Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Cat People [1982]

US movie (1982). RKO/Universal. Pr Charles Fries. Exec pr Jerry Bruckheimer. Dir Paul Schrader. Spfx Tom Del Genio, Pat Domenico, Karl Miller. Mufx Tom Burman. Vfx Albert Whitlock. "Catvision" optical fx Robert Blalack. Visual consultant Ferdinando Scarfiotti. Screenplay Alan Ormsby. Novelization Cat People * (1982) by Gary Brandner (1933-2013). Starring John Heard (Oliver Yates), Nastassia Kinski (Irena), Malcolm McDowell (Paul). 118 mins. Colour.

Although De Witt Bodeen's script for Cat People (1942) is credited as the basis for CP, the connection is slight.

Millennia ago (it emerges) a people habitually made Human Sacrifice of children to black leopards (panthers) (see Cats); the Souls of the children grew within the panthers until the panthers have by evolution become of human form – except during the height of sexual arousal, when they revert to the feline state, thereafter being able to effect the Metamorphosis back to human form only through the act of killing a human, usually their sex partner. The sole way this vicious circle can be avoided is through incestuous unions of "cat people".

Paul and Irena Gallier, products of such a union, were separated in childhood when their parents suicided; now Paul has tracked down Irena, and she comes to New Orleans to be reunited with him. He is, in effect, a Serial Killer, periodically having Sex with hookers and then, as a panther, killing them; Irena, still virgin (see Virginity), is ignorant of her true Shapeshifter nature. Sexually charged by Irena's presence, Paul again seeks out a prostitute, but fails in his attempt to kill her. Captured by zoo curator Yates and his team, the panther is caged and displayed. Irena discovers the exhibit, and is fascinated by the creature – and in due course by Yates. Panther-Paul kills a zoo attendant and escapes; he confronts Irena, who refuses to believe his explanation; the police discover many human remains in the cellar of Paul's house; Paul attempts to seduce Irena, but she stabs him; reverting to panther form, he tries to kill Yates but himself dies. Irena, now a believer, flees New Orleans, but after a vision returns and sleeps with Yates, hoping she might, after all, not be Paul's sister and thus be free of the Curse. Not so. After one more killing, she persuades Yates to make love with her a final time so she may dwell as a panther in his zoo.

This very stylish movie is packed with good moments and fledgling ideas, but overall is somehow mediocre – one feels the chief purpose of the exercise was to show lots of film of Kinski nude. This is a shame, because CP's best images – as when the human Paul first leaps catlike onto the bedstead of the sleeping Irena to "devour" her with panther eyes, or the brief sequence when we perceive (see Perception) the world as panther-Irena does – are very good indeed.

A nice nuance occurs when Irena is greeted in a bar by a woman she does not know, who flees in embarrassment ... but we know this woman, for she is Irena Dubrovna (although not played by Simone Simon) from Cat People (1942). [JG]

This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.