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CAT PEOPLE (OCTOBER 9TH)


YOU'VE GOT RED ON YOU TAKES PART IN THE 31 DAYS OF HALLOWEEN CHALLENGE; WATCHING ONE HORROR MOVIE A DAY THROUGHOUT OCTOBER. SOME OF THEM OLD, SOME OF THEM NEW, SOME OF THEM HAVE JUST BEEN ON OUR SHELVES FOR YEARS GATHERING DUST, STILL IN CELLOPHANE...

As Lovefilm will cease to exist after the end of this month, I made a conscious decision to alter my rental list to be genre only movies. This also involved me adding a smattering of older horror films that I thought I should probably have seen by now. One of those is Paul Schrader's Cat People (1982), a movie very very loosely based on Jacques Tourneur's revered classic, made forty years earlier. Again, shamefully I must admit that I haven't seen that either. Seriously, if there has one thing that this whole '31 Days of Halloween' thing has revealed is how much there is that I still need to watch.

Now another thing I must admit is that although I had heard of Natassja Kinski, I've somehow managed to avoid actually seeing her on anything. I mean, I am aware that she was kind of a big deal back in the day but had no other exposure to her...until now. And boy did Cat People treat me to a bit of exposure! She's in hypnotic form here - that unique mixture of vulnerability, beauty and intrigue that leaves you transfixed - and no, I'm not just referring to the nudey scenes!

Cat People is a very weird film. It begins with some tribe offering a woman up for sacrifice (with Bowie music playing in the background) to a black panther. However, instead of eating her it just seems to lick her and stuff. Flashforward a couple of decades and a young woman called Irena (Kinski) travels to New Orleans to live with her long lost brother Paul (Malcolm McDowell) after years of separation. As far as family reunions go it's all a bit weird, with the brother making eyes at her, flirting, smelling her neck etc. It's a bit too Amityville for my liking. It's safe to say that there is something not quite right with Paul besides the incestuous desires. You see, he soon turns into a panther and after attacking a prostitute, gets locked up in the zoo. In an ironic twist, Irena soon gets a job at the same zoo where a curator (played by John Heard) falls for her pretty hard. After a day or so, Paul the panther has ripped the arm off of a zookeeper who subsequently dies. Paul the panther switches back to Paul the man and he escapes from his cage somehow (they never really explain that bit). Long story short, Paul and Irene belong to an odd subspecies - part human, part cat - and getting the horn has the knock on effect of changing them from their human form into a panther. They then have to kill someone to change back into their human form. Mental eh?

At it's core the film is about repressed sexuality and is more of an erotic drama with some horror elements thrown in for good measure. Like werewolf movies of the same era, we get treated to a few 'transformation' scenes that are generally very well handled. Their decision to use actual big cats for the key scenes also works - although I can't be the only one who watches those scenes with more than a little concern. Those animals look pretty pissed off and I'm not sure it's because they've got a great acting range.

The whole thing is rather uneven, with some really good scenes, strong visuals (thanks to cinematographer John Bailey) and mesmerising performances mixed in with some equally bad scenes and dodgy dialogue. Comparisons to the original are a little pointless as they are totally different films, although it has it's own take on the two really famous scenes from it's predecessor. The bus is now a tram (that works pretty well) but the swimming pool scene doesn't live up to the 42 version. However, Cat People is quite a unique viewing experience. It's both eerie and erotically charged and as fantastical as the plot is (it really is bananas!) I can't deny that I was sort of fascinated with it for large periods. The score by Giorgio Moroder is equally as engrossing too.

There have always been rumours that Director Paul Schrader and Natassja Kinski had a thing during the filming of Cat People and that hasn't helped regarding the claims that the movie is misogynistic. I'm not sure I'd use that word but at times it does feel like we've seen it all perhaps one too many times (that's more directed at John Heard's butt than anything else).

All in all, an oddly dream-like movie that happily straddles the line between erotica and fantasy horror. I'm not quite sure how much I liked it truth be told, but I can honestly say that I haven't seen too many movies like Cat People.

#catpeople #rjbland

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