After the triple werewolf feature of 1981: An American Werewolf in London, Wolfen, and The Howling, Lycanthropes were a little played out. Hollywood, in their infinite creativity decided that the world was ready for the next big thing: Werecats!
Director Paul Schrader’s Cat People is a remake of the 1942 film of the same name-in the sense that they have the same title and they’re both about werecats. That’s about it. Nastassja Kinski plays Irena Gallier, an impressionable young virgin who has been recently reunited with her long-lost brother, Paul (Malcolm McDowell). After Paul suspiciously goes missing the day after Irena moves in, she wanders around New Orleans, feeling drawn to the zoo. There she meets Oliver Yates, played by quintessential 80’s sex symbol, John Heard, who seems to be dating Alice Perrin (the lovely Annette O’Toole). This begins something a love triangle between the three, which is really nothing compared to the primary love triangle between Oliver, Irena and…Paul?
That’s right! Bucking the trend of ever gorier 80’s horror, Schrader creates terror out of America’s two favorite subjects: furries and incest!
Is everyone finished vomiting? Splendid.
As it turns out, the Galliers’ suffer from one of the worst forms of therianthropy this side of Michael T. Weiss in The Howling IV: The Original Nightmare (1988)-who literally melted into a puddle from which a werewolf leapt out (Not. Even. Kidding.) The Galliers come from a long line of cat people who transform into black leopards every time they engage in sexual intercourse with someone who is not a cat person. After that, they can’t transform back unless they kill someone. So you see, there are only two cat people left in the world and they just happen to be brother and sister. It is not as if Paul would want to have sex with Irena (you know, this girl ) if he didn’t have to. Honest!
When Schrader is not trying to make this the horror equivalent of a Zalman King film, Cat People is hilarious-starting with the completely out of place juggling scene with Irena and Paul. The pronunciation of names becomes a major issue throughout the film between Ruby Dee’s Female, pronounced “FEEmolly,” and Heard’s refusal to pronounce the name Irena as anything other than “EYEreena.” Noted environmentalist and cinematic doofus, Ed Begley, Jr. makes an appearance as a fellow zookeeper who manages to get his arm bitten off by a caged leopard. And then there’s “Cat-vision!”
In the end, Cat People is about a girl’s journey into womanhood and ,the decision to embrace her sexual power and all the responsibilities that go along with it, or to abstain from a world of forbidden pleasure. Basically, it’s the The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)…but with incestual furries.