Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Scream Factorized: CAT PEOPLE on Blu-ray ""

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Scream Factorized: CAT PEOPLE on Blu-ray

Early on in his interview featured on this new Scream Factory Blu-ray, director Paul Schrader expresses his regret at not having changed the title of his film so that it had less association with Jacques Tourneur's 1942 film of the same name. Apparently he was offered the script after the success of AMERICAN GIGOLO (with producer Jerry Bruckheimer who also produced this movie) and Universal sold it to him at the time as part of a series of classic horror film remakes they were doing (including John Carpenter's THE THING). The film Schrader ending up making he fully admits had almost nothing to do with the original Val Lewton production and that the comparisons to that film only hurt his movie. Nowadays, Schrader's CAT PEOPLE has become something of a footnote sadly. It's certainly got a cult following and that is pleasing, but it seems more folks will come to discover it because of Quentin Tarantino's use of the theme song from this movie (David Bowie & Giorgio Moroder's "Cat People (Putting Out Fire)") in his film INGLORIOUS BASTERDS than based on the films merits. Perhaps that's being cynical, but at least fans of the movie now have this lovely Blu-ray special edition for themselves and to pass on the film to others. My hope is that Scream Factory's deserved credibility alone (based on their past slate of spectacular releases) will be enough compel the uninitiated horror fans to dip their toes into Paul Schrader's erotic, animalistic world drenched in red.
I saw the original 1942 CAT PEOPLE back in college as part of a Horror genre class I took and I remember it quite fondly. Our professor at the time talked about it being the pioneer of what were called "sound buses" wherein the films soundtrack would be basically silent and a loud sound would whoosh into frame (in the case of CAT PEOPLE there were instances where these sounds were literally buses entering the frame). What's great about Val Lewton's horror productions for RKO in general is their use of darkness and sound to convey something and allowing the viewer to fill in their own terror. One famous scene from Tourneur's film (which is echoed in Schrader's as well) features a young woman swimming in a pool surrounded by pitch black. In the shadows, we can hear a cat growling viciously and even though we can't really make out the image of the cat, the sequences is rather effective even today. Paul Schrader, though he absolutely delves into expressionistic territory with his film, leaves far less to the imagination and it may be to the film's detriment. That being said, the creepy, sensual, colorful world he has created here is also memorable and well worth exploring. For one thing, Nastassja Kinksi is as cat-like a presence as I can imagine and she is perfectly suited to to the role of the cat woman she plays. Malcolm McDowell is equally interesting as a cat man as well. Both actors have a special something about them, a kind of unpredictability and mysteriousness that fits. The rest of the cast is great too. John Heard has been a favorite of mine ever since I saw him in CHILLY SCENES OF WINTER (which Schrader mentions in his interview) and CUTTER'S WAY. Truly one of the great underrated actors of the 1980s in my mind. And Annette O'Toole is simply adorable and I always wished she'd made more films (loved her in ONE ON ONE with Robbie Benson). Other enjoyable cast members include Ruby Dee, Ed Begley Jr., Scott Paulin (who I remember from TEEN WOLF and PUMP UP THE VOLUME) and John Laroquette.
One of the other nice things about this CAT PEOPLE is it's reliance on the old school special effects of the time. The matte paintings, the puppets, and the makeup as well as the use of real animals make it a unique experience to modern day movie watchers used to seeing CGI in everything. Schrader himself remarks on this fact and how it was kind of cool for him to rewatch the film recently and see the now antiquated effects and how they are refreshing in a lot of ways.
Two other details of note - 1) I like the use of the New Orleans setting to give the film some extra flavor. It's easy enough to invoke voodoo and other such mysticism in this locale and it goes well with the human/animal transformation fantastical elements. 
2) Giorgio Moroder's music goes a long way to help emphasize and accentuate the fantasy world as well. Moroder is one of the more memorable composers of the 1980s and his music is a perfect fit to Schrader and cinematographer John Bailey's images.

Scream Factory has put together a nice Special Edition here and though it is lacking a Schrader commentary (which I would have loved), it still has a decent amount of extra features for fans. First off, I should mention that the transfer looks lovely and really pops. CAT PEOPLE is a film that despite it's old school special effects, still benefits from and is best seen in high definition because of its gorgeous production design. Also included are a bunch of retrospective interviews with the cast and crew:

"Unleashing the Animal Within: an Interview with Nastassja Kinski" (6 mins)
The lead actress seems rather shy in this interview (which fits I suppose). She recounts her experiences on the film briefly, with a few specific memories.

"Making Movies: an Interview with Annette O'Toole" (8 mins) 
O'Toole talks about getting cast and her enjoyment in working with Paul Schrader and seeing his process, the other actors, her character and the little touches she added (the braiding of her hair for example).

"Caging the Animal: an Interview with John Heard" (6 mins)
Was looking forward to this interview a lot (have seen few interviews with Heard talking about his work) and he is slightly low energy unfortunately. He still has some interesting things to say about the production, Schrader and Malcolm McDowell though. He also talks about his character's obsession and how he chose to depict that. 

"Reconnecting With Cat People: an Interview with Malcolm McDowell" 8 mins
McDowell discusses the film's cult status, the eroticism, working with Schrader and other memories of the production.

"Cat Fight: an Interview with Lynn Lowry" (5 mins) 
Lowry had a small but memorable role in the film as a call girl who gets attacked by a jaguar in a hotel room. She discusses the process of that scene and her memories of the intensity of working on it.

"Composing a Cult Classic: an Interview with Giorgio Moroder" (6 mins)
Composer Moroder mentions his previous involvement with both Schrader and Jerry Bruckheimer on AMERICAN GIGOLO. He discusses his instrumental choices, notes, reversing sounds, and working with David Bowie on as he calls it "the Cat People song".

"More Than a Remake: an Interview with Paul Schrader" (9 mins)
While I wish this interview was longer, there is some cool stuff here. Schrader talks about how he was offered CAT PEOPLE after the success of AMERICAN GIGOLO, his changes to the original script (mostly having to do with the film's ending). He also discusses thematics, and some of the different ideas he was pursuing with this movie (vs. the original). Apparently, Bertolucci's film THE CONFORMIST was a sizeable influence on the film and Schrader ended up using the same production designer, which was a highlight for him (the designing of the zoo and so forth) . He touches a lot on how he never thought of it as a remake outside of a few scenes and also covers working with Kinski, Heard ( and makes reference to a favorite film of mine, CHILLY SCENES OF WINTER) and others. Good interview, I just wanted more.
This CAT PEOPLE Blu-ray can be found at Amazon and Shout Factory's site:

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