Written and directed by Paul Schrader, the 1982 remake of Jacques Tourner's 1942 picture Cat People definitely takes things in its own direction, in fact there really aren't a whole lot of similarities between the two outside of the basic concept. This more modern take introduces us to a beautiful young woman named Irene Gallier (Nastassia Kinski) whose adoptive parents have passed away. When we meet her, she's heading to New Orleans to visit her old brother Paul (Malcolm McDowell) who she hasn't seen since she was much younger. Regardless, Paul has no trouble whatsoever recognizing her. As it turns out, there's a very good reason for that. See, Paul and Irina have an unusual connection: he understands that now that she's older, she's going to experience some difficulties trying to control a more primal side of her psyche.
Shortly after her arrival Irene decides to visit the zoo. Here she meets Oliver Yates (John Heard), the man in charge. They hit it off and before you know it, she's got a job working in the zoo's gift store. Though she's hardly going to get rich at this, it obviously offers her the opportunity to get closer to Oliver and it becomes painfully obvious that their mutual attraction for one another is pretty intense. Thanks take a turn for the bizarre when, shortly after Irene arrives in town, a black panther kills a prostitute and then one of the zoo's guards before making its way to Oliver's home and trying to kill him too. The only reason he survives is because his partner Alice Perrin (Annette O'Toole) shows up in time to save him. While all of this is going on, Paul's motives become more obvious and Irene finds herself in a love triangle where sex and death collide in the most unusual ways.
Of course, the film fills in the collective backstory of Irene and Paul so that we get a better understanding of who they really are and why all of this goes the way that it goes, but we'll avoid that (even if it is fairly obvious) with the intentions of staying out of spoiler territory. Let it suffice to say that Schrader's script brings the primal sexuality of the concept laid out in Tourner's picture to the forefront, throwing subtlety to the wayside though doing a good job of ramping up sexual tension and twisted psychological horror along the way. The nudity in the picture, plentiful as it is, generally seems fitting and rarely out of place. Is it exploitative? Perhaps, but never distractingly so, it fits the tone and the plot and the participants seem committed to using it to further their performances here. If it offers up some titillation along the way, so be it, that's definitely allowed and when you've got a film that casts the likes of Ms. Kinski, Annette O'Toole and even the lovely Lynn Lowry (in a supporting role), most won't likely complain too much.
Visually speaking, Cat People is impressive. The movie essentially plays out in two worlds, one being the obvious present where Irene and Paul's narrative unfolds, the second being the past. While the modern part of the story is nicely shot and certainly well put together on a technical level, it's the scenes that take place in the past that really let Schrader and company go wild with the visuals. Here windswept desert landscapes are awash in gorgeous colors on what looks completely alien, a land that shouldn't exist by any logical conclusion but which the story dictates as essential to how the parallel story plays out. This is complimented nicely by a fine score courtesy of Giorgio Moroder (and a theme song sung by none other than David Bowie).
The acting is strong across the board. Obviously it has to be in order for any movie to really work on any sort of serious level but the commitment that the cast shows to the concept Schrader explores is admirable. McDowell never goes too far over the top as he is sometimes apt to do, he's well cast here. John Heard is also very good, really getting into the intensity of the storyline as his character's obsessions for Irene become almost unbearable. Annette O'Toole is fine in her supporting role and completely beautiful as well, while a young Nastassia Kinski really steals the show. She almost perfectly encapsulates her character's emerging animal side as the story unfolds. We see her evolve from a meek, virginal and almost timid creature into something far more bold, confident and primal. She plays this part very well and is a joy to watch and it allows what is really a pretty ridiculous concept to work far more effectively than it has any right to. There's a lot of great entertainment to be had here, and Cat People, which very obviously a product of the early eighties, remains a really fun, entertaining watch.
Cat People arrives on Blu-ray in a nice AVC encoded 1080p image framed at 1.85.1 widescreen. Colors look excellent, they're very nicely defined and very bold and there are more than a few moments here where they really pop. Black levels are also pretty decent, offering pretty solid shadow detail and faring quite well. That's the good news. The bad? Noise reduction, or so it would seem. While there's virtually no print damage here there's also a marked absence of grain and some obviously waxy looking skin tones that are hard not to notice. This takes what is otherwise a clean, colorful transfer and brings it down a few notches.
