Bonus Reviews: "Cat People" 1942 and 1982 versions
Horror Bulletin Bonus for Week 193
For this week’s bonus films, we’ve got a pair of shapeshifter films split up by 40 years of improved special effects and looser restrictions on sex. Yes, we're looking at "Cat People" a story about a woman who may or may not be a were-panther.
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Cat People (1942)
Directed by Jacques Tourneur
Written by DeWitt Bodeen
Stars Simone Simon, Tom Conway, Kent Smith
Run Time: 1 Hour, 13 Minutes
Spoiler-Free Judgment Zone
It’s pretty tame but interesting. Gender roles and expectations were different in 1942, and this movie shows that. The cinematography and direction are top notch. There’s suspense and intrigue and all in all it’s a watchable classic.
A woman, Irena, at the zoo does a drawing of a panther in a cage. Oliver walks over and he flirts with her. We see that she’s drawn the panther with a dagger through it. She takes him home to her apartment and invites him in. She says that she’s from Serbia, and he’s her first real friend in America.
They can hear the lions in the zoo nearby. She says that sometimes the panther screams, and it sounds like a woman. She gives him an explanation of Serbian history and how King John drove out the Mamalukes. There were Satan worshippers and witches there, and King John got rid of all that. They agree to meet again tomorrow night.
Oliver, who works at a shipping company, brings a cat to work; he’s bought it for Irena. That night, he gives her the cat, but the cat hates her. “Cats just don’t like me,” she laments. The pair go to the pet store to return the cat, and all the animals inside go wild. The lady inside claims that most animals are a little psychic. Later, they profess their love for each other (on the second date). He wants a kiss, but she refuses. If she gives in to that, something bad will happen.
Some time passes, and there’s a wedding party, and co-worker Alice and the Commodore talk about the bride being a little strange. A strange woman comes over and says something to Irena in Serbian. The woman is one of the cat people, a silly thing that Oliver laughs at. They get married, but she says they can’t consummate the marriage, and he reluctantly agrees to wait. She’s tempted to let Oliver into her bedroom, but then she hears a big cat yowling at the zoo.
At home, she plays with her pet canary, and it ends up dead. She takes the dead bird to the zoo and feeds it to the panther. She tells Oliver that the bird died of fear and that she had to feed the bird to the panther. Oliver says Irena needs help with her silly beliefs; a psychiatrist. She tells all to Dr. Judd. Women in her village can turn into cats, but only when they embrace a lover. The cat-women then kill their lovers.
Irena finds out that Alice suggested Dr. Judd to Oliver, and she’s not happy that he’s been talking about her with his friends. The next morning, Alice confesses she’s in love with Oliver too. He’s starting to have doubts about his own love for Irena.
One day at the zoo, Irena notices the key to the cage is out, and she hands it back to the zookeeper. Dr. Judd says that she fears the panther as an instrument of death. She tells him to get lost. Oliver gets after her for not wanting to help herself then goes to the office to work late. Irena calls the office, and Alice is there working late too. Irena follows Alice home, and Alice gets spooked. Something kills several sheep, and the big cat footprints become human-looking footprints. That night, she dreams of cats, Dr. Judd, and King John.
The next morning at the zoo, Irena sees the forgotten key again, and this time, she takes it. Once again, she follows Alice home. Alice has gone to her building’s pool, and she hears a giant cat come in, growling and prowling. She never actually sees anything, and then Irena walks in to ask where Oliver is. When Alice gets out of the pool, she finds her robe has been torn to ribbons.
Alice talks to Dr. Judd about the cat people. “Twice I’ve been followed by something that was not human. I believe it was the cat form of Irena.” Alice warns Judd not to talk to Irena alone, and he shows her his sword-cane. Judd talks to Irena and threatens to have her committed– she doesn’t want to be helped.
Irena tells Oliver that Dr. Judd is helping her, but he’s decided to get a divorce instead. Dr. Judd suggests an annulment. “One cannot divorce an insane person,” he states as he offers to have commitment papers drawn up.
