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USA 1982
Directed by
Paul Schrader
118 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
1 stars

Cat People (1982)

Remaking classic films is a rarely rewarded gambit. It can pay off as with De Palma’s remake of Scarface but more often than not it’s an unprovoked folly. Paul Schrader's remake of Jacques Tourneur's 1942 psychological thriller/horror movie, Cat People is not so much a folly as a bastardisation. It’s hard to understand how he could have done such a bad job without trying to do so but hey, this was the 1980s, so perhaps he thought he was actually improving on it.  Either way it is impossible to say anything good about this film.

The script by Alan Ormsby updates the original story to modern day New Orleans. The wide-eyed  Irene (Nastassja Kinski ) arrives from somewhere in Europe to be united with her long-lost brother Paul (Malcolm McDowell). Their circus-performing parents died when they were young and they have been separated ever since.  Before you can say "boo", a hooker has been killed by a panther, Paul is AWOL and Irene has been given a job at the local zoo by curator Oliver (John Heard).  It turns out that Paul and Irene morph into panthers during sexual intercourse and kill their partners unless they mate with their own kind so Paul wants to get it on with his sister.

Given that the original film is invariably praised for its purposeful understatement, with Irena only ever fearing that she will turn into a wild cat as a result of sexual intercourse, the feline presence always remaining an unseen phantom, why would you invert that approach and literalize everything? Presumably aspiring to turn in an erotic thriller Schrader only manages to deliver a self-consciously arty, often too-silly-for-words and sometime embarrassingly incompetent film.

Whilst the ham-fisted dialogue would have defeated any actor, the performances are still awful. Malcolm McDowell, whose once-stellar career was on the downturn overacts furiously, Kinski, an actress more popular for her waif-like charms than her acting skills, is bland and John Heard simply out of his depth with the nonsense.  Dragged even further down by the incredibly amateurish  SFX (the arm-chewing scene is risible) to Giorgio Moroder’s tacky synthesizer score (helped out by a David Bowie bargain basement theme song) the film is simply a pointless exercise that should never have been undertaken.




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