Plot: What’s it about?
Irena (Nastassia Kinski) is a beautiful young woman on the brink, as she is a virgin, but longs for sexual contact. She ventures to New Orleans to meet her brother Paul (Malcolm McDowell), who has hasn’t been around for a while and in truth, Irena knows little about him or what to expect once she arrives. As it turns out, he is an unusual person and soon after they meet, he tries to lure into a sexual encounter with him. While her inner passions do burn, she refuses to submit to her own brother in such a fashion, but Paul seems unaffected. He spins a story about their bloodline, in which he reveals family secrets and tells her that if she finds sexual release outside of him, her life will be altered forever. She holds fast however and soon enough, she finds some potential romance with Oliver (John Heard), who works at a local zoo. As she begins to feel her lustful passions build, Irena experiences some unexpected things, which eventually cause her to wonder if Paul was telling the truth, even as odd as it seemed at the time. Is there a price to be paid for her sexual release and if so, is it as horrific as Paul insisted it would be?
Although it has the same name as the 1942 Val Lewton produced picture, this version of Cat People has minimal connections with that edition. This Paul Schrader (writer of Taxi Driver, Raging Bull) helmed rendition focuses on sexual passions, taboo subjects, and even good old fashion violence, a good trio of focal points, if you ask me. The sense of seduction, sexual awareness, and passion burns bright in Cat People, though I wouldn’t call it an erotic picture, as it is not always done for stimulation’s sake. Yes, it has frequent nude scenes with the beautiful Nastassia Kinski, including very animalistic ones, but the movie uses these scenes to explore various sexual issues, though with mixed results. I guess I hold Cat People as a sort of artistic exploitation picture, though it never commits to either side too much. I think it works better when it focuses on the exploitation, as the undertones don’t often come across as well as intended, but it has its moments and as such, I can’t be too harsh here. I highly recommend Cat People despite its flaws, as it is a unique and very memorable movie. And since Universal has given us this overhauled transfer and some terrific extras, I see no reason not to snatch this disc off the shelves.
I’ve tried to get a lot of people to watch this movie over the years and even if they disliked the film itself, most were impressed with Nastassia Kinski. As the daughter of cinematic madman Klaus Kinski (Cobra Verde, Fitzcarraldo), she seems to have been given some of her father’s madness, as she is very believable in the transitions present in Cat People. She was quite young here, but she plays the role well and is able to showcase her sexual side well also, the seduction scenes often burn, they’re that effective. Of course, even if you don’t like her performance, you can always just soak her in, as she is on full display in this picture. And a hot naked woman never hurts the experience, at least not in a movie like Cat People. Other films with Kinski include The Claim, Terminal Velocity, Boarding School, Susan’s Plan, and Red Letters. The cast also includes Malcolm McDowell (A Clockwork Orange, Time After Time), John Heard (Pollock, Animal Factory), and Annette O’Toole (Superman III, 48 Hours).
Video: How does it look?
Cat People is presented in a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. This new treatment improves upon the previous edition, but some flaws are still carried over. The print is a little cleaner this time around, but some grain & debris can still be seen, though as I said, it looks cleaner than before, which is a plus. The image looks sharp, with minimal edge enhancement present and I saw no compression errors worth mentioning, so its all good in that respect. The strange color scheme seems well treated, though some scenes border to being too rich, but that never becomes too much of an issue. I found contrast to be rock solid in most scenes, though the grain does lessen it in a few instances. As this is an improvement over Image’s discontinued effort, fans should be pleased, but there is still plenty of room for more improvements.
Audio: How does it sound?
The included 2.0 surround option never hits the elite levels, but it does sound good and is better than most might expect. You can tell audio was important to the filmmakers, as it is well recorded and mixed to excellent results. The surrounds are put to good use, to enhance Giorgio Moroder’s musical score and to build tension, via some creative and effective use of the rear channels. I admit the mix sounds a little thin when compared to more recent surround soundtracks, but given the film’s age, I was pleased with this track. The dialogue is always clean and never hard to understand, so no volume fiddling is required. This disc also includes subtitles in English, Spanish, and French.
Supplements: What are the extras?
Although Image’s now discontinued disc was bare bones, Universal has included a very nice selection of extras for this release. It all starts with an audio commentary with director Paul Schrader, who provides his usual session, which means plenty of information, but also some silent stretches in between. He does seem more open than in some of his sessions however, revealing a lot of production stories and the like, which adds a nice personal touch to the comments. Even more of Schrader’s insights can be found in Cat People: An Intimate Portrait, a twenty-five minute interview in which Schrader talks about the production. While this is also a well crafted supplements, a lot of ground is covered twice, which lessens the experience somewhat. Even so, fans shouldn’t miss this extensive piece. An additional three, more brief featurettes cover an older interview with Schrader, Robert Wise’s thoughts on Val Lewton, and a look at the special makeup effects by Tom Burman. This disc also includes a montage of matte paintings, an animated selection of still photos, some production notes, and the film’s theatrical trailer.