Cat People (1982) (Blu-ray)

Director Paul Schrader’s stylishly atmospheric remake of Val Lewton’s 1942 horror classic should be looked at on its own terms. Released in 1982, it’s likely that the same film wouldn’t have made it to the big screen today. Known for his boldness, Schrader explored themes of incest and bestiality, and offered up full front nudity as well as a couple of intense sex scenes. Given the tougher standards followed by the MPAA, many filmmakers have avoided sex on screen at all, lest they receive the dreaded NC-17

Irena Gallier (Nastassja Kinski, billed in the film as Nastassia Kinski) arrives in New Orleans to visit her estranged brother, Paul (Malcolm McDowell) The two haven’t seen each other for years, but Paul immediately recognizes Irena when he see her at the airport. As it turns out, Paul can feel her presence. He also understands that there’s another side to his sister, a darker, potentially dangerous one. Irena has been able to suppress it for years, but lately her mind hasn’t been in full control of her body.

When Paul suddenly disappears for a few days, Irina is forced to see the sights, and look for a job on her own. Visiting the local zoo, she meets zoologist Oliver Yates (John Heard) who offers her a job in the gift shop. Irena finds herself drawn to the newly acquired black leopard that had inexplicably turned up at a by-the-hour hotel and mauled a local prostitute (Lynn Lowry).  Shortly after Irena accepts the job, the black leopard kills one of Oliver’s colleagues (Ed Begley, Jr. before vanishing.

To state the obvious, Paul Schrader’s Cat People has far heaver sexual undertones than Val Lewton’s original could have ever delivered. The disturbing interplay between brother and sister Paul and Irena provides a few interesting moments, but the “werecat” mythos both laughable and disturbing more than anything else. In this version, we are to believe that only brothers and sisters can “cure” each other of their transformative tendencies by indulging in intimate acts with each other, while sex with outsiders will transform the “werecats” into felines. Unfortunately, the only way for them to return to human form is to kill their sex partner. Few would argue, that’s a silly and convoluted process.

Cat People is still fun to watch; Nastassja Kinski is undeniably alluring, and watching her undergo a psychological change is interesting. Malcolm McDowell has made a career of playing ‘odd’ characters, and the scandalous Paul is no different. John Heard is indifferent as the presumed love interest, while the supporting cast,   which includes Annette O’Toole and Ed Begley, Jr., are fine in decidedly underwritten roles. While far from one of the horror greats, Paul Schrader’s Cat People is well worth a pickup for fans of the genre.

Presented in the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, Scream Factory’s transfer is good, but not great. Colors are accurate throughout, but detail is uneven, appearing better in the brighter sequences. There is some evidence of DNR, and minor edge enhancement.

When it comes to audio, the viewer has a choice between the film’s original 2.0 stereo mix or a 5.1 remix. Both are front heavy, but the 5.1 option fares better particularly when it comes to  Giorgio Moroder’s score. Dialogue is well-placed in the center channel with effects spread across the front, and music added to the rears.

English SDH subtitles are included.

The following extras are available:

  • Cast and Crew Interviews with the following:
      • Nastassja Kinski (HD, 5:56)
      • Annette O’Toole (HD. 8:25)
      • John Heard (HD, 6:12)
      • Malcolm McDowell (HD, 7:35)
      • Lynn Lowry (HD, 5:53)
      • Giorgio Moroder (HD, 5:32)
      • Paul Schrader (HD, 9:13)
  • Theatrical Trailer (HD, 2:18)
  • TV Spot (HD, 00:31)
  • Photo Gallery (HD, 9:32)
  • Production Art and Posters (HD, 2:41)
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