Paul Schrader’s Cat People suffers most from its name. The original 1942 Cat People is a milestone in horror and noir cinema so a remake was destined to pale be comparison. There are some similarities to the original, mostly gleaned from the source material they both share, Val Lewton’s The Bagheeta, published in 1930. But even those similarities are loose and no more structural than what any two random vampire films might share. Had Schrader changed the name the entire frame of reference for the film would have shifted and it could stand solidly on its own feet.
The tragedy of the name is a built-in audience with built-in expectations. It was doomed from the start. Today, when people speak of Cat People it is invariably Val Lewton’s 1942 film that gets the attention (deservedly). Schrader’s 1982 “remake”, however, is a visually stunning and captivating film. Nastassja Kinski is intriguing, sexy, and beautifully cast as is Malcolm McDowell. The story is paced perfectly with the New Orleans setting and the Giorgio Moroder score is everything you could hope for in a 1982 thriller. I would add that John Bailey’s cinematography is a masterpiece of 80s chic.
Not everyone hated the film at the time. Roger Ebert wrote “Cat People is a good movie in an old tradition, a fantasy-horror film that takes itself just seriously enough to work, has just enough fun to be entertaining, contains elements of intrinsic fascination in its magnificent black leopards, and ends in one way just when we were afraid it was going to end in another.” And Variety said “Kinski was essential to the film as conceived, and she’s endlessly watchable.” Cat People deserves another look.
Cat People is a 1982 American erotic horror film directed by Paul Schrader and starring Nastassja Kinski and Malcolm McDowell. Alan Ormsby wrote the screenplay and Giorgio Moroder composed the film’s score, including the theme song which features lyrics and vocals by David Bowie.