Cat People (1982)

Cat People is a good movie in an old tradition, a fantasy-horror film that takes itself just seriously enough to work, has just enough fun to be entertaining, contains elements of intrinsic fascination in its magnificent black leopards, and ends in one way just when we were afraid it was going to end in another. Three 1/2 Stars. Roger Ebert, 1982

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Paul Schrader’s Cat People (1982) was the rare instance where I saw the remake before seeing the original film. I remember thinking I was getting away with something, a junior in high school, seeing all that skin —specifically Nastassja Kinski’s, but watching it today the ample Annette O’Toole stands out showing quite a bit during the pool sequence. I also remember Ed Begley, Jr. getting his arm ripped off. Oddly, I remember none of the transformation scenes, which would have benefited from Rob Bottin’s creature expertise, who was working on John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982), which was rushed to theaters due to delays in Cat People. I recall I liked the film. It garnered positive critical reviews and made money for Universal/MCA.

It holds up today, and I recently watched it back to back nights with the new Criterion pressing of the Val Lewton classic Cat People (1942). I particularly like Giorgio Moroder’s moody synth-and-percussion heavy (ah the 80’s) score and the design of the film. Two worlds are imagined —an ancient surreal place where humans are offered to god-like felines that breed with sacrificial women, and modern day New Orleans, where we follow the story of virgin Irena (Kinski), her mysterious brother Paul (Malcom McDowell), and people that haphazardly enter their lives. John Heard and Annette O’Toole are both particularly strong, as curator and vet at a zoo, and it is Heard’s syngergy with Kinski that makes this film crackle (I almost said purr).

Kinski was 20 or 21 during the filming of Cat People. She is sexy as hell and looks more like a lean cheetah as opposed to the larger melanistic leopards actually used in the film. My only complaint is her American accent comes across forced. I would have preferred her in European tongue, perhaps Slavic dialect keeping in concert with her exotic cat-like personage.

Of course there is the famous pool scene. It doesn’t let down and I am glad that cinematographer John Bailey and Schrader paid hommage to Nick Musuraca’s brilliant camerawork from the original. Sometimes less is better.

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This is a virtually forgotten film worth rediscovering. I now consider it one of the better horror film entries of the 1980’s. Consider pairing it with the 1942 film or Carpenter’s The Thing.


Giorgio Moroder & David Bowie’s Original Version of Song Cat People (Putting Out Fire)

Bowie “Let’s Dance” Version of Cat People (Putting Out Fire), Featuring Stevie Ray Vaughn

Roger Ebert’s Original Review

Variety Review December 31, 1982

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