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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
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.
In general terms, the basic premise of both original 1942 CAT PEOPLE
and the 1982 Paul Schrader remake are the same: an exotic European
beauty is given to transforming into a black panther when sexually
aroused. But Schrader unravels this fantasy concept in some very
overtly Freudian directions, setting his version in against the
decadent charm of New Orleans, introducing a theme of incest, and
ramping up the original with a lot of nudity, a lot of sex, and some of
the most graphic violence around. The result is an American
blood-and-gore horror film with a hypnotic European sensibility that
equates both sexual frustration and orgasm with violent death.
The story line concerns two orphaned siblings (Natasha Kinski and Malcom McDowell) who are reunited in New Orleans as adults--but they are, unbeknownst to the sister, the descendants of a mutant race who can only mate with their own kind without transforming into ravening beasts who must then kill to regain their human form. When sister Natasha rejects her brother's advances and then falls in love with a hunky zoo director all hell breaks loose.
In some respects the film is extremely, extremely frustrating, often sliding over the edge from a sexually provocative shocker into moments of annoying silliness--but on the whole it works extremely well as a both a sexual fantasy and a semi-camp statement in gratuitous sex and violence. Kinski is ideally cast as the sexy but virginal Irena; you can literally see the "cat" side of her nature emerge more and more as the film progresses. McDowell is equally interesting as her mad brother, and John Heard, Annette O'Toole, and particularly Ruby Dee offer excellent performances in the supporting cast. The New Orleans backdrop is extremely effective, and (speaking as one who has been there) the darker side of the city is perfectly captured; the Moroder score--which includes some sultry vocals by David Bowie--is also extremely good.
A great many people will loathe CAT PEOPLE, and the reasons will be diverse. The film is extremely bloody, often to a can-you-stand-to-look-at-the-screen degree; there is tremendous nudity and considerably sexual activity; and the combination of sex and violence into a sadomasochistic eroticism is quite disturbing. Beyond this, more critically inclined viewers may find themselves annoyed by the script's silliness and the fact that it does not always go as far over the top as it leads you to expect, and certainly the film's very literal depiction of fantasy elements will not be to every taste. But if you have a hunger to walk on the wild side, CAT PEOPLE (which is rapidly gaining status as a cult film) will suit your need as guilty pleasure.
Gary F. Taylor, aka GFT, Amazon Reviewer
"Cat People" is one of those movies that, by all rights, shouldn't be shown
on network TV. That's not a comment on quality; it's one of the best erotic
thrillers ever made (next to "The Hunger"). But when you have a movie
where, for the last half hour, the female lead is mostly undressed ... how
can you *show* the last half of the movie?
Very simply stated, they *don't* show it. I tried to watch Cat People on USA or some other network one night, and the last half hour had been cut down to about five minutes and made absolutely no sense. Worse, I was watching it with someone who had never seen it before, and when it was over, she was thoroughly confused and unimpressed.
So, number one: See this movie, if you haven't already! And number two, when you do ... rent or buy the video, or catch a revival on one of the premium cable channels.
Like many horror films, `Cat People' has at its centre an inherently
concept. The central characters, Irena and Paul, are brother and sister
the descendants of a long line of human/animal hybrids. In their normal
form, they are human, but they turn into black panthers whenever they have
sex with a normal person (but not when they have sex with one of their own
kind). After such a transformation, they can only revert to human form by
Absurdity, however, is not always a bad thing in the context of horror films; indeed, the success or failure of such films frequently depends upon the director's ability to persuade his audience to believe six impossible things before breakfast. Once the ground-rules have been laid down, they have to be developed with strict logic; if this is done convincingly enough, the audience can overlook the fact that those rules are implausible or even impossible. In `Cat People' this is largely achieved. At the start of the film, Irena is an innocent girl, still a virgin and unaware of her true nature. Paul, by contrast, is well aware of the truth, and has no compunction about killing to regain human form after his many promiscuous sexual encounters. Irena finds out the truth about herself after she moves to live with Paul in New Orleans. He proposes that they should have an incestuous relationship as this would mean they were free to indulge themselves sexually without transforming. Irena, however, recoils from the idea of incest, and falls in love with Oliver, a curator at the local zoo.
