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 aficionados, 1982's Cat People, a remake of the Val Lewton/Jacques Tourneur's 1942 noir/horror masterpiece. Sadly, like many an 80s reinvention, Schrader’s Cat People proved to be more about style than substance and, weighed down by uncharacteristically bad writing, a slow-as-molasses plot, and less than stellar performances.
Irene Galier (the ridiculously attractive Nastassja Kinski) moves to New Orleans to meet her recently discovered brother, Paul (Malcolm McDowell). The two had been separated since childhood after their parent’s suicide, but Paul knew of his sister's existence and tracked her down. The happy reunion is cut short when Paul disappears, 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 (John 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 glimpse 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.
I remember really liking this movie when I was a kid, because, as I recalled, Nastassja Kinski was nekkid. A lot.
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 was 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 Southern Gothic style of the New Orleans locales, there’s a palpable sense of unease and the exotic. 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 were there any semblance of chemistry between Irene and Oliver. 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.
Scream Factory brings Cat People to Blu-ray as part of their Collector’s Edition series, offering up the film in a so-so 1.85:1 transfer that, while vibrant and well balanced in terms of contrast (especially given the films many dark/night sequences), looks to have been sapped of much of its detail due to excess digital noise reduction. It’s not a bad transfer, but it’s certainly not what we’re used to from Scream Factory.
We’re given a pair of audio choices; both 2.0 and 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio mixes. The 2.0 mix is crisp and serviceable, but the 5.1 mix is remarkably atmospheric, with better sound separation and richer bass (which will no doubt please fans of the film’s throbbing Giorgio Moroder score).
Extras include a collection of interviews (HD) with the cast and crew that have been newly recorded for this Blu-ray release. Subjects include Nastassja Kinski, Annette O’Toole, John Heard, Malcolm McDowell, Lynn Lowry, Giorgio Moroder, and Schrader, and, between all of the principals, there’s a solid hour or so of retrospective goodness collected here. Also included is a stills gallery (HD) and a pair of vintage trailers (HD), but, sadly, none of the extras from the Universal’s 2002 DVD release - which featured a Schrader commentary and a few choice featurettes - were carried over.
Cat People is a highly stylized –yet-poorly realized monster movie that makes for a decent watch, but is not the racy classic I remembered it to be. Scream Factory’s Blu-ray presentation isn’t up to the company’s usual impeccable standards in terms of transfer quality, but winning audio and a nice collection of new extras make it a tempting upgrade, but the fact that the previously released DVD’s bonus features weren’t ported over keeps this from being the “definitive” version of the film, making this a must-buy for hardcore fans only.