Cat People (1982) / Horror-Thriller
MPAA rated: R for sexual content, nudity, gore, violence, and language
Running time: 118 min.
Cast: Nastassja Kinski, Malcolm McDowell, John Heard, Ruby Dee, Ed Begley Jr., Scott Paulin, Frankie Faison
Small part: John Larroquette, Ray Wise
Director: Paul Schrader
Screenplay: Alan Ormsby
Cat People is a loose 1982 remake of the 1942 Val Lewton/Jacques Tourneur horror flick of the same name. Some time in the ancient past, a magical religious sacrifice between human cat worshippers and panthers took place, uniting the two in some sort of mating/bonding ritual. Centuries later in modern-day New Orleans, orphaned Irena Gallier (Kinski, Paris Texas) travels to stay with her long-separated older brother Paul (McDowell, Caligula), though he seems to treat her with an incestuous leer. Shortly thereafter, Paul disappears, and it has something to do with the sudden appearance of a large and pissed-off panther who is found in a massage parlor, having killed a prostitute in a most grisly fashion.
The cat is captured by a local zoologist named Oliver (Heard, Cutter's Way), who keeps the beast in a cage at the zoo. Irena is drawn to the beast, getting a job in the gift shop at the zoo, and soon befriends curator Oliver, who becomes attracted to her (and she in return). It turns out that there is more of a connection between Paul and the fierce and deadly cat than meets the eye, and that blood may also run through Irena as well, dooming the possibility of a normal relationship, as cat people can only mate with their own kind without turning into ravenous panthers.
Cat People feels more like a basic werewolf movie, though charged with a high degree of chic eroticism about its subject. As with its vampire and werewolf influences, much is made between the link between ones sexuality and ones primal instincts that emerge, here represented by the feral cat that prowls for prey. (Hey, you asked for pussy). Writer-director Paul Schrader (Affliction, Auto Focus) finds ways to get his subjects in states of undress whenever possible, especially then-girlfriend Nastassja Kinski, who seems to disrobe quite a bit for someone playing a chaste virgin. She is sensual and alluring, nevertheless, so it is highly doubtful her fans will be disappointed.
Special effects are more a liability than an asset, and it especially pales to the werewolf film, An American Werewolf in London, which was released a mere year before. nevertheless, the film does succeed in evoking a certain sense of style, with strong ed motifs, and an alluring Georgio Moroder (Foxes, Midnight Express) synthesized score. The film's end credits kick off with a minor David Bowie classic song which would later be prominently utilized in Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds during one famous sequence.
While the film does have a modest amount of gore, Schrader rarely plays any of it for scares, and the film feels more like a sterile examination of people who lead bizarre lives, especially sexually. One might reasonably call the film Cronenberg-lite. Perhaps with more commitment to expository information, there might have been a story here worth telling, but much is left to the imagination in terms of the plot, even if little is left to the imagination in the wardrobe and moments of brief gore departments.
Despite the problematic story areas, there is a certain elegance to the way the film is shot that is, at the very least, interesting. It's not difficult to be elegant when so many beautiful leopards are prominently featured, though one wonders how much they were antagonized to always be shown on screen looking angry or agitated. As a straight horror film, there isn't enough scares to recommend to genre enthusiasts, but for those primarily looking for erotica with horror elements, the metaphysical treatment does make for some interesting, if somewhat silly and occasionally nonsensical, viewing.
©2012 Vince Leo