Cat People Blu-ray Review
Directed by Paul Schrader
Written by Alan Ormsby
1982, Region A, 118 minutes, Rated R
Blu-ray released on January 21st, 2014
Nastassia Kinski as Irena
Malcolm McDowell as Paul
John Heard as Oliver
Annette O'Toole as Alice
Ruby Dee as Female
Ed Begley Jr. as Joe
Frankie Faison as Det. Brandt
Lynn Lowry as Ruthie
John Larroquette as Bronte Judson
In 1942, legendary producer Val Lewton and director Jacques Tourneur (I Walked with a Zombie) created Cat People, a film that dealt with desire and self-awareness with sexual undercurrents. Lewton later teamed with director Robert Wise (The Haunting) to make the even more impressive Curse of the Cat People (1944), a tale of schizophrenia and childhood trauma. Four decades later, Paul Schrader (Exorcist: Dominion) directed a picutre that shared the same title and many of the same characters and concepts, but was radically different from what came before.
This latest incarnation of the tale begins in a mystic land swept with red sands and ruled by large cats and then shifts to contemporary New Orleans. The beautiful Irena (Nastassia Kinski, Tess) is met at the airport by her estranged brother, Paul (Malcolm McDowell, Time After Time), who takes her back to his home where his Creole housekeeper (Ruby Dee, The Stand) encourages Irena to appreciate life and explore her surroundings. She takes the housekeeper's advice and tours the city, stopping at the zoo where she meets Oliver (John Heard, C.H.U.D.), the handsome curator, and soon finds herself working as a new employee in the gift shop.
Oliver and his assistants Alice (Annette O'Toole, IT) and Joe (Ed Begley Jr., The Accidental Tourist) have their hands full with a new arrival, a giant black panther that was discovered in a sleazy hotel having mauled a hooker (Lynn Lowry, They Came from Within) the night before. The large cat kills a careless zookeeper and escapes. Irena returns home and things get weird when her brother iinforms her of their connection to the legend of the cat people. What began as a slowly unpooling drama shifts gears in the final act and the screen is suddenly filled with a lot of nudity, bondage and kinky, shape-shifting sexual escapades. Not surprisingly, these elements of the film were omitted from prints airing on television and the final sequence was removed entirely.
Working closely with production designer Ferdinando Scarfiotti (The Last Emperor) and cinematographer John Bailey (American Gigolo), director Schrader delivers an incredibly stylistic and atmospheric erotic thriller that explores contemporary New Orleans and a mystical dream world of cats, and manages to find magic in both. Shrader remains unflinching when tackling themes of fear and desire, obsession, bestiality, lust, incest and psychosexual panic. The film contains a surprising amount of nudity from both male and female cast members, and each sequence is beautifully photographed. Cat People (1982) has been praised as sophisticated art by some and dismissed as mysogynistic, pretentious crap by others.
Sex kitten Nastassia Kinski carries the film on her gorgeous shoulders with apparant ease as both the awkward virgin and later sexually confident Irena. John Heard's Oliver is an instantly likeable everyman, seduced by the allure of forbidden pleasures. Malcolm McDowell delivers a creepy and unnervingly quiet performance as the incestuous Paul. His physical movements are as graceful as Kinski's as he playfully shares information regarding their family history. Annette O'Toole rounds out the bizarre love triangle with Oliver and Irena, but is never bitchy or threatening, instead playing Alice almost like a sister to both.
The film contains many notable names behind the camera, including mega-producer Jerry Bruckheimer (Kangaroo Jack) who spent the next three decades building a career that continues to impress. Legendary composer Giorgio Moroder (Scarface) contributes a dreamy score that fans familiar with his work will instantly recognize. David Bowie performs the title song (Putting out Fire) that was re-worked into various music cues throughout. The elaborate make-up effects are the work of artist Tom Burman (The Beast Within) who was in charge of the impressive yet brief transformation sequences.
Where Cat People falters is in its extensive running time. I appreciate the languid dreamlike pacing, but fifteen minutes could be trimmed to keep things moving. Paul Schrader re-worked the screenplay by Alan Ormsby (Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things) to include more of the salacious elements and to punch up the ending, but their voices are not completely harmonic. Part of the problem stems from the obligation to include several key set pieces from the original film despite not really fitting into the current formula. Schrader has repeatedly lamented being forced to keep the title and therefore having his work compared to the classic, but his argument is a bit thin considering he was hired by the studio to do a remake. The finished product was neither a smash hit nor a complete failure, but has built a cult following over the past 30 years and is an interesting addition to the metamorphosis subgenre that populated early '80s horror.
Video and Audio:
Presented here in the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, the picture is sharp with strong colors, deep black levels and natural flesh tones. There is a surprising level of detail here, particularly in hair, fabric patterns and the fantastical cat world.
The default DTS-HD 5.1 mix contains some decent bass levels and nice use of the rear channels, particularly during the indoor pool sequence near the finale. The original stereo mix is included in a DTS-HD MA 2.0 track that offers an equally solid presentation as the newly expanded option. Dialogue remains clear and free from distortion. English subtitles are provided for anyone in need.
Cat People was previously released as a DVD Special Edition (and HD-DVD) loaded with special features, including extended interviews, behind-the-scenes footage and a director's audio commentary. Fans of the film will want to hold on to those discs, since, in a rare instance, none of that content has been ported over for this Blu-ray.
Scream Factory is usually pretty good about including all previous features for their 'Collector's Series' line-up and the materials had also appeared on the HD-DVD release, so it is odd they were unable to do so here. What we do get are a handful of new interviews with assorted members of the cast and crew. While the individual running times are a bit disappointing, the lineup of on-camera participants is still impressive
Nastassia Kinski, John Heard, Annette O'Toole, Malcolm McDowell and Lynn Lowrey are all on hand with nice things to say about each other. Everyone looks great and share fond memories of their time working on set. Paul Schrader and Giorgio Moroder discuss some of the more technical aspects behind the scenes of the production, but continue with the general energy displayed in the cast interviews.
A gallery of production stills and promotional artwork is paired with the original theatrical trailer and a TV spot.