Director Paul Schrader (The Canyons) bravely forged a new path in updating the 1942 RKO classic evident from frame one with a gorgeous prologue, unfolding slowly with a dreamlike quality. Purposely abstract and erotic, it's the kind of sequence the legendary Val Lewton never would have considered four decades earlier, even if the squeaky-clean studio age would have allowed him. (This visual stunning opening particularly benefits from the picture brilliance of Shout! Factory's new "Collector's Edition" Blu-ray.)
Naive virgin Irena Gallier (Nastassja Kinski, Inland Empire) arrives as the NOLA home of the brother she has never known (Malcolm McDowell, Sanitarium). Immediately, the viewer senses something "off"; the siblings' glances and touches radiate with incestuous hints. The reason for that icky behavior actually serves the story and keeps it purring along. Yes, the Gallier family secret is right there in the title, but Schrader's film exhibits layers. It would rather unsettle than merely shock, but in a nod to commerce, Cat People does plenty of both.
Bearing a similar (but more artfully polished) style of fashion-mag gloss as Tony Scott's vampiric The Hunger of the following year, Schrader's work looks as sleek as the jungle animals into which its characters morph. Sexy one moment, sick the next, Cat People posits a horror a hair on this side of believability that allows its power to hold up some 30 years after its run, even if the individual elements that make it so Giorgio Moroder's score, Annette O'Toole's freckled beauty now are judged relics. Rod Lott
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