Thursday, March 3, 2011

Bravo's 100 Scariest Movie Moments: #97 - Cat People (1982)

By Eric Polk-
The first of the 'when animals go bersek/when humans become animals' genre is a remake(NOOOO!!!) of the 1942 original. Unlike the original, the T and A, along with the fur, fly in this film directed by Paul Schrader and starring at the height of her career Nastassja Kinski and legendary actor Malcolm McDowell.
Irena Gallier (Kinski) meets her older brother Paul (McDowell), a minister, in New Orleans. It is the first time they have met since their animal trainer-parents died, and Irena was sent to a series of foster homes. Paul's Creole housekeeper Female (pronounced feh-MAH-leh) (Dee) helps Irena settle into her brother's home, but Paul himself disappears. That same night, a prostitute walks into a fleabag motel to meet a john — and is instead mauled by a black leopard.

                                                         (No, BLACK LEOPARD!)

The police capture the leopard, aided by a team of zoologists: Oliver Yates (Heard), Alice Perrin (O'Toole), and Joe Creigh (Begley).
The next day, Irena finds herself in the zoo where these scientists work. Drawn to the newly-captured leopard, she befriends Oliver and takes a job in the gift shop nearby. Shortly afterward, the leopard's violence turns deadly and it escapes. Soon, Paul turns up and tells Irena of their family's werecat heritage. He also tells her that their parents were actually brother and sister. Only sex with another werecat prevents the transformation; the werecats are ancestrally incestuous. When a werecat has sex with a human, it transforms into a leopard, and only by killing a human can the werecat regain human form. On the run from her dangerous brother, Irena takes refuge in a sexually-frustrated romance with Oliver, afraid of what might happen if she consummates their passion. Eventually, Paul (in leopard form) breaks into Oliver's house, intent on killing him so he can have Irena to himself. Oliver has been waiting, however, and instead kills Paul. While performing an autopsy on the cat, Oliver discovers that the panther's body is a hollow shell; Paul has literally disappeared.

Irena is trapped. If she takes a human lover, she will have to kill to regain human form. Eventually, Irena makes love with Oliver, transforms into a leopard and flees, sparing Oliver's life. She escapes, but is later trapped on a bridge by police. Shortly after Oliver arrives at the scene, Irena sees him and jumps off the bridge and escapes. Oliver realizes where she is headed and confronts Irena at a secluded lake house, she having regained human form by killing the house's caretaker. Irena tells Oliver she did not kill him because she loves him, and begs him to let her "be with her own".

I didn't see a reason why this film, or any of its scenes, merited a top-100 showing. Oh sure, there is a rather pleasant arm-ripping scene and the near-incest was genuinely creepy, but, to be honest, there was nothing here to make me agree with the producers of the  Bravo show. On its own, Cat People isn't very erotic as it claims to be. Sure Kinski gets naked and has sex, but that was it. No teasing, no pure seduction, nothing really to hold my attention. If, however, you want atmosphere, then you'll love what you see in this film.


Morbidementia said...

I'm with you, after seeing Zombie so low at #98 I thought "MAN the top 97 had better be frickin' scary!" To follow Zombie up with Cat People? Not cool.

Anonymous said...

Just a heads up, Cat People on Bravo's list was actually the original version!

BJ Colangelo said...

Yeah, I have to agree with Anonymous. The original is the one on the list, not the Natassja Kinski version...

Eric Polk said...

Anonymous,you are absolutely right. I apologize for getting the movies mixed up. If I can find it, I'll watch the original and do a review of it in the near future. Thanks for pointing that out to me:-)