Cat People (1982):

Onto the realms of fantasy for Paul Schrader, to flex visual muscles after the frugality of Blue Collar, Hardcore, American Gigolo -- thus, Ferdinando Scarfiotti is asked to design dusty-red visions, natives spotted like leopards tying sacrificial victims to a charred tree, black as the coat of panthers. The director can dissolve and slither the camera all he wants, the flow is still risibly static as Nastassja Kinski, a whispy lip-biter, arrives in New Orleans to long-lost brother Malcolm McDowell, dark sinister secrets within both. McDowell leaps onto the edge of the bed to watch lil' sister asleep, then materializes as a hungry panther under the bed of a fleapit, to surprise whore Lynn Lowry; the chick gets shredded, while famous scenes from the 1942 Tourneur original get Schradered. A woman in black hisses "mi hermana" at a bar, the surprise-bus becomes a screeching streetcar, and the gal in the swimming pool is Annette O'Toole, topless -- all botched. Like the first film, the plot may be modulated around the duality of the word "pussy," and the earlier emphasis on the repressed subconscious springs here to the fore as swanky softcore porn, the virginal outsider trapped by bloodlines and rituals made inescapable after generations of inbreeding. "Save me," McDowell begs into his sister's bed, but she's more interested in zoo curator John Heard, closer to the animals yet no less surprised about this beast within, unleashed. In heat, Kinski wanders naked outside so the camera can switch to catvision, psychedelic serpents and bunnies; a train ride triggers a replay of the opening reveries, and perhaps the queasy acceptance of sexual identity. Elsewhere, Ruby Dee watches Top Cat and a caged orangutan catches soap operas on TV, and Ed Begley, Jr. ambles in humming "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" moments before gore washes over the white tiled floor from his ripped-off arm -- humorless humor, and a perfect match for Schrader's prurience, serenaded by Giorgio Moroder and David Bowie. Still, the silliness is welcome after the spurious quest for transcendence, to be next revisited, plus visualized oppressiveness, in Mishima. With Scott Paulin, Frankie Faison, Ron Diamond, and John Larroquette.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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