The Twilight Zone’s Night Call Was Directed By One Of Hollywood’s First Horror Masters – SlashFilm


Born in France as the son of filmmaker Maurice Tourneur, Jacques followed in his father’s footsteps. After making four films in his homeland, he went to Hollywood in the 1930s. He directed four thrillers for MGM from 1939 to 1941, then jumped over to RKO Pictures and partnered with producer Val Lewton. Their first movie together was 1942’s “Cat People,” a B-movie about Serbian-American Irena Dubrovna (Simone Simon) convinced she’s a werecat; clues pile up to suggest her delusions are anything but.

“Cat People” is remembered as a work of pure atmosphere. Tourneur’s experience making Noir pictures meant he brought the same heavy-cast shadows when he moved into horror. You know how “Jaws” is praised as scarier because it keeps the shark largely offscreen? “Cat People” did that first. Irena’s transformations are all offscreen and all cat attacks are performed with a real black panther. The film’s budget and available tech simply couldn’t make anything else work without undermining the atmosphere, so neither Tourneur nor Lewton tried.

The minimalist horror of “Cat People” even resulted in the jump scare formula horror directors still use today. In a pivotal scene, Alice (Jane Randolph) senses something unseen is following her. When she makes it to her bus stop, a cat’s growl erupts into the sound of a bus entering the frame from the right-hand side.

Tourneur didn’t only make horror movies after that; he directed the 1947 noir classic “Out of The Past,” starring Robert Mitchum. Still, “Cat People” remains his most celebrated film. It was already a legend by 1952. In Vincente Minnelli’s “The Bad and the Beautiful,” abrasive film producer Jonathan Shields (Kirk Douglas) breaks into the business of producing the cheap horror movie “Doom of the Cat Men,” which he and the director save by keeping the monsters offscreen. Val Lewton, is that you?

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