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Cat People

Universal/Universal . R4 . COLOR . 113 mins . R . PAL


Both versions of Cat People, the noir-ish 1942 original and this 1982 remake by Paul Schrader, enjoy a certain cult appeal.

They are quite different movies and it's unfair to judge the second film by comparison with the first - the differences are too extreme. The second movie takes the excellent original flick as just a reference point, and succeeds quite well in creating its own place, time and style.

This later Cat People is in no way a horror movie. Nor, as some people have suggested, is it a sexploitation piece - although there is some nudity, it is discreet by modern standards, and never seems voyeuristic.

Schrader certainly injects elements of horror and sex into the movie - the theme, of men and women who are really black leopards in human guise, who devour their love-prey - can hardly avoid it. But these are quirky injections, aimed more at stretching and twisting atmosphere than at mere titillation. This Cat People is themed on virginity and a fear of penetration and on the sudden, frightening post-pubertal appearance of blood. And these themes are well-handled, with a sensibility way above that demanded by the drive-in audiences who would have been its primary market.

Natassja Kinski is impressive as the young virgin who attempts to deny her unusual genetic heritage - Malcolm McDowell is flamboyant and melodramatic as her brother who has utterly surrendered to it. The rest of the cast are just cyphers, they are there just to progress the tale. I don't think the movie achieves Paul Schrader's highest aims, but it is still a reasonably effective bit of flossy fun.

Half of its appeal stems from its stunning colour cinematography and to the great set designs and art direction of Ferdinando Scarfiotti - in the supplements to the discs, Paul Schrader makes it clear that he believed the film was not just his; it was a true collaboration between himself and visual consultant Scarfiotti. And Giorgio Moroder's film score is highly effective.

Ultimately, I think it's a movie which demands you draw from yourself the mood and ambience needed for it to succeed. Its relative success or failure just depends on your willingness to surrender to its slowly-paced sultry atmosphere.


This 16.9 anamorphic transfer brings out the best from the swampy, night-time hues of reds and browns. The colour photography is sensational, and this is a print which glows with the warmth of its hues.

There are no obvious artefacts, and the tonal contrasts are very well handled in some difficult night-time interior and exterior scenes which would immediately show up any transfer deficiencies.


The 5.1 Dolby Digital audio track is clear and natural. As you would expect from this vintage, the sound (music and effects) is an important element of the story, but in not such an exaggerated way as heard today.

The sound-stage is mainly stereo, without too much excursion into bass or surround - it is certainly adequate for Paul Schrader's needs.


The features are rich enough to warrant an evening to themself.

The voiceover commentary by Paul Schrader is worthwhile, but far more succinct and illuminating are two documentaries where he discusses the film.

The longer interview, running for more than 25 minutes, was shot just three years ago, discussing the history of the project and with special reference to his friendship and collaboration with visual consultant (more associate director) Ferdinando Scarfiotti. The shorter interview, at just ten minutes, was filmed on the set while shooting the movie. Schrader is on the one hand more guarded in his discussion - but his thoughts are somehow far more revealing than his later recollections.

There is a short featurette showing how blue-screen special effects were achieved, and an 11-minute documentary interview with special makeup effects artist Tom Burman. It's fascinating to see just how these very real special effects were achieved, in this pre-digital age.

There is an average-quality stills collection, as boring as most of these things are, though livened-up by its use of the David Bowie title-music. The theatrical trailer is an effective souvenir of its time.

The final extra is only three minutes long, but is a genuine rarity -- an interview with veteran director Robert Wise, who Val Lewton, producer of the original Cat People, brought in to direct its sequel, Return of the Cat People. Robert Wise, who went on to direct a string of successes including The Day the Earth Stood Still and The Sound of Music, describes Lewton as a producer who had a very real artistic input into his classic horror flicks. He makes one wish this Cat People package had included both versions of the movie.


I'm inclined to think that Cat People may improve with each viewing. I've seen it twice so far, and while I rate it as only a partial success, there is a certain mood-creation which is quite special for a movie of this kind.

It's quite a few years since I saw the original; this movie, if not succeeding totally in its own right, certainly does make me want to seek out the first version, as well as saving the remake for repeat viewings.

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      And I quote...
    "This 1982 remake of Cat People is themed on virginity and the fear of surrender to eroticism. Its success is dependent on your own willingness to surrender to its sultry atmosphere. "
    - Anthony Clarke
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