`Cat People' reminded me of another early eighties horror film, Tony Scott's `The Hunger'. Both are frankly erotic, both have an absurd concept at their core, and both are shot in a self-consciously stylish manner reminiscent of a pop video, aiming for a deliberately aesthetic look. (Another link is that David Bowie, who starred in `The Hunger', sings the song at the end of `Cat People' as the final credits are playing). `Cat People', however, is in my view the better film, precisely because it remains true to the rules inherent in its central concept whereas `The Hunger' does not. To take an example, Catherine Deneuve's character in that film is supposed to be ageless and immortal, yet nevertheless dies at the end. `Cat People' can develop its basic concept without departing from it. Moreover, it develops the idea in such a way as to arouse sympathy for the characters, or at least for Irena. She is confronted with an essentially tragic dilemma; she must either resign herself to a life without the man whom she loves and without any possibility of sexual love, or else become a killer. She is aware of this dilemma, and her conscience is troubled by it. As a result, we find that she is a character with whom we can identify, even though she is only half-human. In `The Hunger', by contrast, the vampires played by Catherine Deneuve and David Bowie have absolutely no conscience about killing in order to feed, and therefore seem more alien.
As she showed in `Tess', Nastassja Kinski has a great ability to suggest a disturbing mixture of innocence and sensuality, and this was much in evidence in `Cat People'. While the film is not on the same level as Polanski's, and does not test her as an actress to the same degree, it probably shows off her beauty to even greater effect. With her lithe, slim figure, her piercing gaze and her short, dark hair, she seems physically perfect for the role of Irena. It would be difficult to think of another actress who could have suggested the feline side of her nature more convincingly. Malcolm McDowell, as Paul, showed that he is much practised in the art of combining the charming with the sinister. John Heard gave a more stolid performance as Oliver, but this was not necessarily a fault; the intention could have been to contrast the safe, conventional Oliver with the dangerous but fascinating Paul.
The film is not as good as the Jacques Tourneur original from 1942, lacking the earlier film's ability to convey mood and emotion through suggestion and nuance. Schrader's film is much more direct and less subtle, but nevertheless it is still worth watching. 6/10.
Like Joe D'Amato's "Buried Alive," this remake of "Cat People" is
technically a love story with a tough horror exterior. Both aspects of
these genres fit quite well to create an unconventional entertainment. The
movie gets especially high mileage out of two inspired leads--Nastassia
Kinski as the young, attractive virgin (she also looks like a more predatory
version of Isabella Rossellini); and Malcolm McDowell, who still glows with
all the playful malevolence he brought to "A Clockwork Orange," as her
brother, who morphs into a panther when sexually aroused. In spite of an
ill-defined supporting cast, Paul Schrader's assured direction, the bizarre
script (by "Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things" star Alan Ormsby),
those lush New Orleans locations, and the chemistry between Kinski and
McDowell keep "Cat People" afloat. It's a sexually charged horror story
told with a straight face, and it works.
****SPOILERS**** Paul Schrader's remake of the 1942 horror classic "Cat
People" this time set in New Orleans La. not in New York City. Irena
Gallier, Nastassja Kinski, comes to live with her older brother Paul,
Malcolm McDowell, in the hot and sweltering southern city. Feeling for
the first time in her life wanted Irena was orphaned at the age of four
when her parents killed themselves. She spent her formidable years in
and out of orphanages and it wasn't until her brother tracked her down
that she fond a home of her own in Louisiana. It turns out later in the
movie that what Paul wants from her is more then what Irena is willing
to give him.
Nastassja Kinski in one of her most sexiest roles is both seductive and innocent as Irena and gives the film the electricity that keeps the movie going even though the cast has trouble keeping up with her performance at times. Malcolm McDowell is both creepy and unnerving as Irena's older brother Paul who's like a Tom-Cat in heat during the entire movie having no trouble getting women for his sexual pleasures. Paul also ends up murdering them because of his submerged animal instincts that those affairs bring to the surface. John Heard, Oliver Yates, is very good as the zoo curator and Irena's frustrated lover who Irena, who loves him, avoids having an affair with Oliver in order not to be forced to kill him. Annette O'Toole, Alice Perrin, is also very good in a small but important role as Oliver's co-worker in the New Orleans Zoo. Alice later becomes the focus of Irena's jealousy and resentment for being the woman who's standing between Oliver and her.
The movie recreates a number of scenes from the 1942 version with the cat-like woman coming up to Irena at a bar, in the first film it was at Irena's wedding party, and greets her in a foreign language calling her "My sister" or, what it obviously meant, fellow cat person. There's also the classic indoor swimming pool scene with Alice. This time around with Alice being topless which of course she couldn't have been in the 1942 version due to the censorship of nude scenes by the Hollywood Watchdog Hayes Commision. Alice taking a swim in the indoor swimming pool has the lights suddenly shut off and what seemed to be some kind of big cat in the shadows hounding her in the dark.
