Tuesday, November 24, 2009


Cat People’ is an odd little movie from 1942, generally classed as a horror film although it bears more resemblance to a noir thriller. Ostensibly it’s about a woman who fears that she is destined to transform into a black panther (literally – I don’t think she was particularly concerned about getting an urge to wear a silly beret and run about beating up whitey), but there’s a lot of subtext about repressed sexuality and gender roles.

But forty years later Hollywood decided to remake it, this time will all the subtlety that 1982 could muster. Which, as you can imagine, ran out about half a line into Malcolm McDowell’s first scene.

Try as it might, 1982 couldn’t generate the same sense of sophistication and poise that was more common in 1942. For a start, the story moves from New York to New Orleans – for some reason a lot of Americans seem to regard humidity as sexy. Supposedly it breaks down inhibitions, or something. Personally I don’t see anything sexy about sweat stains and clammy underpants... not that any of the characters wore underpants. Having spent considerable time and money hiring Nastassja Kinski and creating a script that had her disrobing every ten minutes, the last thing the director wanted was to spend precious screen time dealing with fiddly bra straps, panties or stockings. In a laudable gesture at equality, the director made male lead John Heard go commando for the entire picture too. They wouldn’t have put up with that sort of nonsense in 1942, let me tell you.

As for outerwear, this being the yuppie era, Kinski was dressed in tailored skirts, white blouses and neutral business attire, even though she was supposed to be an unemployed 20 year old. This means that for most of the movie she appears to be some sort of bureacracy-themed stripper.

The 1982 version does attempt to do the right thing. It retains the metaphor-filled setting of the zoo, in which wild animals pace and snarl in cramped cages. It also deals with notions of virginity, sex and repression. However, expressing these notions with oblique references and suggestive hints wasn’t the 1980s way. The remake felt the need to add sex scenes, buckets of blood, and a rather unwise spelling out of the mechanics of Cat Persondom.

Apparently the Cat People are distantly descended from an African tribe who sacrifice their children to some sort of black leopard god. Why they do this is never explained - perhaps they just really hate kids. Somehow over time this results in the existence of Cat People; men and women who transmogrify into big black cats whenever they have sex, and only change back into people if they kill. If this seems like a ridiculously arbitrary set of rules to you, then obviously you are not seeing things from the black leopard god's perspective. If the transmogrification occurred based on, say, the Cat People eating celery or driving a Toyota, he'd spend a lot of time being bored.

As would the audience, who only paid to see this film in order to see Nastassja Kinski getting her kit off.

However the best part of this movie wasn’t actually in the movie itself – it was in the blurb on the back cover of the DVD. It was presumably meant to describe Nastassja Kinski as, "a young woman on the brink of sexuality." But what it actually says is, "a young woman on the bridge of sexuality." As you can imagine, this lead to a line of riffing that my viewing buddies and I kept up through the entire movie.

"Sorry I'm late, the traffic was terrible. It took me an hour just to cross the bridge of sexuality. I'm exhausted, let me tell you."

"Well, you could take the bridge of sexuality, but I find that it's quicker if you stick to the freeway of chastity. It's less scenic, of course, but there are fewer red lights."

Me: (in news radio voice) The traffic 'copter is reporting a big pile-up on the bridge of sexuality. And yes, it's just as filthy as you'd imagine!

Me: Are you allowed to go fishing off the bridge of sexuality? What would you catch?

GC: Herpes, probably.

Me: Oh no, he took the wrong turn! He's missed the bridge of sexuality and he's going into the tunnel of... er...

PM: Innuendo?

So what’s next for Cat People? It’s been 1940s art noir and 1980s art porn, and it’s probably about time for another remake. Ever the entrepreneur, my friend PM has suggested the most obvious 21st century incarnation: LOLcat People.

Don’t pretend that you wouldn’t go and see it.


Blogger hazelblackberry said...

Well, if there were no undies left on to get clammy, that can mean only one thing...

4:14 PM  
Blogger Madame Enfer said...

I'll forgive your unfortunate review of what's actually a very good film, because you sound like good fun to watch a movie with anyway. And I would go see Lolcat People.

4:25 PM  

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