As a writer, Paul Schrader's gritty prose has fueled more than a dozen classics, with films like Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, and the wonderful Affliction to his credit. As a director, Schrader has been no less provocative, helming several of his own screenplays, including Hardcore, American Gigolo, and, perhaps most importantly for horror afficionados, 1982's Cat People, a remake of Jacques Tourneur's 1942 film-noir styled thriller.
It's a shame it's so dull.
Irene Galier (the ridiculously attractive Kinski) moves to New Orleans to meet her recently discovered brother, Paul (McDowell). The two had been separated since childhood after their parents suicide, but Paul knew of his sister's existance and tracked her down. The happy reunion is cut short when Paul dissappears, leaving Irene to fend for herself in the Big Easy. Meanwhile, a black leopard inexplicably turns up in the French Quarter and mangles a prostitute. Oliver Yates (Heard) is called in to wrangle the beast, and brings it back to the New Orleans Zoo ( side note: Don't zoos usually have better protection from animals than bars spaced widely enough for a small human to slip through? Were Lions not dangerous in 1982?)
Irene also turns up at the zoo, where she sees the latest attraction (talk about a quick turnaround!) and becomes enthralled by it. OIiver catches a glimps of Irene, and it's mad mad love, until Paul returns with a little tale about...well....sprouting a little tail. Now Irene must choose between love and her destiny of..er..something to do with cats.
I remember really liking this movie when I was a kid, because, as I recalled, Nastassja Kinski was nekkid. Alot.
As a matter of fact, that's about all I remembered about Cat People. Virtually every frame I could call to mind featured full-frontal nudity involving Klaus' kid, and it gave me woo...um...warm fuzzies. So it was with bated breath that I tossed this platter into my player, somehow expecting a non-stop barrage of naked Nastassja, and as the minutes passed I noticed a treacherous lack of nudity, thrills, or really just about anything to hold my interest. Sure, we get an arm torn off and a couple of grisly discoveries, but where oh where is all of that racy sex I remembered?
Rose colored glasses I imagine. Movies like this always look better when your 10.
Now, this isn't to say Cat People is a bad film. Schrader lends a lot of style to the proceedings, and, thanks to the New Orleans locales, it all feels very European and inviting. It's just that, as a horror film, Cat People is about as horrific as cleaning out a litter box.
So is it a romantic tale? Well, it could've been if there were any semblence of chemistry between Irene and Oliver, or a reason for them to fall in love over a matter of days. Instead, they just sort of fall together and we are to accept that, which limits the whole "tragic" coda to a chuckle inducing moral commentary.
The new DVD release features a few goodies that were not included on the bare release from 1999, including a feature length commentary by Schrader, a few short documentaries, including an "Intimate Portrait" by Schrader, an on-set segment, a behind-the-scenes look at the FX, Matte Paintings, and an interview with Robert Wise about the original Cat People and it's director. The transfer looks pretty good, with just a touch of grain which isn't odd for a 20 year old film.
Okay, so it's not much of a horror film, and it's not much of a love story. What it is, however, is a noir-ish, highly stylized, yet ultimately poorly realized monster movie that makes for a decent watch, but is not the racy classic I remembered it to be.