Wednesday, August 31, 2022

CAT PEOPLE (1982) Blu-ray/UHD review

Cat People (1982) d. Paul Schrader (USA) (118 min)

After years in orphanages, Irena (Nastassja Kinski) reunites with long-lost sibling Paul (Malcolm McDowell), who soon reveals a more-than-brotherly attraction to her. Seems the two are the supernatural offspring of panthers, doomed to mate only with their own humanimal kind, as any other coupling results in fanged-and-clawed death for their unsuspecting partner. Needless to say, this throws a wrench into zookeeper Oliver's (John Heard) romantic designs on the exotic female newcomer.

The same year that they remade RKO’s trailblazing The Thing from Another World, Universal dug further into its vaults to give Paul Schrader (hot off American Gigilo) a crack at updating the 1942 Val Lewton/Jacques Tourneur masterpiece. Like The Thing, his and screenwriter Alan Ormsby’s efforts met with mixed reviews and middling box office upon their initial 1982 release, but have gained a similar cult appreciation over the past three decades.

But whereas John Carpenter crafted a near-perfect film that has since been acknowledged as a genre classic and one of the finest remakes of all time, Cat People remains a troubled, uneven picture, uncomfortable within its own shapeshifting skin. For every moment of inspired brilliance – such as the visually impressive red-filtered vistas, with a twisted and regal tree as their centerpiece and large jungle cats panting heavily on the branches (a sequence which author Doug Lamoreux used to call “the best Kubrick movie Kubrick never made”) – there is a clunker that sends us heading for the litter box.

Attempting to cash in on the success of An American Werewolf in London and The Howling, Ormsby’s painfully convoluted man-into-beast screenplay displays none of the fun or wit of its hairy brethren. Additionally, there are a wealth of head-scratching moments, such as Kinski's third-act pursuit of Oliver's zookeeper gal pal Alice (Annette O'Toole). She's not a romantic rival as Jane Randolph was in the original; it's just that Kinski needs to pursue someone (and because we need the obligatory reprise of the famous swimming pool sequence). Another is how the hell McDowell – having gone from human to panther to human again – gets out of his zoo prison. Then there's Kinski's inexplicable "vision" of her ancestry. And and and...

For his part, Schrader seems less interested in telling a horror yarn than in getting his female lead out of her clothes, which he does with great frequency. In fact, there is a lot of skin on parade amidst the uninspired gooey, gory bits: O'Toole gets naked,

McDowell gets naked,

Heard gets naked,

several of McDowell’s female victims (including The Crazies’ Lynn Lowry) get naked,

and Ed Begley Jr. gets his arm ripped off.

Makeup master Tom Burman shows off his superb transformation effects with a very game Kinski, but Schrader ruins the coup de grace with a clumsy jump cut to a real panther (or painted cougar, as several cast members inform us on the behind-the-scenes interviews). Similarly, other “special” effects, such as McDowell’s filmed-in-reverse leap onto a bed railing feel mannered and forced.

Kudos must be given for trying to create a different atmosphere than the original’s noir-ish brand of haunting mystery and suspense, but Kinski in the buff, a swampy New Orleans backdrop, and Giorgio Moroder’s moody score do not for this viewer a modern classic make. The two-hour running time is telling – Cat People is a horror film that doesn't want to be a horror film, but rather an erotic arthouse thriller… about cat people.  While I don’t revile it nearly as much as I did upon my first encounter – where I labeled it “blasphemous” a la Marcus Nispel’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake – I’ll still take the original any day of the week. Not because I’m a purist, but because it’s a far superior movie.

Shout! Factory delivers the Blu-ray goods with a good-natured audio commentary from the often irascible Schrader, as well as the bevy of aforementioned interviews, gathering remembrances from Kinski, McDowell, Heard, O’Toole, Moroder, and Lowry that are both entertaining and enlightening. We hear of McDowell hair-dyeing woes, Lowry’s repeated tumbles down the stairs that sent her to the hospital, and O’Toole’s jogging-induced ankle fracture. All seem quite pleased with the final results, it should be noted, especially Moroder who gleefully recounts of how he and collaborator David Bowie knocked out their Golden Globe-nominated title theme (aka “Putting Out Fires with Gasoline”) in a matter of hours between breakfast and lunch.

In addition to these interviews, all included on Shout! Factory's 2014 Blu-ray release, we get to enjoy two vintage featurettes, “Cat People: An Intimate Portrait” and “On the Set with Paul Schrader,” as well as a short interview with Burman about the rightly celebrated f/x. There’s also a quick sit-down with Oscar-winner Robert Wise, director of the original’s sequel-of-sorts, Curse of the Cat People, discussing Lewton’s lasting legacy. A look at the film's matte paintings, a still gallery, and the original theatrical trailers and TV spots round out the package.



NEW 2022 4K scan of the original camera negative in Dolby Vision (HDR 10 Compatible)
Audio Commentary with director Paul Schrader


NEW 2022 4K scan of the original camera negative
Audio Commentary with director Paul Schrader
“More Than A Remake” with Paul Schrader
“Unleashing The Animal Within” with Nastassja Kinski
“Making Memories” with Annette O’Toole
“Caging The Animal” with John Heard
“Reconnecting with Cat People” with Malcolm McDowell
“Cat Fight” with Lynn Lowry
“Composing A Cult Classic” with Giorgio Moroder
“Cat People: An Intimate Portrait” featurette
On The Set with Paul Schrader featurette
Filmmaker Robert Wise on Val Lewton
Special Makeup Effects by Tom Burman
A Look At The Film’s Matte Paintings
Original Theatrical Trailer & TV Spot
Photo Galleries – Photos from the Film, Production Art, and Posters

Cat People is available now from Shout! Factory on Blu-ray and UHD and can be ordered HERE.


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