HD DVD Title: Cat People
Screen format: 1080P, 1.85:1, VC-1 Encoded HD
First theatrical release: 2 April 1982
Other DVD or HD Releases: Multiple standard definition DVD releases
Director: Paul Schrader
Starring: Nastassja Kinskey, Malcolm McDowell, John Heard, Ruby Dee, Annette O’Toole
Sound Formats: Dolby TrueHD 5.1, DD Plus 5.1
Length: 1 Hour, 59 Minutes
Subtitles: English, French
1982’s Cat People is a significant re-envisioning of a 1942 Universal release of the same name. Paul Schrader heavily modified a script by writer Alan Ormsby (and originally penned by DeWitt Bodeen) and transformed it into a modern myth. By alternating between titillation and violence, Cat People follows Irena (Kinski) and her brother Paul (McDowell), two orphans who have reunited after years apart. Together they share a terrible secret, a curse haunts their family, one that ties them together in ways that neither is able to control, and which has been with them for generations, tied back to an ancient cult of cat worshippers. While saying too much more would spoil much of the surprise and charm of this film, in the middle of discovering her true history, Irena falls for Oliver (Heard), who is warden at a local zoo, and she gives in to her growing desires awakening this curse.
It’s definitely a bit contrived, but the film is notable not so much for the lavish artistry or kooky premise so much as the sheer eroticism of Kinsky, with full frontal appearances by McDowell and costar O’Toole to boot. Heady stuff when I first saw it in my teens but considerably tamer in comparison to some of today’s fare. Still, with plot points mixing taboos such as bestiality, bondage, and incest all wrapped up in a tragic myth, Cat People gives a lot to think about along with its eye candy.
Sound Quality: 4/5
For a 1982 vintage film, Cat People has a surprisingly good surround mix. While there aren’t many notable cross channel pans or fades, the ambiance spreads well into the rears and has the viewer awash in both the instrumental soundtrack (by Giorgio Moroder) and atmospheric cues. Bass is a bit weak, and there isn’t a dramatic range of effects outside of the well done purrs, growls and snarls of the multiple big cats, but again it’s above average for a film of this stature from 25 years ago. David Bowie got a pretty good boost by having a song featured in this film, and while it was never one of my favorites, it definitely adds to the spooky overly artistic flavor of this film.
Visual Quality: 4/5
Cat People is on par with other recent Universal HD releases from the same time era, and for the most part it is relatively sharp and detailed without being overly dripping with color. It looks without a doubt better than I have ever seen it look, but obviously not as good as modern films can look, nor as good as top productions from that year can and do look. I did notice a few occasions where there was some edge enhancement, especially during the monochromatic/red filtered segments at the beginning of the film, but I wouldn’t expect most viewers to take note of these and they were never evident during normal action. The film is quite grainy in parts, which is totally in line with its production history, and I never noted any artificial noise or other distracting elements. There were a few bits of grime and damage to the print but for the most part these were well controlled.
Extra Features: 4/5
I believe that all of the included extra features were previously included in prior DVD releases, however they are all excellent, informative, and interesting. In particular “An Intimate Portrait” allows director Shrader to reminisce over the film and his collaborators, and he spills quite a bit of dirt. This is one of the best director interviews I can recall because of his candor. There’s a fascinating on set interview with Shrader from the days of filming where he talks to the inspirations and challenges of the film, and this is a terrific companion to his current reflections. There’s also a feature length commentary which I haven’t gotten to yet, but I suspect it is likewise highly detailed given these two featurettes. There’s also a detailed interview with effects supervisor Tom Burman, a music video featuring production stills, and a demonstration of the matte paintings that were used. Finally there’s an interview with 1942 Cat People Producer Robert Wise who talks almost exclusively about director Val Lewton, who had ZERO to do with this version, making this an almost useless addition.
Overall: 3.5/5 (not an average)
Cat People is definitely a guilty pleasure for me. It was interesting seeing this film again because it had such a powerful imagery when I first saw it, but today seems a bit overly dramatic and a bit creepy given the odd plot points and themes. The film gets a good batch of extras and about as good as an audiovisual presentation as we are likely to ever see, so if this is one you have a history with it’s a no brainer. For those new to the film perhaps a rental first might be advised.