Paul Schrader’s reworking of the 1942 Val Lewton-Jacques Tourneur Cat People is a super-chic erotic horror story of mixed impact.
DeWitt Bodeen’s original story held that there is a breed of people descended from ancient coupling of women with big cats, and that when one of their number engages in sex, he or she physically reverts to the animalistic state and must kill before becoming human again. It is therefore ‘safe’ to mate only with relatives.
Reunited in New Orleans with her long-lost brother Malcolm McDowell, Nastassja Kinski meets zoo curator John Heard, takes a job there and soon moves into his home.
At the same time, the Louisiana community is being terrorized by a big black panther. Having repressed her sexuality for a long time, Kinski finally gives in to the genuine love of Heard and condemns herself to repeat the pattern of her brother and ancestors.
Kinski was essential to the film as conceived, and she’s endlessly watchable.