After a long separation, a brother (Malcom McDowell, A Clockwork Orange) and sister (Nastassia Kinski, Tess) meet for the first time since childhood. While the young woman rekindles her relationship with her brother, she develops a romantic relationship with a zoo curator (John Heard, Home Alone). As the curator helps the police investigate a series of brutal murders caused by black leopard, he starts suspecting that his new girlfriend holds the key to the mystery behind these gory murders.
Reaction & Thoughts:
“Pretend the world is what men think it is.”
In the great tradition of Universal’s successful cycle of horror films of the 1930s and 1940s, in 1982 the studio decided to remake Val Lewton’s 1942 classic chiller Cat People. Directed by Paul Schrader (American Gigolo), this remake is a provocative horror movie that deserves more attention than what it has received over the years.
While the 1942 movie relied mostly on atmosphere and character development, director Schrader chose to go one step further when he decided to handle the remake, understanding that over the years, audiences had changed. Schrader opted to reshape the concept rather than to retell the same story, adding new sub-plots and exploring ideas that the original film could only hint at. The result is a film that is sinuous, erotic, and sometimes bloody, replete with eye-popping visuals.
However, even with that being said, I’ll admit that Cat People has some problems. The story is a tad sexist. In addition, the film would have benefited from having more scenes between actors Malcom McDowell and Nastassia Kinski, who have a fascinating relationship in the film. Schrader also seems a little indecisive about what kind of story he wants to tell, an erotic adult fable or a full-blooded horror film. Despite these complaints, I found Cat People to be a superbly-crafted and ingenious horror movie.
On a curious note, Schrader has said on numerous occasions that he was regretful of his decision to keep the original title of the 1942 movie. The filmmaker maintains that his movie is not really a remake of that famous horror movie. Although I do understand his attitude (comparisons can be odious), I don’t really buy Schrader’s argument — minus a few changes, the remake stays pretty close to the 1940s movie.
The main difference is that Schrader’s version has more explicit gore and sex, but that’s simply a reflection of modern times. There is no censorship to worry about, and today’s filmmakers are free to do whatever the heck they want to do. I’m in no way suggesting that I support censorship, but the truth is that the restrictive nature of the old moral code forced filmmakers to be more creative. The original is probably a better movie because it invited viewers to use their imagination to fill in the blanks.
All things considered, I did like the movie. There is so much to appreciate here. The technical aspects of the film are top-notch. First, John Bailey’s (American Gigolo and Ordinary People) slick camera work is excellent. Colors are intense in the opening sequences and appropriately subdued in the New Orleans scenes — New Wave meets old-styled decadence. Ferdinando Scarfiotti’s sets are pretty impressive too.
Albert Whitlock (The Andromeda Strain) and his amazing backgrounds are well showcased, too. Nowadays, these kinds of effects are done by computers, but thirty years ago directors depended on the expertise of geniuses like Whitlock in order to enhance the scenario of many movies. Finally, Giorgio Moroder’s (Midnight Express) weird, but pulsating music score and the theme song (sung by David Bowie, lyrics by Bowie and music by Moroder) mix well with the style of the movie.
Conclusions & Final Thoughts:
Paul Schrader’s Cat People remains one of Universal’s most interesting remakes; a sort of tribute to the studio’s classic monster flicks. This intriguing horror film still holds up rather well, even when it is compared to the admittedly superior 1942 movie, thanks to the professionalism of its participants. Cat People is a solid horror movie, especially for fans of Universal horror movies. Color, 118 minutes, Rated R.
Hm. To be honest, I’ve never liked this one much, although I’m certainly impressed by the force of your argument in its favor. As you say, the power, erotic and otherwise, of the original came from the fact that we had to fill in so very much of the offscreen events for ourselves: the sexuality was there, but all the more affecting because it was our own, not just naked Nastassia Kinski in Cinemascope (or whatever).
Your choice of a previous career highlight for John Heard is . . . interesting. To be honest, I’d completely forgotten he was even in Home Alone! 🙂
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“Your choice of a previous career highlight for John Heard is . . . interesting.”
You are such a sharp reader! This was a conscious decision on my part. I almost picked Cutter’s Way, a better representation of Heard’s talents as an actor. He is not all that popular so I decided to go with the monster box office hit. Shame on me! 😉
I’m interested you should say he “is not all that popular” because I’d always assumed that he was pretty popular. I’m not disagreeing — I’m quite sure your assessment is the correct one. My own perception is based on the fact that he turns up reasonably often — and is so adroit in — the noirish/thriller movies I tend to watch. In those his archetypal performance is probably the one in Deceived (1991), where he’s the duplicitous murderous swine husband to Goldie Hawn’s trusting wife.
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The relativity of popularity? Perhaps you are right about Heard. Maybe he is more popular than I initially thought. I can only speak from my own personal experience. I always meet people who don’t know him. However, when I say, “the father in Home Alone,” I immediately get a positive reaction.
Having recently watched the original 1942 Cat People, I feel the need to re-watch this remake for comparison sake. And though I only have some vague recollections of it, I suspect that my 22 year old self probably liked it because of Nastassia Kinski’s appearance 🙂
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I know what you are talking about! Kinski’s beauty is hard to forget! 😉