Friday, February 24, 2012

Ten Statements About....CAT PEOPLE (1982)

Yes, they may be brother and sister in the film, but this is
the least icky relationship within...
"Don't touch me!"
"But I'm the only one who can touch you, and you're the only one who can touch me. Don't you see? We're safe together because we're the same."

1) The thing about the opening six minutes of this film, which kinda, sorta gives us some backstory on the Cat People and Irena specifically, is how there is no violence implied. The way the panther leaps up on its sacrifice is shot in such a way that I swore it was whispering in the young woman's ear. It's this strange surreal tableau, accompanied expertly by the melody of David Bowie's 'Putting Out Fire' that gives me hope that this is not going to be the violation of the original so many people claim it is.

2) The choice to change our POV character in this version to Irena may seem a bit curious--but those moments in Act One that show her becoming re-aquainted with her brother serve to humanize her...and while Malcolm MacDowell's Paul does show hints of his less-than-savory designs on his sister, the whole sequence gets us on her side rather rapidly.

3) ....and then we get the hooker with the spring-action bra (played by Lynn Lowery, who I adored in Romero's version of The Crazies!) getting her ankle mauled. Sure, it's still relatively subtle given what we could have had, but this scene, and others like it, seem to have wandered in from another movie--and a movie Schrader's not as interested in making. Each time we get something like that, it distracts from the tone-poem-esque creepiness that it being built elsewhere.

...THIS is.
4) Some of the changes Alan Ormsby's script chooses to make, like making Oliver a zoo curator and getting her a job in the gift shop, serves to streamline the actual arc of their relationship and avoid some of the strange fiddly bits we agree to ignore about the original.

5) I really don't know how I feel about the presence of a real, honest to god villain in Paul. On one hand, he is played by Malcolm MacDowell, which automatically makes his suspect, so you might as well reveal that he's been methodically murdering and eating women in his basement. On the other hand, it sort of destroys one of the major strengths of the original--a strength that otherwise is maintained in this version--of no one being a bad guy.

6) I think the switch of location from New York to New Orleans works very well...not only because its old world flavor makes the concept of a ancient race of were-leopards a lot more plausible, but because the Audubon Zoo where a lot of the film takes place is a genuinely creepy setting with its decaying cages and animal gargoyles looking down on the characters.
"Hello, I am Malcolm MacDowell, and here is your nightmare
fuel for the evening...."

7) Where the film falls apart--and falls apart like a toothpick hut in the middle of the earthquake--is in its second half. There are looooong stretches where nothing really happens save for Naatassja Kinski walking across the screen and occasionally disrobing, and the scenes that are recreated from the original (which we'll get to in the next statement) are made to take up way more time than they're should.

8) And speaking of recreations of key original scenes--none of them really work. Part of it is that even though Schrader tries to emulate these scenes painstakingly (there are shot-for-shot sequences in his version of the pool scene, for example), the color cinematography prevents the tricks Tourneur used to happen effectively. And part of it is the updating--which seems to be relegated solely to Annette O'Toole's Alice being topless in the pool--adds to the sense that they needed to sex-up what was already a pretty sensuous film. is Annette O'Toole topless in a swimming pool.
Your argument is no longer valid.

9) Here's the thing--Kinski was never to my taste, because I saw too much of her father in her (imagine coming home to meet Klaus!)....and while she certainly captures the awkward sweetness that Simone Simon had in the original, her transformation to femme fatale doesn't come off one hundred percent. Plus, you've got Annette O'Toole--who it's implied Oliver already has an established relationship with at the beginning of the film--being so much more interesting, captivating and sexy as hell (her in the pigtails and shorts...mmmmmm) that you wonder what Oliver sees in Irena. This isn't like in the original, where Oliver is unaware of Alice's romantic feeling towards him, after all. It just adds another level of weirdness to the film.

10) I really, really think they made a mistake in showing us Irena leoparding out, as it thoroughly destroys the ambiguity that made the original so intriguing. I know this was probably only made because of the success of The Howling and An American Werewolf In London, but still....

Overall...not as bad as people claim it is, this version is still a bit of a mess that maybe could have been strengthened greatly by losing about twenty minutes.

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