English language audio options are provided in DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio and DTS-HD 2.0 Master Audio. Purists will no doubt opt for the stereo track but the surround mix stays fairly true to form, keeping the dialogue more or less in the front of the mix and using the surround channels to spread out the excellent score and to play around with some directional effects. Both tracks sound very good and feature properly balanced levels and crisp, clear dialogue. There are no problems with any hiss or distortion to note and there is good depth here. David Bowie's theme song also sounds really great here. Optional subtitles are provided in English.
The main extras on this disc are made up by a selection of newly recorded interviews, the first of which is with Nastassia Kinski (5:57) who talks about how Paul Schrader came to her to play the part in the film and how she feels about having working on the film and having played this part. She seems keen on the film, describing it as ‘a unique combination at a unique moment' and looks back on it fondly. She also talks about the ‘animal in all of us' and the pros and cons of working with lions. The interview with Annette O'Toole (8:25) lets the actress talk about how she got involved with the project after getting the role after Debbie Allen wasn't able to take it. She shares her thoughts on Schrader's directorial style, describing him as ‘really wonderful with me' and she too talks about what it was like working with animals on the set. She offers up her thoughts on the final, finished product and talks about seeing some of the sets for the first time and generally comes across as quite gracious for the opportunity to have been a part of the film. John Heard (6:12) is up next and he talks about getting the call from his agent for the movie and how he originally thought it ‘was a porno.' He talks about his character in the movie, the awakening of that character, and the eroticism in the movie, which he describes as ‘lost on me' because he was self conscious. Again, we get some more interesting stories about working with large jungle cats, in addition to working with Malcolm McDowell and Paul Schrader. Speaking of which, Malcolm (7:35) himself shows up on camera and talks about how he was doing a play off Broadway in 1980 when Schrader came to him regarding the part he plays in the movie. He was hesitant at first but in hindsight feels that the film turned out quite well. He expresses his admiration for Schrader's attempt to do something different within the confines of the horror genre before going on to talk about the film's cult status though taking issue with the fact that ‘cult' tends to infer commercial failure. He goes on to talk about Ms. Kinski, working with the cats in the film (the panther was a cougar that was painted black), his thoughts on the physicality of his role here and a fair bit more. The lovely and talented Lynn Lowry (5:35) shares her experiences on the film starting out by talking about how she got involved in the film, how she proved to Schrader that she could handle the role, what it was like working with Schrader and how she got off on the wrong foot with him and more. She talks about what went into the blocking of her key scene in the movie, the eroticism that Nastassia Kinski was able to bring to the movie and how she wound up needing a tetanus shot after a certain scene. Composer Giorgio Moroder (5:33) pops up next, talking about what went into working on the score for the movie after working on American Gigolo and what his relationship with Paul Schrader was like. He notes that Schrader wanted a dark score, which lead to the use of a lot of synthesizers on the movie to get that sound. He then talks about working with David Bowie, and shares this thoughts on the end result. Last but not least, Paul Schrader (9:13) talks about how he was offered the script, working with Universal on the picture, what he liked about the story, working with the cast and crew on the picture and his thoughts on the picture as a whole.
Outside of that, we also get the film's original theatrical trailer, a TV spot, a decent sized still gallery of promotional photos and a second of production art and posters. Menus and chapter stops are also included and the disc comes with reversible cover art featuring the newly illustrated cover on one side and the theatrical one sheet on the other side, which is in turn housed inside a cardboard slipcase.
This new Shout! Factory Blu-ray release of Paul Schrader's Cat People features some quality extras that do a great job of detailing the history of the movie and of those involved in this unique production. The transfer offers great colors but is marred by some obvious noise reduction issues. As to the movie itself? It holds up well, it's very creative, often quite sexy and a collection of solid performances. Add to that a great soundtrack and some slick camerawork and this is one worth seeing. Recommended despite the less than perfect picture quality.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.