Release Date(s)1982 (January 21, 2014)
- Film/Program Grade: B+
- Video Grade: C
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: B+
Cat People is essentially a remake of the Jacques Tourneur and Val Lewton original from 1942, despite Paul Schrader insisting that it isn’t a remake, but never mind. It was a movie that didn’t make a huge dent at the box office, but was pretty-well reviewed by critics, and today it stands as a cult classic.
A lot of the appeal of Cat People when it came out, to most people anyway, was its sex appeal. You have Nastassia Kinski in one of her defining roles, but you also have the beautiful Annette O’Toole, who I always had the major hots for as a teenager. So yes, for most people, the film is a gateway into its erotic side, but when seeing it a second time, you realize that there’s more to it than that. Actually, Cat People is a strange animal of a film all around (pun intended). It feels like a couple of different movies rolled into one. It feels like a tragic love story, but when you get to the point when poor Ed Begley, Jr. gets his armed ripped off by a panther, you realize that it’s also a bit of a horror movie as well. Then again, there are a couple of kinky moments in there too, so you realize it’s also a bit of an erotic thriller. And none of this is detrimental, by the way. I’m just pointing out that it indeed is several different things, which tends to turn off audiences who can’t handle it.
The overall tone, however, never wavers, and the story is quite focused, and also splendidly shot. Paul Schrader seems to know exactly what he wants and each shot seems to be handled with great care. The special effects are still great and classic-looking as well. I’ll take an on-screen transformation over CGI any day of the week. The performances are all really good too, especially Nastassia’s. She carries the film really well, taking us along for the ride. Other familiar faces pop up as well, including the aforementioned Ed Begley, Jr., John Heard, Lynn Lowry, John Larroquette, Ruby Dee, and the other lead performer, Malcolm McDowell. He’s very good, like usual, but it’s Nastassia who steals the show in this one. Altogether, it’s a terrific cast in a very fine film. A lot of great films came out in 1982, and this is a perfect example of why that year is very well-remembered. Cat People didn’t quite enjoy the kind of success and broader appeal that a lot of the other films from that year did, but it held its own. Having a second chance on video has certainly helped.
Speaking of which, the Blu-ray transfer for Cat People features an image that is both strong AND weak at the same time. There are some lovely images in here, particularly in reference to the color palette and the shadow delineation. Blacks are very deep and colors are extremely accurate, especially skin tones. I think it could have been a little bit brighter, but that’s not a major issue. The major issue is the lack of film grain in a lot of the images. There are many shots where the fine detail is almost non-existent, having been seemingly scrubbed away digitally, and everything looks way too smooth and clean. Freeze-framing gives this away the most. It’s also guilty of the evils of edge enhancement. While it’s not as overt as the noise reduction, it is there to be spotted upon further analysis. So what you’re left with is a very sharp, robust presentation that is too soft and too flat-looking. So it’s a mediocre presentation overall. Thankfully, the audio fares a bit better. You get two options to choose from: both of them English DTS-HD in either 5.1 or 2.0, the latter of which is the film’s original stereo soundtrack. For a film like Cat People, which features a lot of nuances in its soundtrack, as well as its score, the 5.1 track is a better option. The score, in particular, is really rich and full in all speakers, and there’s some nice sound effects to fill things out too. Ambience is nice, and the dialogue is very clear and precise. It’s not a perfect soundtrack, but it’s got much more dynamic range than I would have expected. There are also subtitles in English for those who might need them.
The extras selection isn’t abundant, but there are several nuggets to sift out. The main extra is a set of Cast and Crew Interviews, which include Unleashing the Animal Within: Nastassia Kinski, Making Memories: Annette O’Toole, Caging the Animal: John Heard, Reconnecting With Cat People: Malcolm McDowell, Cat Fight: Lynn Lowry, Composing a Cult Classic: Giorgio Moroder, and More than a Remake: Paul Schrader. The rest includes the film’s theatrical trailer, a TV spot, a photo gallery and a set of production art & posters. I would have liked to hear a bit more about the actual making of the film and maybe more with David Bowie, but this is a good set of extras overall.
Scream Factory’s delivery of a Collector’s Edition of Cat People comes in a package that almost gets it right. It’s a shame that a new transfer couldn’t have been struck, as this seems to be a ported one, but the extras and the soundtrack are both good. It’s a fine film and this disc should please some fans of the film, be they scrutinizing over the picture quality or not.
- Tim Salmons