Format: DVD from Manteno Public Library through interlibrary loan on the new portable.
When someone talks about the movie Cat People, I immediately go to the Val Lewton-produced film from the 1940s. It was made on the cheap, of course, and does all of its work with sound and shadow. It’s a surprisingly effective little thriller. It’s also remarkably sex-filled for a movie of that vintage. Essentially, the main character is scared to have sex because having sex will turn her into a panther. Naturally, forty years after the original we get a remake that touches on much of the same ideas but absolutely ramps up the sex. Cat People from 1982, it could be argued, exists specifically because Nastassja Kinski does full frontal.
Irena Gallier (Kinski) arrives in New Orleans at the behest of her brother Paul (Malcolm McDowell). The two have not seen each other in years, having been raised separately after the death of their parents. While Irena was raised in a series of foster homes, Paul was raised mainly in psych wards. He now lives in the Big Easy with his housekeeper (Ruby Dee), who is literally named “Female,” pronounced “fe-MAH-lee,” and perpetuating an ugly stereotype.
Anyway, in a seemingly unrelated note, a prostitute named Ruthie (Lynn Lowry) heads to a client in a fleabag motel and winds up assaulted by a black panther. Animal control in the form of local zoo curator Oliver Yates (John Heard) and his former lover now assistant Alice Perrin (Annette O’Toole) arrive, tranq the panther, and bring it to the zoo. Meanwhile, Irena can’t find her brother. If you think those two things are connected, you’re right. Soon enough, Irena is drawn to the zoo where she meets Oliver, who gives her a job in the gift shop. And, shortly thereafter, one of the zookeepers (Ed Begley Jr.) has his arm ripped off by the panther. The next day, the panther is missing and Paul has returned.
Okay, you get what is happening, at least on the surface. What you haven’t gotten yet is just how deep this particular rabbit hole is going to go. Because you’re watching a movie and can do simple addition, you’ve figured out that the panther is Paul. And, because we’ve learned that Irena is still a virgin but definitely has an affinity for cats and some cat-like features, you’ve probably guessed that she is a panther as well. You’re right. Now here’s where it gets creepy.
Paul tells her that they are both cat people, like their parents. When they have sex, they turn into a panther. The only way they can return to their human form is to kill someone. Then he drops the real bomb—the only way to prevent that transformation after sex is if that sex is with another cat person…and they are naturally incestuous. In fact, their parents were siblings. And now Paul wants them to be a mated pair despite her attraction to Oliver, since there will naturally be terrible consequences if that relationship gets consummated. So yes, this is a film where the love story by design includes a heavy element of incest.
Naturally there are a few more deaths, and it’s not going to be a surprise that Irena and Oliver are eventually going to make the beast with two backs so that Irena can get some beast time of her own. But it’s a doomed love affair, much like the original movie. In fact, the biggest difference here is that Nastassja Kinski’s Irena is willing to risk becoming a panther while Simone Simon’s Irena remains virginal even when married.
I did like that Paul Schrader was smart enough to keep an eye toward the original. There’s a sexed-up (read: topless) version of the pool sequence from the original film as well as the stalking sequence. This little homages are nice, since they are some of the better parts of the original Jacques Tourneur version.
But make no mistake—this movie was clearly designed to be as titillating as it is unnerving. Kinski does a lot of nude in this, including a brief full-frontal moment and Annette O’Toole goes topless in the pool sequence. This is absolutely a movie that was about finding that repressed sex aspect of the original film and getting rid of the “repressed” part of it.
But is it good? It’s okay. I like the charm and simplicity of the original film a lot better than this. This does feel needlessly tarted up in a lot of respects. The incest angle absolutely doesn’t help in this respect at all. It’s also 45 minutes longer than the first film, and while some of that is warranted (the original feels very compressed in many ways), not all of it is.
Why to watch Cat People: It takes the original story and ramps up the sexy.
Why not to watch: It has a heavy incest/bestiality vibe.
That is a fair point--Bowie wrote the theme song, and it's still a damn banger.Delete
Needlessly tarted up is a perfect description of this. Sexed up and grisly (I could have lived my whole life without the Ed Begley Jr. death scene) but absent the tense feeling of dread in the original.ReplyDelete
Nastassja Kinski was a beautiful and striking woman but that hardly compensated for either the gore or the ick factor of the film.
The death scene didn't really bother me too much, but I like horror movies, so it was tame enough and worked well enough.Delete
It did seem to lack the tension and the suspense of the original and traded it for some creepy sex.
Poor Nastassja was bearing her breasts at age 12.ReplyDelete
You have to wonder what the hell that was about. She could do a lot more than just nude scenes, so it's a shame how she was used.Delete
According to Wikipedia: In a 1999 interview, Kinski denied that her father had molested her as a child, but said he had abused her "in other ways". In 2013, when interviewed about the allegations of sexual abuse made by her half-sister Pola Kinski, she confirmed that he attempted with her, but did not succeed. She said, "He was no father. Ninety-nine percent of the time I was terrified of him. He was so unpredictable that the family lived in constant terror." When asked what she would say to him now, if she had the chance, she replied, "I would do anything to put him behind bars for life. I am glad he is no longer alive." Might account for it.Delete
Yeah, knowing what I know about Klaus Kinski, this is not really surprising at all.Delete
I enjoyed the hell out of this film. Yeah, it's not the original version but it's still a cool remake with a hell of a music score by Giorgio Moroder and a song by Moroder and David Bowie. One of Bowie's best songs.ReplyDelete
The music is probably the best part of it. The Bowie song holds up.Delete
Went to a double feature a few years ago that included this film. if you are interested here is the linkReplyDelete
I'm a huge proponent of Time After Time, a movie that I think is sadly forgotten. I think that was my introduction to the devious bad guy-ness of David Warner.Delete