The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan



You couldn't make Cat People the same way today, and that's part of what's special about it. Paul Schrader's 1982 erotic horror film is possibly even more shocking now than it was then, thanks to the fact that the MPAA has largely frightened filmmakers away from tackling sex onscreen. These days, put any kind of explicit sexual content in your film and there's a good chance you walk away with an NC-17. Schrader tossed in themes of bestiality and incest, as well as full frontal nudity and a couple wild sex scenes. Thankfully, Cat People, in all its adult glory, is being lovingly celebrated with a beautiful, brand-new Blu-Ray release from Scream Factory, to be released on January 21.

Nastassja Kinski plays Irena Gallier, a young woman who travels to New Orleans to meet her long-lost brother Paul (Malcolm McDowell). Almost immediately after she arrives, Paul disappears for a few days. Not so coincidentally, a local prostitute is killed by a black panther in a sleazy motel room around this same time. Irena ends up crossing paths with Oliver (John Heard) and Alice (Annette O'Toole), two zoologists working with police to figure out how this could have happened. Several others are killed in a similar fashion, after which Paul shows back up with a devastating secret: he and Irena are “cat people,” prone to changing into the beasts upon intercourse with a human. As their race is incestuous, the only way to avoid transformation is to have sex with someone of the same species, i.e. a family member. He very much wants this to happen. Given that she has now entered into a romantic relationship with Oliver, the consequences of this revelation are of grave concern.

Cat People is filled with eerie, erotically-charged moments that make it a unique viewing experience. The panther represents things that are sexually forbidden – the things that some people are turned on by that they probably shouldn't be. It also represents the dangerous edge that sex can have when individuals follow those dark impulses. The mixture of sex and violence has always been disturbing, but Cat People capitalizes on it like few films have dared. The erotic overtones are likely even more frightening than the bloody aftermath of the panther attacks. It helps that Kinski gives an excellent performance, capturing both Irena's naivety and desire in equal measures.

Throughout his body of work, Schrader has always appeared to be tackling his inner demons, and redemption is a theme that often reoccurs. It's evident here, as well, especially in the ending, which finds Irena having to decide the proper course of action in her relationship with Oliver. Sleeping with him would put him in danger and make him someone who technically performs bestiality; not sleeping with him would mean denying her love. The movie ends with David Bowie's anthem “Cat People (Putting Out Fire)” playing over the end credits, certainly one of the most effective marriages of song and thematic content.

Cat People is beautifully photographed by John Bailey, with several dreamlike sequences, in particular, wielding a hypnotic power. The famous musical score from Giorgio Moroder contributes substantially to the mood, too. All in all, this is one of the most notable horror flicks from the 1980s, and it has lost none of its impact.

Blu-Ray Features:

Scream Factory's Blu-Ray is a thing of beauty. The transfer looks unbelievably gorgeous, with every shadow and every use of symbolic color registering with eye-popping detail. The bonus features are substantial. In addition to the theatrical trailer and a TV spot, there are also two photo galleries, one of production stills, the other of poster art.

The real treat, though, is that Scream Factory has assembled interviews from almost every major participant in Cat People. Nastassja Kinski (who appears oddly uncomfortable on camera), Malcolm McDowell, John Heard, Annette O'Toole, Giorgio Moroder, and Paul Schrader all offer up their memories and reminiscences about working on the film. It appears that most, if not all, of them realized they were onto something special. Several of them mention a specific fondness for Bowie's theme song. Working with the animals is another recurring subject, as is the provocative nature of the material. Schrader discusses establishing the Freudian “rules” of the plot, rewriting the ending to make it more psychological, and his regret that he didn't change the title so as to avoid comparisons with the original 1942 film of the same name. It's wonderful that all these folks were willing to talk about Cat People. Their enlightening and informative insights into the film are required viewing for fans of this twisted, sexy horror classic.

For more information on this release, please visit the Scream Factory website.

Cat People is rated R for violence, nudity, and provocative sexual situations. The running time is 1 hour and 58 minutes.

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