Monday, October 29, 2012

Cat People (1982)

Directed by Paul Schrader.
1982. Rated R, 119 minutes.
Nastassja Kinski
John Heard
Annette O’Toole
Ruby Dee
Ed Begley Jr.
Frankie Faison
John Larroquette
Scott Paulin
Tessa Richarde

As a teenage boy I loved this movie. Even then, I watched as many flicks as I could get my eyeballs on. Summer trips from my native Queens to visit my grandparents in North Carolina meant an escape from the confines of VHF and UHF viewing (google it, young’uns) and a couple months with the infant known as cable television. This included HBO. During the hottest months of either 1983 and/or ’84, I forget which, they ran Cat People at least three late nights a week. I watched it as often as possible. It’s lack of explosions, somber mood and exotic looking leading lady made it seem artsy, to me. Watching it made me feel sophisticated as if this were somehow too snooty for my friends. Still, it has heavy doses of what budding bags of he-hormones crave: blood and boobs. I thought I discovered truly high caliber cinema.

Thirty years later, I realize I have no idea what I was watching, yet I love it just the same. I must say that today my reasoning is much different. What I took for bold artistic choices are simply misguided filmmaking decisions. The storytelling is strongly of the “maybe no one will notice this plot hole” variety. Malcolm McDowell gives a typically unhinged performance while John Heard resides at the wooden end of the spectrum. Leading lady Natassja Kinski is still an exotic beauty, but her acting is more in line with Heard’s than McDowell’s. Superman’s mom and girlfriend (figure that one out) Annette O’Toole is somewhere in the middle but is more than reason enough to watch if you’re into redheads and maybe even if you’re not. The great Ruby Dee gets her Miss Cleo on while my boy Dan from Night Court (John Larroquette) has a small role. And I haven’t even mentioned how bizarre it all is. Unintentional humor, WTF moments and some surprisingly still effective special fx abound.

If you don’t believe that this is one strange trip, let me fill you in on our plot. It seems that some tribal people in the most backwards part of some third world country have sacrificed so many of their own children to the local black leopards over the centuries that the cats have evolved into a human/feline hybrid. They’re usually in human form. However, when they become sexually aroused they transform into black leopards. The only way they can turn back human is to kill. Nice. There’s a kicker. Paul (McDowell) has been living with this curse for quite a while. His sister Irena (Kinski) doesn’t yet know either of them have this affliction. She’s has just flown out to New Orleans to stay with her brother whom she hasn’t seen since she was four. Paul knows something else Irena doesn’t: the only way to get your groove on and not turn into a big black cat is by doing the oochie-coochie with a sibling. Ewww. Imagine Irena’s dismay and disgust when her big bro starts puttin’ the moves on her. I don’t mean the smooth player moves, either. I mean the overly forward desperate, sweaty, wide-eyed, screaming ‘I really need to get in your pants right now’ type of moves. Double ewww. Since sis won’t give him any, Paul continues dining on the local population of loose women. Meanwhile, Irena slowly comes to the realization of what she is and simultaneously falls for Oliver (Heard), the zoo curator. Yup.

By the way, this is a remake of a 1942 movie which I haven’t worked up the courage to watch. Somehow, I’m doubting the 1942 version is quite this bonkers. There were codes and restrictions and whatnot. This newer version dispenses with any notion of restraint and just goes for the full-on ridiculous. It’s saving grace, if it wants to be taken seriously are the special fx. Cat People isn’t loaded with them, but they’re effective. In particular, Nastassja Kinski’s transformation scene is among the best I’ve ever seen considering the era in which it was made. It even blows away stuff I’ve only seen recently. Unfortunately, nothing else here is nearly on that level. If you’ve seen this movie, you’re probably nodding your head in agreement right now. If not, you must understand the big lesson the movie teaches us. Suffice it to say, it shuns incest by extolling the virtues of bondage and bestiality. For that, it’s so bad it’s awesome!

MY SCORE: -10/10


  1. This review is awesome. I'm the one who gifted this to Jay. He.. uh... didn't really care for it.

    I dropped the Dan Fielding reference too, though I think it was lost on my readers. Both of them.

    1. Thanks for stopping by to check it out. I was a huge "Night Court" fan back in the day, so I just had to mention him.

  2. Feral cat colonies are taking residence in many communities around the world. In fact, of the approximately 146 million in North America, about half of these felines are feral or homeless. Although these homeless cats may be able to survive on their own for a short period of time, they are always in need of help. If you want to help the feral cats in your community but you're just not sure how to do this, consider the following options to help you get started.