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 <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Not as Good as the Original, but Still Interesting
Like many horror films, `Cat People' has at its centre an inherently absurd concept. The central characters, Irena and Paul, are brother and sister and 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 killing.
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.
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