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Picks and Pans Review: Cat People

updated 04/26/1982 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 04/26/1982 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Back in 1942 Cat People crept from the B-movie basement to cult status because director Jacques Tourneur knew how to suggest the presence of evil without showing it. In updating the tale, Paul (American Gigolo) Schrader takes the opposite tack; nothing is unseen, but the result is no less sinister. Plagued by erotic dreams of black leopards, a virginal Nastassia Kinski jets to New Orleans to see brother Malcolm McDowell. She learns they are descended from a race of cat people who can't mate with humans without reverting temporarily to their feline state and mauling the life out of their love objects. Nastassia is stunned. Brother Malcolm has already pawed a score of high-heeled hookers. Tired of being a ladykiller, he thinks his only hope is sex with Sis, but kittenish Kinski isn't buying it, having just fallen in love with handsome zoo curator John Heard. To tell what happens after Kinski and Heard pass the petting stage would be unfair except to warn the squeamish about the limb-tearing violence and kinky sex. Kinski and McDowell display enough skin to drive the R rating to its limits, and both find the fun in their roles without slighting their "terrible destiny." Schrader invests the story with an air of high-class decadence that is hypnotic and horrifying. Though screenwriter Alan {My Bodyguard) Ormsby can't cover all the plot holes, Albert Whitlock's visual effects, Tom Burman's makeup tricks and Giorgio Moroder's driving score (with theme lyrics by David Bowie) make logic irrelevant. Like the black cats themselves, the film is an object of beauty and terror. (R)

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