Cat People Collector's Edition 4K UHD/ Blu-ray Review
Written by Robert Gold
Blu-ray released by Scream Factory
Directed by Paul Schrader
Written by Alan Ormsby
1982, 118 minutes, Rated R
Blu-ray released on August 30th, 2022
Nastassja Kinski as Irena
Malcolm McDowell as Paul
John Heard as Oliver
Annette O'Toole as Alice
Ruby Dee as Female
Ed Begley Jr. as Joe
Frankie Faison as Det. Brandt
Lynn Lowry as Ruthie
John Larroquette as Bronte Judson
In 1942, legendary producer Val Lewton and director Jacques Tourneur (I Walked with a Zombie) created Cat People, a film that deals with desire and self-awareness with sexual undercurrents. Lewton later teamed with director Robert Wise to make the even more impressive Curse of the Cat People (1944), a tale of schizophrenia and childhood trauma. Four decades after the original film, Paul Schrader (Exorcist: Dominion) directed a picture that shared the same title and many of the same concepts but is radically different from what came before. This version is a perverse erotic thriller featuring ample nudity and a few splashes of crimson blood.
This latest incarnation of the tale begins in a mystic land swept with red sands and ruled by large cats and then shifts to contemporary New Orleans. The beautiful Irena (Nastassja Kinski, Tess) is met at the airport by her estranged brother, Paul (Malcolm McDowell, The Caller), who takes her back to his home where his Creole housekeeper (Ruby Dee, The Stand) encourages Irena to appreciate life and explore her surroundings. She takes the housekeeper's advice and tours the city, stopping at the zoo where she meets Oliver (John Heard, C.H.U.D.), the handsome curator, and soon finds herself working as a new employee in the gift shop.
Oliver and his assistants Alice (Annette O'Toole, It) and Joe (Ed Begley Jr., Transylvania 6-5000) have their hands full with a new arrival, a giant black leopard that was discovered in a sleazy hotel having mauled a hooker (Lynn Lowry, Shivers) the night before. The large cat kills a careless zookeeper and escapes. Irena returns home and things get weird when her brother informs her of their connection to the legend of the cat people. What began as a slowly unspooling drama shifts gears in the final act and the screen is suddenly filled with a lot of nudity, bondage and kinky, shape-shifting sexual escapades.
Working closely with production designer Ferdinando Scarfiotti (The Last Emperor) and cinematographer John Bailey (American Gigolo), director Schrader delivers an incredibly stylistic and atmospheric erotic thriller that explores contemporary New Orleans and a mystical dream world of cats, and manages to find magic in both. Schrader remains unflinching when tackling themes of fear and desire, obsession, bestiality, lust, incest and psychosexual panic. The film contains a generous amount of nudity from both male and female cast members, and each sequence is beautifully photographed. Not surprisingly, these elements of the film were omitted from prints airing on television and the final sequence was removed entirely. Cat People (1982) has been praised as sophisticated art by some and dismissed as misogynistic, pretentious crap by others.
Sex kitten Nastassja Kinski carries the film on her gorgeous shoulders with apparent ease as both the awkward virgin and later sexually confident Irena. John Heard's Oliver is an instantly likeable everyman, seduced by the allure of forbidden pleasures. Malcolm McDowell delivers a creepy and unnervingly quiet performance as the incestuous Paul. His physical movements are as graceful as Kinski's as he playfully shares information regarding their family history. Annette O'Toole rounds out the bizarre love triangle with Oliver and Irena, but is never bitchy or threatening, instead playing Alice almost like a sister to both.
The film contains many notable names behind the camera, including mega-producer Jerry Bruckheimer (Kangaroo Jack) who spent the next three decades building a career that continues to impress. Legendary composer Giorgio Moroder (Scarface) contributes a dreamy score that fans familiar with his work will instantly recognize. David Bowie performs the title song (“Putting out Fire with Gasoline”) that was reworked into various music cues throughout. The elaborate make-up effects are the work of artist Tom Burman (The Beast Within), who was in charge of the more horrific elements, including the impressive yet brief transformation sequences.
Paul Schrader reworked the screenplay by Alan Ormsby (Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things) to include more of the salacious elements and to punch up the ending, but their voices are not completely harmonic. Part of the problem stems from the obligation to include several key set pieces from the original film despite not really fitting into the current formula. Schrader has repeatedly lamented being forced to keep the title and therefore having his work compared to the classic, but his argument is a bit thin considering he was hired by the studio to do a remake. The finished product was neither a smash hit nor a complete failure, but has built a cult following over the past forty years and is an interesting addition to the metamorphosis sub-genre that populated early '80s horror.
