Day 21: Cat People (1982)

Charles 2016, 31 Days of Horror, Part 4, Reviews Leave a Comment

It’s Day 21 and we’re talking about the (apparently) “erotic fantasy” known as Cat People!!
We haven’t been using movie posters as the title graphic for our reviews, but this one was too amazingly awful to ignore. Does that strike you more as a horror film or a softcore porno you might catch late night on Cinemax? What are they marketing here exactly?!
“Love brought out the animal in her.”
Where to even begin??
You know, I was discussing this movie with Kelley, and I couldn’t quite figure out what I would say about it. She, of course, quickly realized that everything I was telling her sounded like an “ugly” movie. If you listen to our podcast, then you know an “ugly” movie often defies logic and is usually so bad it’s good, and this movie certainly qualifies. Damning praise, to be sure, but accurate none-the-less.
Let me back up a bit and give a synopsis taken directly from IMDB: “A young woman’s sexual awakening brings horror when she discovers her urges transform her into a monstrous black leopard.”
Much like the 1942 original, the plot does indeed revolve around a young woman named Irene who is worried that having sex will turn her into a leopard, but that’s about where the similarities end. The Irene from 1942 doesn’t want this to happen and is startled by it and how she might harm others. Irene from 1982 doesn’t seem all that concerned with it, seemingly aroused by the thought of it (despite being a virgin).
Early on, when she reconnects with her long lost brother (who also has this ability), he tries to sleep with her (telling her it’s the only cure) but instead settles on a local prostitute, who he promptly kills. This sets up the film’s basic rule that sex will transform you in a big cat.
So, this is essentially a werecat movie, according to my lovely wife, but with sex instead of a full moon.
Anyway, he’s captured (as a leopard) and gone for days and days, but Irene doesn’t seem all that concerned with this either. She never wonders where he went… which is curious since, you know, she’s living with him. But, apparently, once you become a leopard, you must kill again to become human, though you are still fully in control no matter which body you happen to be using. You are well aware of your actions.
So, these are the rules that are established, but they’re seemingly not enforced at all because Irene is able to become a leopard and stalk Alice and then transform back into a human before she has sex with anyone, so who knows? I’m very confused about the whole matter and it totally complicates the ending (which I won’t spoil), but I guess they can transform just by being horny??
By the way, that stalking scene is one of the few sequences that is directly inspired by the original. The 1942 version created a new kind of “jump scare”, where a loud, innocuous sound catches you off guard because of the suspense that led up to it. It’s actually a bus that makes the sound in the original, and this horror technique has since become known as the “Lewton Bus,” named after the film’s producer, Val Lewton.

This newer version, though, decides to have Alice go for a naked swim to throw in a little gratuitous nudity. Why not, right?
And speaking of nudity (how often do I get to say that?), Irene seems to spend the second half of the movie in an almost constant state of undress. Like I said, she doesn’t seem too concerned with the violent consequences of having sex, so it seems to change the message and tone of the original quite a bit. Maybe that works for you, but it doesn’t really for me. The film is beautifully shot, though, and there are some really intriguing moments, but it’s so corny and ridiculous and over-the-top that it’s hard to take seriously. That’s why I’m all over the place on this review.
But the one area I’m sure on is the ending. As I also mentioned, it doesn’t really gel with the rules laid out, but I find it awful for an entirely different reason. Much like the film’s poster, the cheese factor is incredibly high. David Bowie (!!) provides the film’s closing credit song, but the absurdly long freeze frame of the leopard that then roars just as Bowie yells “GASOLINE!!!!!” made me laugh out loud. It’s perhaps the film’s finest moment.

Kelley will be reviewing David Cronenberg’s remake of The Fly tomorrow for Day 22, which is also the last 1980s movie on our list this year, so take a moment to be sad about that, and then come back by and check it out!!

CharlesDay 21: Cat People (1982)

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