To call Paul Schrader’s Cat People a remake of the 1942 film of the same name is to really do it a disservice. If anything, it is more a re-imagining inspired by the Val Lewton 1942 B movie classic. Both pictures rely on the same basic template to tell the story of Irena, a young woman who is descended from a race of people who turn into cats when sexually aroused. Yes, the original was a model of restraint and class and this version, well isn’t. However that is not to say Cat People isn’t without its own charms.
This is a fully realized stylish dream that has moments of real majesty. German actress Nastassja Kinski, daughter of Klaus Kinski, is perfectly cast as the stunningly beautiful Irena. She readily suggests a cat thorough her deliberate movements and cagey personality. She goes to live with her brother in New Orleans whom she hasn’t seen since their animal trainer parents died when they were children. Paul, played by Malcolm McDowell, is one strange dude and not all that he seems. Hint: the movie is called Cat People. Irena soon finds herself at the zoo and striking up a relationship with Oliver played by John Heard. He’s one of the zoologists there who has seized an escaped panther that recently attacked a woman at night. Oddly, Irena is drawn to the captured creature.
One should not overlook the simply fantastic score by Giorgio Moroder. All slow pulsing disco synths, it relies on a space aged futurism that beautifully builds an eerie atmosphere. In many ways the music has held up even better than the flick itself. It also features the second best use of the superior title song “Cat People (Putting Out Fire)” by David Bowie. The first being Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds.
There’s a fine line between sensual and tawdry and this erotic thriller does cross that edge a couple times. That may be two times too many for some viewers. Yet there’s an unadulterated visual flair to the production that is genuinely entertaining. The mood is pretty sumptuous. Let’s face it, this feature is entirely mood. It certainly isn’t about the story which is kind of ridiculous when you seriously ponder it. That’s part of what made the original so much fun. Much of that allure can be found here too. The drama creates a haunting ambience with its odd mix of romance and horror. If you can warm up to its languid rhythms, Cat People will entertain you. At the very least Giorgio Moroder’s hypnotic score will makes sure of that.