Oliver and Alice work late again, and the phone rings; no one is there. Could it be Irena? No, it’s a great big black panther locked in the office with them. Suddenly, it’s gone. They smell Irena’s perfume as they run outside into the fog. They call Dr. Judd to warn him, but Irena walks in on Judd during the call.
Dr. Judd embraces Irena and takes her into his arms. They kiss, and she smiles evilly. Dr. Judd then watches as Irena actually turns into a panther and attacks him. Oliver and Alice rush in to help, but they don’t see Irena on her way out. Judd is dead, but Irena is gone. Half of Judd’s sword-cane is gone; it broke off inside the cat.
Irena walks to the zoo, holding her wounded shoulder. She opens up the panther cage and lets the big cat out, which promptly gets hit by a car. Oliver comes to the cat cage and finds Irena on the ground, dead with half a sword-cane stuck in her back.
It’s another one of those “is she really or is she crazy” stories. This one is a classic, but it’s awfully dated by now. It’s got some fairly complex ideas about marriage, chatting, infidelity, and consummation which were all pretty radical for 1942. It makes interesting use of light and shadow, and it all looks good, especially for a black-and-white film.
Turns out in the end, she really was a killer cat. There’s no transformation, no blood, but quite a bit of suspense and intrigue.
Cat People (1982)
Directed by Paul Schrader
Written by DeWitt Bodeen, Alan Ormsby, Paul Schrader
Stars Nastassja Kinski, Malcolm McDowell, John Heard
Run Time: 1 Hour, 58 Minutes
Spoiler-Free Judgment Zone
It’s a very 80s journey of a young woman coming to grips with what she really is. Quite a bit different and a lot more graphic than the 1942 original. The cast is good, the story is interesting, the effects are pretty limited but okay. It was a little long, which the Horror Guys agree on, but there’s a split decision on like vs. dislike.
As credits roll, we watch tribal people out in the African desert. They tie a woman to a tree and leave her there. That night, a big cat comes along and checks out the woman. In the morning, she’s sent into a cave with the cat.
In the modern dary, Irena Gallier is at the airport in New Orleans. Paul introduces himself; he’s her brother. She meets a woman at Paul’s home named Female (feh-mah-lee). Paul shows Irena pictures of their parents; they were lion tamers in the circus. Irena grew up in the orphanage, and this is the first time she’s seen Paul since she was four.
That night, Paul sneaks into Irena’s room, and we see that he’s both athletic and growls in the dark.
Ruthie is a prostitute. She finds slime on top of the bed and a huge cat under it. The cat mauls her as she screams. Oliver Yates, Alice Perrin, and Joe Creigh are from the zoo, and they call them in to pick up the black leopard the next morning. They shoot the cat with sedatives and carry it to the zoo in a net.
The next morning, Irena goes wandering through the surprisingly empty city of New Orleans alone with her guidebook. Paul’s not in his office, so she goes to the zoo. She’s strangely attracted to the big black leopard. Assistants Alice and Joe state that the cat is perfectly healthy, and Oliver says they’ll cut his claws, pull his fangs, and he’ll be fine. Oliver notices that Irena is still there watching the cat long after dark. When he goes out there, she runs up and hides in a tree. How’d she get up there?
Oliver takes Irena out for oysters. He offers her a job working at the zoo. The next morning, at the zoo, Oliver stops in at the gift shop, which is where Irena works now. Alice meets Irena and offers to show her around after work. Irena says she’s a virgin, which shocks Alice. A strange woman says “mi hermana” to Irena: “My sister.” They have no idea why.
Joe annoys the leopard and loses his arm in the juiciest way possible. Irena and Oliver are there when it happens. Oliver goes out for a gun, and when he returns, the big cat is gone.
That night, Paul returns. He says he was in prison, praying for the condemned. He says she’s in love with Oliver, and he’s really creepy about it. He says they’re the same; she’s always known it. He starts ripping at her clothes. His eyes change and she does a super-acrobatic flip out the second story window to get away from him and gets the police involved.