Unlike the original movie the new version of "Cat People" has a number of extremely gory scenes that are really shocking. With the black leopard in the movie who both Irena and Paul turn into being so horrific and terrifying that he makes the villains in horror/slashers movies today look as scary as Pee Wee Herman in comparison. With his eerie green eyes and ferocious and deadly fangs and claws you just cringe with fear every time the big cat comes on the screen. There's a blood splattered sequence where the enraged leopard grabs the zoo-keeper's Joe Creigh's, Ed Bagley Jr, arm between the bars of his cage. The sight of the big cat, who was really Paul, going wild when as saw Joe together with Irena, his sister, was one of the most terrifying scenes I've even seen in a motion picture. Joe foolishly tried to settle the leopard down with an electric prong as the dangerous feline suddenly and cat-like grabbed and ripped Joe's arm off with the ease as if it was attached to his body with just a rubber band. The frighting thing about the leopard's actions is that, unlike the killers in most horror films, it was so realistic knowing that a big dangerous jungle cat like that can do that in real life just like in the movies.
Even though Paul Schrader's "Cat People" doesn't in any way measure up to the original the ending was more interesting and innovative with Irena not being killed and Oliver ending up together with her instead of leaving Irena for Alice like Oliver did in the 1942 movie. In the end of the movie we see that Oliver finally accepts Irena for what she is with the knowledge that the only way he can be with her is between the bars that separate them.
What made Paul Schrader tackle this production I'm not sure. In a year
when John Carpenter was doing his rendition of the short story, not
even entirely so much the film, of The Thing, Schrader and his
screenwriter decided to go back to the source of one of those stories
no one really reads but pretends they have when in reality it's the
original film everyone remembers. But this is an opposite case of
Carpenters: where the original The Thing was, arguably, not really the
masterpiece everyone remembers (albeit influential), the remake truly
was. Jacques Tourner and Val Lewton crafted one of those quintessential
horror films that scares precisely because how little we see of the
actual panther on camera, while Schrader's film, actually, isn't a
masterpiece of horror, not quite close at all really. And it's not even
because Schrader decided to show the cat on screen, many times over
(maybe it's a leopard, they look similar but it's closer to panther to
No, it's a different film due to permissiveness of the time period (it's the 80s vs the 40s, so this time we get plenty of nudity, "bad" language, and the Giorgio Moroder musical accompaniment which has dated pretty terribly), and with its subject matter being far more based on the romantic than in the original film. It's a strange effort this Cat People, where incest even comes into question (or rather it's right out in the open, at least between the two parties), the look and feel of New Orleans and the Bayou becomes another character, and the characterizations become enhanced by the mere presence of Malcolm McDowell's inimitable face and Nastassja Kinski's irrepressible sexual charisma on camera. Not to say she can't act, since she can hold her own very well even when she's seemingly doing not much except walking naked through a field at night or, um, walking naked in a room or, you know, not naked in a swimming pool.
How much is actually taken from the original Tourner film or the short story I really can't say for certain. The pool scene is the only one I can recall specifically lifted from the original (and, not too sorry to say, 42 for the win on that one). But comparisons can get too petty in this instance, perhaps, since Schrader's goal is to analyze the characters in this setting, what sex and desire and the psychology of a were-cat does to a person, or to people who realize what they're capable of, as opposed to just simple horror. Schrader's direction has some genuine moments of thrill, or just plain artistic satisfaction, like a not-so simple composition of a tracking shot of one of the hookers walking along on a street at night at her foot level. I'm even reminded of De Palma, whom Schrader worked with once before.
But at the same time, for all of the versatility of the actors, and the occasional moments of surreal imagination, there's also much camp as well (Ed Begley's character's fate for example) and a few really cheesy parts or just scenes that don't work or, perhaps, are too saddled with a need to push the button of sex on film. It's a hot number that works well, more or less, and would take a deeper analysis to dissect than I can give it right now. It's respectable, at the least.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This '80s film is more of a love story than a horror although it does
have a few fairly horrific scenes in, in particular a rather graphic
scene where a zoo worker has his arm ripped off by a black panther.
The film opens in the prehistoric past with a girl being tied to a tree and left for a big cat... the action then moves the the present day where a beautiful young woman called Irena arrives in New Orleans and is met by her brother Paul who she hasn't seen since their parents died when she was a child. The next night her brother disappears around the same time a panther mauls a prostitute in a seedy hotel, this creature is captured and taken to the local zoo.
Irena goes looking for her brother but can't find him so decides to do some sightseeing and ends up at the zoo where she seems drawn the the recently captured panther which she starts to sketch, in fact she is so engrossed that she is still there an hour after the zoo closes. When Oliver, the zoo's curator, finds her there they end up going out for a meal of oysters together and she is offered a job in the zoo's gift shop. Her first day at work doesn't end well though as she witnesses one of the zoo workers being killed by the panther, and when Oliver arrives to put it down the panther has escaped. Once home she finds that her brother has returned, he explains their families strange heritage; that they are part panther and whenever they have sex with a person they become a panther and can't be human again until they have killed a person. He also tells her that the only exception to this is if they do it with another of their kind and as they are the last too that means incest. Irena is horrified at this and flees, bumping in to the police outside, they search the house's basement and find human remains they assume that Paul has been feeding people to a big cat rather than being the cat himself.
