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The Cat People originated way back in time, when humans sacrificed their women to leopards, who mated with them. Cat People look similar to humans, but must mate with other Cat People before they transform into panthers. Irene Gallier was raised by adoptive parents and meets her older brother Paul for the first time since childhood. We follow brother and sister - who seem to be the only ones of their kind left. Written by
Colin Tinto <email@example.com>
Brilliant film, but should not be thought of as a remake
After looking for years for his long lost sister, Irena Gallier (Nastassja Kinski), Paul (Malcolm McDowell) finally finds her and has her come to New Orleans, where he's currently living. While there, she gradually discovers the truth about their bizarre past and falls for a zoo curator.
First, a caveat. Director Paul Schrader, in his interview on the Cat People DVD, says that he regrets that he didn't just change the name of the film to remove some of the perception that this is a remake of Jacques Tourneur's Cat People from 1942. It is wrong to look at this as a remake. Aside from mostly superficial similarities, Schrader's Cat People really has little to do with the original--no more in common than, say, The Grudge (2004) and The Ring (2002), assuming that "Kayako" from The Grudge would have been named "Samara" instead, or no more similar than any two random vampire films. Irena's first name is the same, there are similarities in her background story and what she is, she visits a zoo, she falls in love with a man with the same first name of "Oliver", and there are maybe two and a half scenes similar to Tourneur's film. That's it. Yes, I'm a fan of Tourneur's film, too--it's my favorite out of his collaborations with producer Val Lewton. But you have to forget about Tourneur's film when watching this one. This is a remarkable work of cinematic art in its own right, with its own story and goals.
Schrader's Cat People deserves a 10 on visual terms alone. The cinematography, production design and lighting are nothing short of genius throughout the film. Almost every shot is one that deserves to be paused and studied. Director of photography John Bailey never ceases to find interesting perspectives, angles and tracking. The sets are elaborate and exquisitely constructed for visual impact. In conjunction with the lighting, the film is mired in a rich, varied palette of colors similar to (and as good as) Dario Argento's best work.
Of course the film is more graphic than Tourneur's--it would be almost impossible for it not to be, both in terms of blood/gore and nudity, and all of that is shot brilliantly as well. The only cinematic instance of blood that I can think of that is as effective as the scene in this film where blood runs by Irena's shoes and down a drain is the shower scene from Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (1960). The event leading up to this image has more impact of most similar scenes, as well. The copious amounts of nudity throughout the film are never gratuitous (not that I have anything against gratuitous nudity, mind you), but always interestingly blocked, with some grander artistic purpose. These scenes range from creating juxtapositions between prurient voyeurism and horror, to surrender to and (sometimes perverse) domination of animality, to interior psychological conflicts--just look at the ingenious placement of a window frames during a full frontal nudity shot in Oliver's "swamp cabin".
The music--both the score and the incidental songs, are just as good. Most of it is an eerie, synthesized score by Giorgio Moroder. It often approaches the tasty moodiness of Brian Eno's excellent work with David Bowie (Low, Heroes, Lodger), which is perhaps ironic in light of the fact that Bowie contributed a great song for the closing credits. The limited incidental music--such as Jimmy Hughes' "Why Not Tonight?" during the cab ride to the zoo--fits the mood of the film perfectly.
Of course, the film isn't all just visuals and music. There's an intriguing, surreal story here, and great performances from a seemingly odd combination of actors--ranging from Kinski and McDowell to Ed Begley, Jr. and John Laroquette. Setting the film in New Orleans was an inspired choice, as it allowed for eerie voodoo-weirdness ala Angel Heart (1987) and moody swamp vistas ala Down By Law (1986) to seep into the already creepy story. Setting the more dreamlike imagery in a desert (albeit a studio-created desert) also helped draw me into the film, as there is probably no environment I find more aesthetically captivating.
I first saw Cat People as a teen during its theatrical run. I didn't like it near as much then, and that fact caused me to put off re-watching it for a number of years. I think at that time, the film may have been too slow for me, I may not have understood it very well, and I certainly didn't have the visual and overall aesthetic appreciation that I currently have. Now, I think it's a masterpiece--perhaps one of the better films of the 1980s. It's worth checking out at least once, and if you've seen it awhile ago and think you didn't like it so well, it's worth giving a second chance.
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