A police officer comes to Oliver and Alice and shows them a cell in the basement where the leopard had been hidden. There are bodies there that had been fed to the big cat. They think it was Paul who kept the cat in the cage and fed it people. He’s known to have had mental issues in the past. They think Paul was intending to kill Irena too. Female is arrested as an accomplice, she was bringing victims there for food. Irena goes to stay with Oliver at his place. They have a fun afternoon followed by lots of kissing. Irena doesn’t want ot have sex, although she won’t explain why.
Paul is at the cemetery taking pictures of random women. He and one of the women go home and have sex, but he fails miserably. But she persists and he gets into it. He wakes up bloody on the bathroom floor. The woman he was with is in the bedroom, torn apart.
That night, Irena gets naked and goes wandering out in the bayou. Her vision gets funky, and she starts crawling through the woods. She chases down and kills a rabbit.
Detective Brandt calls in Oliver and Alice; the big cat has killed again. Irena tells Oliver that they may never be able to sleep together, but he’s OK with that. She’s afraid for him, but she doesn’t elaborate. Paul watches them together.
It’s been more than a week, and the police can’t find the leopard. Paul breaks into Irena’s room and says only by making love to him can she keep him from killing again. They need to live together as mates like their parents did; they were brother and sister too. She stabs him in the hand and runs out. We see his hand turn into a big paw.
Oliver comes home and finds Paul in a half-transformed state and then just as a big cat. Alice comes in and shoots it with the shotgun. They look outside and see Irena crying over the dead cat.
The next morning, Oliver does an autopsy on the dead leopard. A human arm pops out, it releases yellow gas, and then it dissolves. Irena has a dream where she meets Paul one more time out in the desert; he explains about the leopards and humans and souls. She understands it all now. They can only have sex with their siblings; anyone else causes them to change into a cat until they kill someone.
Alice goes for a run and stops by the pool for a swim. She hears a big cat outside and jumps in the pool. The lights go out, and she panics. Irena comes in, and Alice yells that Irena wants to kill her; except the two have barely interacted at all so far in the film. Alice calls Oliver and warns him about Irena.
Irena leads Oliver upstairs to the bedroom, losing her clothes along the way. He doesn’t question his good luck and follows her right up there. Later, in the middle of the night, she gets up and looks at herself in the mirror. Nothing. She goes back to bed and then finally changes into a cat.
The cat doesn’t kill Oliver, but instead runs outside. The police find it, and Oliver and Alice go to see. They do have a big black panther cornered on the bridge. There are cops everywhere, helicopters, news crews, and lots of bystanders. The cat looks at Oliver and jumps off the bridge. The cops shoot at it, but probably miss. Oliver leaves and goes to his house on the bayou. He finds the body of the caretaker in a tree.
Irena’s in the house, and she admits she killed the caretaker. She tells him to shoot her, but he refuses. She wants to have sex again so she can go be with her own kind. He’s like “okay” and they go at it one more time, even though he knows exactly what’s been going on at this point. He does tie her to the bed first, you know, for safety reasons…
Some time later, Over and Alice are working at the zoo. He goes outside to the big cat enclosure and looks at the big black panther in its cage. He feeds it a piece of meat and scratches its chin…
It’s very, very 80s. It keeps some aspects of the original 1942 film, but it goes into a lot more detail and is a lot more graphic in all respects. The original didn’t have a brother character, and it was more focused on Irena’s sanity, where here, Paul is obviously some kind of shape-changer. I saw this when it came out, in my teens, and I was very disappointed in the lack of people changing into cats. Although there was a transformation scene at the end, it was really fast and not much fun to watch.
We are told the rules, that only the siblings can have sex; if they have it with someone else, they turn into a cat and stay that way until they kill someone. When Paul attacked Oliver, he hadn’t had sex. When Irena shredded Alice’s towel and scared her in the pool, neither had she.
Malcolm McDowell is suitably creepy playing the same character he always plays, only with more growling; even though he gets second billing, he doesn’t really get a lot of screen time. Nastassia Kinski is fine here, playing the innocent who already knows that she isn’t really that innocent. John Heard and Annette O’Toole were fine.
Overall, it was too long and was far too different from the original to really be much of a remake. They could have changed a few more details, given it a different name, it might have improved the experience significantly. Nope, didn’t care for it.
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