Video and Audio:
Scream Factory’s previous Blu-ray of Cat People suffered from heavy DNR, which resulted in a waxy image devoid of film grain, but that error is corrected for this release featuring an all-new 4K scan and restoration of the original camera negative, with the UHD disc in Dolby Vision (HDR-10 compatible). The new transfer offers an increased appearance of fine detail and bold color saturation that is quite pleasing and black levels are rock-solid.
The default DTS-HD 5.1 mix contains some decent bass levels and nice use of the rear channels, particularly during the indoor pool sequence near the finale. The original stereo mix is included in a DTS-HD MA 2.0 track that offers an equally solid presentation as the newly expanded option. Dialogue remains clear and free from distortion. English subtitles are provided for anyone in need.
Paul Schrader audio commentaries are always rewarding and this one is no exception. He delivers a steady account of production stories that are highly entertaining and informative. He discusses the origins of the project, filming on location in New Orleans and also on sets back at the studio. He reveals how certain shots were created and points out the generous use of matte paintings and other visual effects. He is particularly candid concerning some of the behind-the-scenes activities that caused him trouble in his personal life.
Schrader reflects on the film in the segment More than a Remake (2014, 9 minutes), starting with how he became connected to the production .He talks about this being his first film he didn’t write and reworking the ending. Other topics include casting, the art direction and critical reception.
In Unleashing the Animal Within (2014, 6 minutes), actress Nastassja Kinski reflects on how she connected with her character and enjoyed working with the animals on set. She speaks fondly of her co-stars Heard and O’Toole, points out her favorite scene and talks about working with prosthetics.
Annette O’Toole remembers working with Schrader to develop her character in Making Memories (2014, 8 minutes). She goes on to talk about working opposite John Heard and Kinski, giant cats and a big snake. She continues with tales from the swimming pool scene, the scariest moment on set and suffering a jogging injury.
Caging the Animal (2014, 6 minutes) catches up with the late John Heard, who discusses his character and the erotic elements of the script and themes of obsession. He has kind words for his director, co-stars and dedicated crew. He talks about working with big cats and the benefits of practical effects.
Actor Malcolm McDowell sits for the segment Reconnecting with Cat People (2014, 8 minutes), speaking openly about the nudity in the film and working opposite Kinski. He reveals moments in his performance that were filmed in reverse, tells a humorous story about a hair coloring fiasco and marvels at the beautiful desert set.
Cat Fight (2014, 6 minutes) finds actress Lynn Lowry sharing stories about her time on the production working with Schrader including sharing a fun story about her audition.
Composer Giorgio Moroder remembers working with David Bowie on various musical themes for the film in the featurette Composing a Cult Classic (2014, 6 minutes). He discusses writing for the desert sequence as well as the movie’s reception and legacy.
Cat People: An Intimate Portrait (2000, 25 minutes) finds Paul Schrader looking back at the production, including his inspiration and themes of the story. He talks about the ratio of nudity vs. blood and the eroticism of the picture. Other topics include casting, art direction and the use of color in each scene.
In the vintage interview On the Set with Paul Schrader (1981, 10 minutes), the director takes time out from shooting to talk about the themes of the picture. He also talks about his female lead and the challenges of directing. He also lists the primary behind-the-camera components of making a film.
Filmmaker Robert Wise on the Producer of the Original Cat People, Val Lewton (2001, 4 minutes) finds the legendary director remembering the iconic producer and sharing his thoughts on the original film.
The simply titled Special Makeup Effects by Tom Burman (2001, 11 minutes) catches up with the artist reflecting on feminine transformations and the study of cats. He talks about Kinski and the need to give the work an erotic look. Other topics include creating early animatronics, working with the animal trainer, creating the arm rip and the cat autopsy as well as the three types of blood used for the shoot.
A Look at the Film’s Matte Paintings (3 minutes) is a short featurette that shows a collection of before- and-after shots from the film set to music from the soundtrack.
The original theatrical trailer is paired with a TV spot.
There are two photo galleries, including one for production art (8 images) and a second collection (123 images) of publicity shots, lobby cards, production stills, behind-the-scenes images and international poster art.
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