Oliver takes Irena to his house out of town which can only be reached by boat, here she starts to feel more in touch with nature and goes out at night, removes her nightdress and prowls around naked till she finds and kills a rabbit. On their return to the city her brother kills again, this time however he is trapped as a panther and killed, when Oliver performs a post mortem on the creature something rather strange occurs.
When Oliver's colleague Alice is out running she has a feeling she is being followed. Later when she goes for a swim she hears a strange growling and is scared when Irena enters as if she somehow knows she is dangerous. Later Irena sleeps with Oliver and as predicted becomes a panther in an impressive transformation scene. She does not however kill him, instead she leaves him but she is cornered by the police on a bridge, when Oliver arrives she jumps from the bridge into the river. Oliver heads back to his river side home and finds a friend dead in a tree and Irena at the house. I won't spoil the actual ending although.
The film is pretty good and the effects have aged well, it is good to see such scenes as the transformation done with makeup and prosthetics that than CGI. There is a fair amount of nudity in the film, some scenes like Irena walking around naked can be justified as it shows she is behaving in an animal rather than a human way others such as Alice swimming topless seem to be there just to show off Annette O'Toole's admittedly nice breasts.
The acting was good, especially Nastassja Kinski's portrayal of Irena which was positivity feline and switched from an innocent to a predator believably through the course of the film. While this film is by no means perfect I'd certainly recommend it to fans of "creature features" or Nastassja Kinski.
Erotic thriller with Nastassja Kinski starring as a young female who's gone searching for her own, inner self. In many ways a remake of the 1942 original, but also in many ways not a remake - a film that stands its own ground, this has a quality of sexual awakening and excitement that the original didn't have. Fabulous music by Giorgio Moroder (also featured is David Bowie's hit-single "Putting Out the Fire") accompanies many of the bloody and sexually occupied scenes that hammers on like they belonged in a artsy-fartsy porn flick. Kinskis performance at the center is typically her: odd, tactless, awkward, outlandish and sensual - in other words, highly enjoyable. She's fantastically beautiful, and she moves through a New Orleans during the fall, shot by John Bailey. And even though the level of thrills ain't always sky-high, the film has a charm and atmosphere that makes it a interesting, stylish and sexy cult picture.
Despite having been young, semi-conscious (I was under five years old)
and possessing few actual memories of the nineteen eighties, the decade
has a certain personal eroticism for me. The powdery skin, shimmering
camera-work, the outrageous kink and camp of the clothing, the
archetypal section of dim-minded actresses performing with the joyful
vacant-eyed faces of children: these all stir my heart. The film Cat
People was a smarter film when compared to too much of the artistic
output of the nineteen eighties but it also suffered from the
strangeness of the times. First of all, Nastassja Kinski has a sublime
beauty that would attract in any decade but was especially
characteristic of ideal notions of sexiness for those years. Her
eyebrow were that exquisite Madonna-esquire thick, her lips in a
permanent state of partial openness with full-on pout, her hair cut to
that boyish cute, and her shoulder pads speaking volumes about her
feminine authority. Even her cat-like demeanor, connected to the
premise of the film, was equivalent to popular depictions of women as
sex kittens. In essence, her performances in the film can be
interpreted as one of the finest expressions of the nineteen eighties
soft-lit, softcore pornographic aesthetic.
Secondly, as a horror film, it managed to offer moments of decent creepiness in the vein of the times. Fear, of course, has been a universal and timeless emotion yet it can be provoked in a manner reflective of the era. The Germans of centuries ago used grim and blood-spattered folk tales to frighten, director Paul Schrader used shadow. Shadows were such a magnificent aspect of the nineteen eighties aesthetic because their perfect in lockstep with the soft-lit light (consider the Vogue video). Schrader employed shadows in an eerie manner that kept the viewer guessing, achieving what few horror directors actual get from their audiences: fearful concern about what was in the dark. Consider two scenes: when Malcolm McDowell lunges from the shadows as the beast and when Nastassja Kinski has a passion moment in that darkened room. Schrader brilliance was to make the shadow both fearful and erotic: the dark has been traditional as fear-provoker and yet can be quite intimate as well. In mixing the two emotions successfully, Schrader made the film a unique creature for the horror genre.
Third, that soundtrack Giorgio Moroder and Bowie crafted must be one of the strangest in the history of film. Starting off on a campy note, the music over the reddish desert of the first scene ought to make a person either laugh or weep but it does get better. Listen to it; it goes with the images on screen like magic.
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