When Val Lewton and Jacques Tourneaur conceived “Cat People,” the budget was low for anything truly spectacular, thus allowing them to get creative. Director Paul Schrader definitely has a larger budget and wider scope to deal with, resulting in a fairly forgettable remake. If you can call it a remake, mind you. All the mythology is lost in favor of a hyper sexual retelling that keeps the cat people and removes everything else. “Cat People” definitely fits the nostalgia bill for people who find Nastassja Kinski especially sexy, as Schrader soaks the film in a palette of neon colors and bold bright pastels while Giorgio Moroder’s score blares non-stop.
As a new wave sort of werewolf film that embraces sexuality and reconciles lust with lycanthropy, “Cat People” is kind of a successful version of “The Howling II.” It just isn’t a very good movie, regardless. For one, the entire tale of Irena is utterly misogynistic as the narrative is centered on punishing her for giving in to her sexual urges. After arriving to New Orleans to visit her brother Paul, Irena learns that she is apart of a clan of lycanthropic cat people that thrive by incestous relationships. This prevents them from transforming.
If Irena gives in to lust with another man, she’ll become a werecat that can only be reversed by killing someone. Most of “Cat People” is based around flashbacks and surreal visions Irena is garners, which allows the audience to catch up with the convoluted mythos that Schrader and the writers hand us. Most of it is fairly hard to follow, even with the flashbacks, and the film doesn’t really tap in to anything horrifying or remotely related to horror, save for a few maulings, and a very interesting transformation scene in the finale.
Much like “The Howling III,” Schrader’s treatment of Val Lewton’s horror classic revolves around stripping the menace and terror, and focusing on the fantasy and sex. Granted Nastassja Kinski is beautiful and incredibly striking as this slowly unraveling young woman learning to come to terms with her body and lust, but “Cat People” moves at an absolute slug’s pace, requiring immense patience. When we finally do garner some plot progression, “Cat People” doesn’t quite register as a twisted romance and becomes its own somewhat exploitative animal. In the end, it’s barely a notch above “The Howling” movie series, save for sharp direction by Schrader.
The newly released Blu-Ray from Scream Factory includes multiple interviews with the cast and crew from “Cat People,” including Nastassja Kinski, John Heard, and Malcolm McDowell to name a few. There’s also the original theatrical trailer, the TV spot for “Cat People,” and a photo gallery. Finally, there’s a gallery of Production Art and Posters for “Cat People.”