One of my favorite guilty pleasure films of the early 80's, CAT PEOPLE is loaded with visual style, dark sexual undertones and terrific music that could only have been born in 1982.
Writer/Director Paul Schrader had just made "American Gigolo" and tackled his own dark take on a b-movie classic as his next film.
It would not receive the same response as his previous blockbuster hit.
Nastassia Kinski (Tess) stars as Irena, arriving in New Orleans as the film opens to meet her brother for the first time.
Her sibling Paul is perfectly played for creeps and loaded with inappropriate sexual desire by Malcolm McDowell (Time After Time, Blue Thunder).
Meanwhile, a wild, hungry black panther begins prowling the Big Easy, showing up in seedy hotel rooms to slaughter hookers.
Why is that every time the Panther appears, Paul goes missing? Hmmm...
We meet Zookeeper Oliver, well played by John Heard (Home Alone), his girlfriend Alice (Annette O'Toole) and their co-worker Joe (Ed Begley Jr.) as they track down and capture the panther.
Irena finds herself drawn to the zoo, Oliver falls for her and lust emerges from every corner. Oliver for Irena, Alice for Oliver, Paul for Irena and the panther for human blood.
When Schrader's story hits a wall, he just piles on nudity and gore or throws us back in time to an ancient world where huge sleek cats mate with beautiful natives, surrounded by the coolest fantasy sets of the 80's by Ferdinando Scarfiotti (The Last Emperor, Last Tango in Paris, Scarface). It makes virtually no sense, but is so beautiful to look at and hear, who cares?
Lather a rich, beat-heavy music score by Giorgio Morodor on top of the production design and throw in a David Bowie favorite made for the film "Putting Out the Fire with Gasoline" and you have one of the strangest films of the era.
I loved it from the first time I saw it, but if you cant roll with a film that's much more about visual grace and style than it is storytelling, run for the hills. It's way more David Lynch than Alfred Hitchcock.
There are violent animal attacks, buckets of artery pumping blood, graphic nudity and sex, along with layers of Schrader's patented vision of morality, sexual desire and human weakness.
It bombed at the box office but found new life in the early days of DVD as audiences discovered it and made it a cult favorite.
Tarantino loved it and used Bowie's song in the critical Nazi movie theatre sequence that serves as the finale for his brilliant "Inglorious Basterds".
This is one twisted, dark little adventure and I love its complete disregard for anything appropriate.
Revisiting it every few years, I'll give CAT PEOPLE a purrfectly revolting B.