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Cat People (1982) – DVD Review

Cat People (1982) DVD cover art


Directed by Paul Schrader
Written by Alan Ormsby, based on the story by Dewitt Bodden
Starring Nastassja Kinski, Malcolm McDowell, John Heard, Annette O’Toole, Ruby Dee


  • Running audio commentary with director Schrader
  • Cat People: An Intimate Portrait by Schrader
  • On the set interview with Schrader
  • Special Makeup Effects featurette by Tom Burman
  • Production Notes and Photos
  • Theatrical Trailer

Anamorphic: Yes.
My Advice: Borrow it.

Making the Beast with Two Backs takes on a whole new meaning in Cat People. Sex is a huge part of the story, overshadowing the horror or suspense in the movie. Orphan Irena (Kinski) travels to New Orleans to meet her newly discovered brother Paul (McDowell). Irena is shocked when he tells her that they are were-leopards that transform into beasts when having sex with non-were-leopards and can only change back after killing someone. Considering she is able to leap fifteen feet into a tree, she shouldn’t be all that surprised. That Paul wants to get it on with his sister appalled her, since she has the hots for Oliver (Heard), a curator at a zoo where Paul had temporary lodging… and of course there’s that whole incest taboo. What’s a girl to do?

[ad#longpost]Some directors are very visual in their style. Since film is a visual medium, this is usually a good thing. But when the visual aspects overcome the storytelling, the movie suffers. That’s the main problem with the film. Looks great, but there’s nothing beneath the surface. While the images of Irena sightseeing in New Orleans or her and Oliver enjoying the bayou country are nice, they do nothing to strengthen character or move the story along, so the movie drags from one set piece to another.

And when you get character development, it doesn’t make sense. In one scene, Paul is reluctant, physically and emotionally, to engage in sex with a beautiful woman–but in the next scene he is unconcerned when he looks at his post-coital handiwork, the hotel room and the woman violently torn apart. Kinski and McDowell do pretty well with the limited characters they have to work with. They do incorporate cat mannerisms into their performances and McDowell is always good being menacing and generally evil. Kinski does a decent performance as the poor innocent, yet very sexy ingénue, but the rest of the cast is very ordinary. And the director, Schrader, is so concerned with the look of the movie, that he doesn’t even have one member of the cast speak in a Cajun or Southern accent, even though the film is set in New Orleans. He couldn’t find one person that could affect a simple drawl?

For a lightweight movie, the DVD is chocked full of features. The various production notes and featurette on the special prosthetics and makeup used do offer an interesting view of special effects and techniques used in the movies in the pre-digital age. But the main documentary and commentary by Schrader are mostly about the visual aspects of the film. From the constant use of the colors salmon and lime (sounds more like something you’d get in a Key West restaurant) to building the sets to be two stories to make the action more seamless, Schrader and his team show they have a good grasp of stagecraft, but since he did major rewrites on the original 1942 script, its deficiencies can be laid at his door. And they could have coordinated the documentary and the commentary better, there are many instances where Schrader duplicates various observations and anecdotes.

If you are interesting in the making of film or of naked chicks running around in the swamp, Cat People may be of interest, but otherwise don’t bother.

Malcolm McDowell (and friend) from Cat People (1982)

Malcolm McDowell and Nastassja Kinski from Cat People (1982)

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