Cat Girl from 1957 was the first horror film role for Barbara Shelley, the film being a loose remake of Jacques Tourneur’s 1942 classic Cat People. Here however, the action takes place in England as opposed to Manhattan.
Directed by Alfred Shaughnessy (Upstairs Downstairs), the film’s central performance concerns the mysterious Leonora (B. Shelley – Village Of The Damned / Dracula, Prince Of Darkness), a rather nervous and sexually inhibited young woman convinced that her ancestors were so called cat people. Therefore convinced that she too is a victim of the ancient curse, Leonora – although inwardly repressed – displays the feral instincts of a cheetah. When her husband Richard (Jack May), tired of his wife’s irrational behaviour, starts an affair with another woman it’s not before long when the first corpses pile up… not that we get to see any gory details you understand, this was 1957 after all. Thing is, despite Leonora’s claims that it is she responsible for the killings, no one wants to believe her and her claims are dismissed as the fantasies of an increasingly hysterical woman. Only Dr. Brian Marlowe (Robert Ayres) senses that something is terribly wrong here, and suggests that his patient might benefit from a spell in the local psychiatry. Bad mistake, for soon after interiors are ripped to shreds, while a cheetah on the loose is spotted roaming the hospital grounds. However, it is only when Leonora’s gown also seems torn albeit without injuries on her body, that Dr. Marlowe finally begins to listen to the young woman whose predatory instincts seem to take over her personality at rapid speed…
The film, an Ealing Studios low budget affair, never really takes off as far as movies from that genre go, although the remote and fog shrouded family home makes for some chilling scenes and transmits a sense of looming menace. The climax, if you can call it that, has an impressive chase scene in which Shelley, barefoot and sporting a black lacquer trench coat, morphs from distressed woman into, well, no prices for guessing this one!
Shelley’s strong and utterly convincing performance as the mentally tormented Leonora far surpasses the film’s distinct B-movie ambience. Strictly speaking, the film is more chiller than horror, but makes for perfect entertainment on a rainy evening in.
Cat Girl – part of the British Film Collection – is presented in a brand new transfer and its original aspect ratio. The DVD offers the following bonus material: stills gallery and promo-PDF.