Thursday, March 14, 2013

Cat People (1982)

Director: Paul Schrader
Screenplay: Alan Ormsby
Cast: Nastassja Kinski, Malcolm McDowell, John Heard, Annette O'Toole

When it was announced that Lewton's masterpiece was going to be remade, paying more explicit attention to its considerable erotic undercurrent, fans divided sharply into two camps: those who thought it a valid and intriguing exercise and those who damned it as heresy.
On release, though, they swiftly recombined to establish the overriding consensus: good idea or bad, the film is just terrible.
Perfect though I feel the original to be, I had no particular problem with the concept (and the casting of Kinski in Simone Simon's role seemed especially promising), but the finished film is neither atmospheric nor excting, and it's not even all that sexy.

Sadly, because the potential was there, the film never stops making mistakes. The plot has been altered almost beyond recognition, and in silly ways that totally undermine the point and the tension of the original story. The elements that should have proved most inspiring are replaced with new and vastly inferior alternative ideas, while well-worn highlights, like the darkened swimming pool scene and the mysterious woman who acknowledges Irina, are retained (and just tamely re-staged) even though they no longer make any sense in the revised narrative.
The inclusion of McDowell as Kinski's incestuous cat person brother is on its own a disaster from which no production could recover, but just to make sure a bizarre mystic back story and the kind of ending that seems specifically designed to annoy act as insurance. Add to this the annoyingly inhumane use of real animals and a horrible Giorgio Moroder score (including a Moroder-David Bowie collaboration of the sort that comes along only once in a lifetime, or less if you're really lucky) and all is truly lost.
Even Kinski, set certain to compensate with her hitherto effortless erotic power, seems constrained by the eccentricities of the material, as well as drably styled and saddled with an unflattering short hairdo.


Mykal said...

Matthew: Completely agree. kinski had such staggering potential for this role. That a film could not tap into her erotic powers ("effortless" as you so rightly phrase it) is nearly unbleavable. Jeez! Simply turn the lights on and let the cameras roll, and her sexuality would simmer to boiling. It was nearly a stroke of un-genius to make her boyish and boring.

As always, my friend - excellent.

Matthew Coniam said...

Thanks, Mykal.
Yes, the one thing you knew for certain going in is that even if it turns out to be the worst film ever made, you will almost certainly watch it again at some point, simply and solely because Kinski will be a sensation... I can't off-hand think of any other film she made in the eighties where she doesn't melt the camera just by looking at it, sometimes in the most terrible films and inappropriate contexts, but here, not at all. It's a genuine mystery.