The remake of "Cat People" is a film that spares the viewer nothing--incest, bestiality, nudity, gore. Part of the genius of Jacques Tourneur's original 1942 suspense thriller was how it showed nothing, and relied entirely on implications and psychological fear. When a fanged killer chased a scared woman down a dark street, we heard the footsteps, but we didn't see the killer behind her. We just saw her, scared, running, gasping.
And when the woman went for a swim, she took the liberty of keeping on her bathing suit, instead of running into a dark room completely topless and jumping into the pool. Because that's exactly what happens in the remake of "Cat People." Nude people are everywhere: nude men, nude women, nude animals. And anyone who tells you that this film is not exploitative is lying through his or her teeth. This is like a soft-porn version of a classic horror tale. And that's without even mentioning the nonexistent terror of the beast that was present in the original. Imagine "JAWS" being remade with the shark appearing from the onset and you've got yourself a clear picture of "Cat People" (1982).
It basically ruins everything that made the first film a classic. We get a cheesy 80s-style prelude to the movie that explains the mythical nature of the human/cat hybrids. In Ancient times, women were mated with panthers--shoved into their dwellings as a sort of sexual sacrifice. Yes, this is actually shown in the beginning of the film. But wait! It gets better!
Irena (Natassja Kinski) doesn't know it, but she is one of the rare offspring of this crossed species. After going to live with her brother, Peter (Malcolm McDowell), she falls in love with a local zoo curator named Oliver (John Heard).
Irena is still a virgin, and her brother soon tells her that she must lose her virginity with him, since they are cat people and must only mate with their own kind. Otherwise, if they mate with species outside of their circle, they will turn into monstrous beasts and have to murder one person before they transform back again. (This happens to Peter many a couple times in the film, once with a hooker and once with a woman he meets at a graveyard. Did I mention that the camera manages to reveal both of their paired breasts before they are killed?)
Having seen and loved the original "Cat People," I must confess that much of the remake's plot has ties to the original film. The characters' names are the same, and they basically do the same things in different situations (one of Oliver's co-workers has a crush on him, for example). But everything is updated, and very corny, and the dialogue is as weak as it is humorous. The violence is comically outlandish and everything is darker. In the original "Cat People," Irena could not kiss a man or she would turn into a beast. Now, Irena cannot have sex with a man or she will turn into a beast. It's a truly pointless remake, nowhere near as good as the first, and just an effort to stain the original's lasting effect. I can guarantee that every time I think of the original from now on, I will also think of the remake, which is a depressing thought.
The director, Paul Schrader, seems more intent on getting the characters to shred their clothes rather than letting them actually evolve into bigger pictures. This has some of the most nudity in a mainstream film that I have ever seen.
Indeed, Malcolm McDowell must be getting tired of doing nude scenes. He did full frontal in "A Clockwork Orange," and here he does it again. And Natassja Kinski is stripping off her clothes every time the camera gets near her. For a movie from 1982, this is surprisingly exploitative. And the nudity aside, this film's many implications of bestiality and gore disturbed me--and I am not easily disturbed.
For a film that had so much going for it, the remake of "Cat People" may very well be one of the most disappointing films of all time--not to mention one of the most disturbing, too. It's stupid and dumb, and it's not very scary at all. I can't imagine how anyone could actually like this film, but evidently there are some who enjoy it. I strongly recommend the superior classic original over this lackluster, dark remake. It's as if Schrader and his team were intent on destroying the original's legacy from the onset of production.
And so here is proof that sometimes more is indeed not better, and that showing less can often times be much scarier than showing more. Oh, how I hate this film.