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Cat People (1982) - 4K Ultra HD
1942's Val Lewton-produced Cat People became a classic and overcame its meager beginnings as a low-budget B-horror by showcasing such a suspense-over-creature-effects style that the titular creatures are actually never seen. Of course, this was partly due to the budget being so small that the crew couldn't afford costumes that would be passable for even a b-movie, but art through adversity created a haunting tale of longing and rage that's told entirely through shadows and growls.
One of the ground rules for a remake is almost always that it shouldn't blindly follow in the footsteps of the original. In that sense, Paul Schrader's vision for Cat People passes the smell test. As implicit as the 1942 film was when it came to its tension, lore, scares, and undertones of sexual frustration, Schrader chose a path that was equally as explicit.
This meant that the sexual context of the original story was turned into an allegory on the social and physical turmoils of losing one's virginity, with an exploitation-adjecent addition of a scandalous incest subplot. Those looking for old-fashioned suspense can choose the 1942 version, while fans of sleazy Euro-horror can enjoy a take on that style that's elevated slightly by the backing of a major Hollywood studio and a complex filmmaker who can inject social context in between the myriad of gratuitous boob shots (Out of the entire female cast, only Ruby Dee isn't naked, perhaps because of her age at the time).
The problem here is that Schrader puts too much emphasis on the "erotic" part of the erotic horror equation. The premise of people who turn into leopards when they have sex and turn back when they kill humans holds a lot of natural promise to frankly explore the sexual allegories in the story.
These themes are connected to the virginal protagonist's (Nastassja Kinski) attraction to a friendly zookeeper (John Heard) and fear against her murderous brother (Malcolm McDowell) who wants to have sex with her because she believes it's the only way to break the curse.
But the horror elements are few and far between, with most kills being shown after the fact and only one true horror sequence about another zookeeper's arm being pulled off by one of the cat people. The script also plays fast and loose with the backstory of the supernatural lore that's created, eventually trampling over any of the rules that are established, leaving the narrative without many stakes.
Cat People's cinematography is awash in the swamp grays and gothic colors of New Orleans. The new 4K transfer captures this look with utmost clarity, while giving both 4K and 1080p encoding a lot of grain. The nightmarish dune-red sequences that give the narrative its backstory don't show any color bleeding and are presented with great depth.
The DTS-HD 5.1 track doesn't really show much surround presence, so it would be fine to put on the DTS-HD 2.0 option with the original stereo mix if you only have TV speakers to work with. The ambient suspense full of creepy leopard growls works as intended in both tracks. But the main attraction here is Giorgio Moroder's Giallo-infused synth score and David Bowie's iconic theme song. When it comes to those, both tracks show impressive strength and dynamic range.
Interviews: These recent in-depth interviews with the cast and crew, including Paul Schrader, Nastassja Kinski, Malcolm McDowell, John Heard, Annette O'Toole, Lynn Lowry, and Giorgio Moroder gets up to around 45 minutes in total.
An Intimate Portrait: This half-hour featurette from 2000 should be the only extra to watch if you don't have the time for all of them. Schrader goes through the entire production process, using storyboards as visual aids.
On The Set: This is an awkward EPK interview with Schrader during the filming. Skip it.
Robert Wise on the Original Cat People: This is a bizarre and brief extra where Wise talks about Val Lewton. It could maybe make sense if this package came with the original film.
Special Make-up Effects: A 10-minute featurette about the practical cat transformation effects.
Commentary by Paul Schrader: Schrader digs deep into the entire production process and gives great insight.
We also get galleries of Matte Paintings, Production Photos, Production Art, and a Trailer.
Even with its plot and genre convenience issues, horror fans should give Cat People at least one chance in order to see a film that bridges low-budget Euro-horror sensibilities with those of a mainstream Hollywood studio. The film is dripping with atmosphere and the score, supported by David Bowie's iconic song, adds to the experience.
Oktay Ege Kozak is a film critic and screenwriter based in Portland, Oregon. He also writes for The Playlist, The Oregon Herald, and Beyazperde.com