Iíve always been a big fan of the original RKO version of CAT PEOPLE, and to a lesser degree, the Paul Schrader remake that stars the very beautiful and sometimes very naked Nastassja Kinski. Where as the original CAT PEOPLE used only suggestion to imply that the filmís central character was being transformed into a cat, the remake removes all doubt. While the plot of CAT PEOPLE is utterly preposterous, the movie has a sleek sense of style that engrosses the viewer as they watch the film. In the Schrader version of CAT PEOPLE, Nastassja Kinski portrays Irena Gallier, a beautiful young woman who is reunited with her brother Paul (Malcolm McDowell), many years after the two were orphaned and adopted into separate homes.
Right after her arrival at her brotherís home, Irena notices something odd about Paul, especially when he makes sexual advances towards her. Of course, Irena is repelled by her brother's actions. However, after her rejection, Paul reveals to Irena the lurid tale of their familyís history- one that tells that they are descended from an odd fusing of human souls and the black leopards. Due to this odd lineage, they are only able to mate with their own kind- otherwise they are transformed into a black leopard until they kill and eat a human victim- usually their lover. Of course, as a virgin, Irena totally disbelieves Paulís insane tale, but things start to change when she finds herself sexually aroused by the new man in her life. The cast of CAT PEOPLE also features John Heard, Annette O'Toole, Ruby Dee, Ed Begley Jr., Scott Paulin, Frankie Faison, Lynn Lowry, Ron Diamond and John Larroquette.
Universal Studios Home Video has made CAT PEOPLE available on DVD in a 1.85:1 wide screen presentation that has been enhanced for 16:9 displays. Overall, Universal has done a very nice job of transferring CAT PEOPLE to the digital medium. Owing to the fact that CAT PEOPLE is a product of the early 1980s, there are some limitations that the new transfer is unable to overcome. A number of blemishes serve to remind one of the filmís age, as does the noticeable grain structure the crops up during the movieís darker and more cinematically stylized moments.
Other than these minor problems, the image appears sharp and rather well defined. Color reproduction is a little unstable due to the filmmakersí choice of hues, many of which are incredibly difficult to reproduce on video. Some of the more intense warm colors display some chroma noise and have a tendency to look a bit fuzzy. However, at other points in the film, colors appear subdued, so there isnít an overall consistency to the filmís color scheme. Blacks appear solid, whites remain stable and contrast is a bit variable, again do to the filmmakersí stylistic choices. Shadow detail is definitely dated, due to the low light sensitivity of film stocks in use two decades ago. The cleanly authored DVD doesnít display any overtly noticeable instances of digital compression artifacts.
CAT PEOPLE features a Dolby Digital 2.0 channel soundtrack that decodes to standard surround. For a two-decade-old matrixed track, the sound is better than I expected. Surround usage is lightweight by todayís standards, but is otherwise effective. A respectable amount of sound effects have been directed to the rear channels, along with ambient sounds and musical fill. Giorgio Moroderís musical score sounds quite good, even if the fidelity isnít at today's levels. Dialogue is clean sounding and reproduced with full intelligibility. The bass channel is surprisingly punchy, even if it doesnít have that ground shaking quality that we have become used to in this age of fully digital soundtracks. Subtitles have been provided on the DVD in English, French and Spanish.
The basic interactive menus provide access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as a healthy complement of bonus materials. Director Paul Schrader is featured on a detailed and entertaining running audio commentary. Cat People: An Intimate Portrait by Paul Schrader is a twenty-five minute interview program with the director, in which he again talks about the film in extensive detail. Running about ten minutes is On The Set with Director Paul Schrader, an interview from the time of the film's theatrical release.
Cat People: A Discussion With Effects Artist Tom Burman is an eleven-minute program in which Burman talks about his work on the film and gives the viewer a look behind the scenes at how many of the film's effects were achieved. Clocking in at three minutes is Cat People Matte Paintings, which offers a glimpse at the film's matte and blue screen work. Filmmaker Robert Wise On Val Lewton is a brief interview program in which the legendary director, who talks about the producer of the original CAT PEOPLE. A theatrical trailer, production photographs and production notes close out the bonus material section.
While not the classic that the original CAT PEOPLE has become, the Paul Schrader remake certainly has its own charms, not the least of these is the presence of Nastassja Kinski. Universal has done a good job with the DVD, producing a nice looking disc that features solid supplements. If you are a fan, you canít go wrong in picking up the DVD. CAT PEOPLE has a suggested retail price of $24.98.
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