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 a wild animal, he starts suspecting that his new girlfriend holds the key to the mystery behind these gory murders.
Reaction & Thoughts:
In the great tradition of Universal’s successful cycle of horror films of the 1930s and 1940s, in 1982 the studio decided to remake one of 1940s’ most interesting horror films, Val Lewton’s Cat People. Directed by Paul Schrader (Hardcore and American Gigolo), this remake was an intriguing project that deserves more attention than what it has received over the years.
While the original Cat People 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.
Even after saying this, I admit that Cat People, written by Alan Ormsby, based on the old screenplay by Dewitt Bodeen, is not a perfect movie. The sensual tension that the story demands between McDowell and Kinski is completely absent from the final product. Schrader also seems a little indecisive about what kind of story he wants to tell: an erotic fable or a full-blooded horror film. Despite these complaints, Cat People is an intriguing and very entertaining movie — well crafted and full of nice surprises.
The film was originally subtitled “An Erotic Fantasy,” which gives the viewer a hint of what kind of film Schrader wanted to make. 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; he maintains that his movie is not really a remake of that famous horror movie. Although I do understand his attitude — comparisons can be odious — this is essentially Lewton’s movie filtered through ’80s sensibilities. Minus a few changes, the plot stays pretty close to the original.
Schrader’s newer version has as much sex as it has gore, and unlike the Lewton production, the director doesn’t leave much to the imagination. 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 as long as they stay a few steps away from the dreaded NC-17 label. 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 simply a better movie because it invited viewers to use their imagination to fill in the blanks.
That being said, I did like the movie. There is so much to appreciate here. The technical aspects of the film are top-notch.
John Bailey’s (Ordinary People and The Big Chill) 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. Albert Whitlock (Earthquake and The Andromeda Strain) and his amazing backgrounds are well showcased. 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. Ferdinando Scarfiotti’s sets are pretty impressive too. The imaginative special makeup effects were executed by Tom Burman.
Giorgio Moroder’s (Midnight Express and Flashdance) 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 strangest and 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 the movie 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. Co-starring Annette O’Toole (Superman III), Ed Begley Jr. (She Devil), John Larroquette (TV’s Night Court), and Ruby Dee (American Gangster). Color, 118 minutes, Rated R.