy” people (or one of them at least, as Alice has much less of her husband’s phobia) of the first film can deal so badly with those who are a little bit different from them. Thankfully, this time there’s no lecherous Dr Judd to push things too far. Instead, Ollie gets advice from his daughter’s teacher, who points out that, as he builds ships, he’s not trained to deal with children but she is, and that it’s only natural for a lonely, imaginative child to invent a friend.
I think you have to approach Curse of the Cat People prepared for something very different from what you’d expect of a film billed as a sequel to Cat People. It’s not a horror film, and, more importantly, it has none of the first film’s psychological intensity. Ollie’s very slow — and, at the end, not very convincing — coming to terms with the fact that his daughter isn’t as imaginatively shallow as he is (at the end, he refuses to look at where young Amy tells him Irena is standing, but lies all the same, saying he sees her too) isn’t even a truly satisfying resolution, but, as sequels go, at least the film attempts something interesting.