While it’s arguably a failure as a genre film, 1982’s undervalued Cat People is distinctively a Paul Schrader creation. Adapted from the classic story by DeWitt Bodeen, Schrader’s film should not be compared to the 1942 classic by the great Jacques Tourneur. (Unlike frequent collaborator Martin Scorsese, Schrader was a non-fan of the Tourneur film.) Unjustifiably compared to the original film upon its release, Schrader’s Cat People is more of an erotic reinvention of the Bodeen story. The bloodline of feminist horror may have begun with the original Cat People but De Palma’s Carrie (much like last year’s Ginger Snaps) found a linkage between puberty and body horror. Cat People goes one further, linking fear of penetration with a young virgin’s acknowledgement of her cultural past. Irena Gallier (Nastassia Kinski) finds her long-lost brother Paul (Malcolm McDowell) in a voodoo-friendly New Orleans. Soon after a black panther takes a piece out of a local whore, Irena goes to work at a zoo manned by love interest Oliver Yates (Oliver Heard). The late, great Ferdinando Scarfiotti’s elaborate set designs imagine New Orleans as a post-feminist kingdom whose traditions are on the brink of destruction. For added measure, Giorgio Moroder’s synth-laden score heightens the film’s exotic textures. Churches and posters (here, Marilyn Monroe’s classic Seven Year Itch pose) fabulously hint at Irena’s sexual awakening. Though Schrader keeps the Fangoria crowd at bay with a series of grisly tableaus, he remains less concerned with the body-horrific than he does with the rituals of sex—mandatory and otherwise. Once Irena embraces her inner-pussy, she must naturally be tamed; the film’s infamous bondage sequence fascinatingly blurs any and all notions of what is consensual.
- Universal Pictures
- 119 min
- Paul Schrader
- Alan Ormsby
- Nastassia Kinski, Malcolm McDowell, John Heard, Annette O'Toole, Ruby Dee, Ed Begley Jr., Scott Paulin, Frankie Faison, Ron Diamond, Lynn Lowry, John Larroquette, Tessa Richarde
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