Cat People (1982)

Cat People (1982)

“I prefer animals to people.”

A virginal young woman (Nastassja Kinski) who has just reunited with her shape-shifting grown brother (Malcolm McDowell) and his housekeeper (Ruby Dee) in New Orleans falls for a handsome zookeeper (John Heard) who has helped capture McDowell when he was in panther-form — but when she learns about a dark family secret and her brother attempts to seduce her, her romance with Heard is put on hold.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Ed Begley Jr. Films
  • Horror Films
  • Incest and Incestuous Undertones
  • John Heard Films
  • Malcolm McDowell Films
  • Nastassja Kinski Films
  • Paul Schrader Films
  • Ruby Dee Films

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary asserts that “Paul Schrader’s re-working of Val Lewton’s classic starts out reasonably well but then becomes an abomination”. He notes that “Kinski is well cast, Annette O’Toole is likable as Heard’s workmate:

… and some early scenes are quite eerie and erotic, but Alan Ormsby’s script becomes incoherent, the John Bailey [cinematographer]-Ferdinando Scarfiotti [production designer] visuals become too surrealistic, and Schrader completely forgets the subtlety, sensuality, and taste that distinguished Lewton’s film” — instead filling “the screen with nudity and gory violence that are antithetical to Lewton.” In a 2000 interview, Schrader apparently admitted that Lewton’s film didn’t mean much to him, and that he wanted “the movie credited as ‘A Paul Schrader and Fernando Scarfiotti Film'” — but despite significant narrative differences between the two films, there are enough scenes that are direct homages (i.e., the swimming pool scene) that it’s hard not to make comparisons.

Unfortunately, I’m in agreement with Peary that this more literal “version” is much less successful, and actually pretty icky. McDowell seems comfortable building on the theme of incest from his infamous turn in Caligula (1979), but why in the world would audiences want to hear him saying to Kinski, “We are an incestuous race; we can only make love with our own — otherwise, we transform.”? I get that this is the mythos behind the storyline, but it’s simply unappealing. Kinski is alluring, and good use is made of New Orleans settings — but this one isn’t must-see viewing.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Nastassja Kinski as Irena
  • Atmospheric cinematography and sets

Must See?
No, unless you’re curious.


2 thoughts on “Cat People (1982)

  1. ⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2 out of ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

    Only one of two horror films Paul Schrader has made (the other is Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist) and it’s a superb remake; taking the story in different directions. Great performances and bags of atmosphere this plays much more on the erotic angle and has a great score by Georgio Moroder with David Bowie. I actually prefer this version much as I also love the original.

    However, it’s not must see despite being a superbly crafted melding of sound and vision. Highly regarded but not with any significance. The original is however a touchstone ’40s horror and is must see.

  2. Not must-see. As per my 9/1/20 post in ‘Revival House of Camp & Cult’ (fb):

    “Save me. Only you can stop the killing. You’ve got to make love with me – as brother and sister.”

    ‘Cat People’: Over the course of his career, Paul Schrader has written and / or directed some terrific films. This isn’t one of them – though it received a surprising amount of praise upon release. Largely believed to be a remake of Jacques Tourneur’s vastly superior 1942 horror classic, Schrader eventually claimed that the two films have almost nothing in common (mainly outside Schrader’s attempt to re-create the original, memorable swimming pool sequence). Still, after a lethargic first half (tethered to a limp script that forfeits the rich, gothic setting of New Orleans), the film’s latter half cashes in on lazy logic that can give way to giggles. Along that way, my favorite scene has leopard-possessed Nastassja Kinski showing up at John Heard’s apartment late at night, when he catches her in bedside-lamplight with her face covered in blood. “Don’t look at me!”, she screams – which leads to Heard… bizarrely ignoring that it ever happened. There’s no follow-up mention, such as, “Hey, about last night when you had that blood all over your face… what’d you do, kill and drain a small animal or something?, or do you not want to talk about it?” Later, saddled as she is with her burdensome curse, Kinski sees no choice but to get out of town. She shows up at a bus station, throws a lot of cash on the ticket counter and moans, “How far will that take me?” Hey, we’ve all had bad days! The transformation scene from ‘An American Werewolf in London’ is revived to lesser effect, but maybe nothing beats the nonsensical conclusion, in which Kinski exhorts Heard to tie her limbs to a bed and mount her so that she will magically (and inexplicably) remain a leopard forever. (That probably beats *anyone’s* worst one-night-stand.) As Kinski’s brother, Malcolm McDowell also gets to come off as pretty silly overall but at least Ruby Dee is saved the embarrassment of having her under-developed Creole character thrown into parody. … David Bowie pulled a great song out of this deal (though the film version is different).

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