Cat People (1982 film)

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Cat People
Cat People 1982 movie.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byPaul Schrader
Screenplay byAlan Ormsby
Based onCat People
by DeWitt Bodeen
Produced byCharles W. Fries
CinematographyJohn Bailey
Edited byJacqueline Cambas
Music byGiorgio Moroder
Distributed byUniversal Pictures
Release date
  • April 2, 1982 (1982-04-02)
Running time
118 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
Budget$12.5 million[2]
Box office$21 million[2]

Cat People is a 1982 American erotic horror film directed by Paul Schrader. It stars Nastassja Kinski and Malcolm McDowell; John Heard, Annette O'Toole, Ruby Dee, Ed Begley Jr., Scott Paulin, and Frankie Faison play supporting roles. Wilbur Stark and Jerry Bruckheimer served as executive producers. Alan Ormsby wrote the screenplay, basing it loosely on the story by DeWitt Bodeen, the screenwriter for the original Cat People (1942). Giorgio Moroder composed the film's score, including the theme song, which features lyrics and vocals by David Bowie.


A prologue set in an undisclosed, primitive human settlement shows a sacrificial maiden being tied to a tree. A black panther approaches and rests its paws on her, and the scene fades to black. Another girl with feline features approaches a similar big cat in a cave, without incurring its attack.

A close-up of her face segues to that of similarly featured Irena Gallier, who travels to present-day New Orleans from Canada to reconnect with her brother Paul. Irena was raised in foster care after they were orphaned. Paul spent his childhood in psych wards, is now involved in a church and lives with his Creole housekeeper Female.

That night, a prostitute named Ruthie walks into a fleabag motel to meet a john, but instead finds a black leopard that mauls her foot. The police and zoologists Oliver, Alice and Joe capture the panther. Meanwhile, Irena wakes to find Paul missing. Female guesses he went to the mission and urges Irena to enjoy New Orleans on her own.

Irena visits the zoo, is drawn to the newly captured leopard and stays after closing hours. She is discovered by Oliver, the zoo's curator, who takes her to dinner and offers her a job in the gift shop. Irena reveals she is a virgin in conversation with Alice, who shares a romantic history (and is still in love) with Oliver and sees her as a rival. One day the leopard tears Joe's arm off during a routine cage cleaning. Joe bleeds to death and Oliver resolves to euthanize the cat, only to find it missing. In its cage lies a puddle of melted flesh like the one found by the motel prostitute.

Paul turns up and makes a sexual advance towards Irena. She flees, flags down a police car and has second thoughts about turning Paul in, but a police dog catches a strong scent from the house and a detective is called in. In Paul's basement, police find shackles, bones, and remains of dozens of corpses. They figure Paul is a serial killer who fed corpses to a captive panther, and call in Oliver and Alice to inspect.

On the run from Paul, Irena takes refuge in a frustrated romance with Oliver, fearing the consequences of physical intimacy. Paul visits Irena again and explains their shared werecat heritage, thus revealing himself as the escaped murderous leopard. Mating with a human transforms a werecat into a leopard, and only by killing a human can it regain human form. He tells her their parents were siblings because werecats are ancestrally incestuous and only sex between werecats prevents the transformation. He resumes his sexual advances, hoping Irena will accept their predicament, but she does not. Paul then transforms, attacks Oliver and is shot by Alice. Oliver starts a necropsy on the cat. A green gas emanates from the surgical cut and a human arm and hand reach up from within the corpse. Before he can document this, the leopard melts into a pool of green slime.

Irena stalks and nearly attacks Alice twice. She later has sex with Oliver and transforms into a leopard but she flees, sparing his life, and is later trapped on a bridge by police. Oliver arrives in time to see her jump off the bridge. Realizing where she is headed, he confronts Irena at a secluded lake house. She has regained human form by killing the house's caretaker. Irena tells Oliver she did not kill him because she loves him, and begs him to kill her. When he refuses, she begs him, then, to make love to her again so she can transform and "be with [her] own kind." Oliver ties Irena naked to the bedposts by her arms and legs to restrain her, and has sex with her.

Some time later, Oliver is again in a one-sided relationship with Alice. He stops at the cage holding the "recaptured panther"—Irena, now permanently trapped in her cat form. Oliver reaches through the bars, casually hand-feeds and strokes the now-docile panther's neck.



British based American producer Milton Subotsky bought the rights to Cat People from RKO and began developing a remake.[3] Subotsky eventually passed the property to Universal.[3][4] Initially, Roger Vadim was set to be the director of the remake. Alan Ormsby, the screenwriter of the remake, stated that the film went through three earlier scripts, two of which were written by Bob Clark. According to Ormsby, Vadim was very concerned that the film would appear sexist, as the woman who was sexually intense had to be destroyed. Ormsby changed this in the remake to have a male character who has the same problem.[5]

In the early 1980s, Universal Pictures hired director Paul Schrader to direct the remake.[3][4] The remake was announced and began shooting in 1981.[4] According to cinematographer John Bailey, Schrader paid homage to the stalking scene in the original with a scene featuring Annette O'Toole's character jogging through a park as she appears to be stalked.[6] Bailey and Schrader also remade the swimming pool scene. Bailey recalled that the two carefully studied the original scene, taking note of how the shadows reflected against the pool.[7] Bailey stated that the pool sequence was the most similar of the homages, remarking that the primary reason for this was that "we didn't think we could do it any better".

The Blu-ray features interviews with Kinski, McDowell, Heard and O'Toole as well as director Schrader and composer Moroder. McDowell indicated that he was somewhat reluctant to make the film at first because he recalled the original film as "not being very good" but was convinced by Schrader's take on the material with its focus on the erotic horror elements. McDowell also revealed that the scene where he leaps on the bed in a cat-like fashion was shot with him jumping off the bed. They then ran the film backward. Heard discussed how he almost turned down the role because he believed it was a porno movie. He also recalled that he felt very awkward, particularly during the nude scenes. O'Toole discussed the fact that they used cougars that were dyed black because leopards are impossible to train.[citation needed]


Director Schrader has said, in relation to the erotic and horror aspects of Cat People, that the film "contains more skin than blood". He has described the film as being more about the mythical than the realistic. He has likened the relation between Oliver and Irena to Dante and Beatrice, putting the female on a pedestal.[8]


The film was released theatrically in the United States by Universal Studios on April 2, 1982. It grossed approximately $7 million at the U.S. box office.[9]

Home video[edit]

The film has been released twice on DVD in the United States; once by Image Entertainment in 1997[10] and again by Universal in 2002.[11]

Shout! Factory's division Scream Factory released the film in January 2014 on Blu-ray, when they announced on their Facebook page that they were releasing films from the 1980s in early 2014.[citation needed]


On Rotten Tomatoes the film has an approval rating of 60% based on reviews from 47 critics, with a weighted average of 6.08/10. Its consensus reads, "Paul Schrader's kinky reimagining of Cat People may prove too grisly and lurid for some audiences, but its provocative style and Nastassja Kinski's hypnotic performance should please viewers who like a little gasoline with their fire."[12] On Metacritic the film has a score of 62% based on reviews from 16 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[13]

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film a three and a half out of four star rating. He stated, "Cat People is a good movie in an old tradition, a fantasy-horror film that takes itself just seriously enough to work, has just enough fun to be entertaining, contains elements of intrinsic fascination in its magnificent black leopards, and ends in one way just when we were afraid it was going to end in another."[14]

Variety also gave the film a positive rating by praising Nastassja Kinski's performance, saying: "Kinski was essential to the film as conceived, and she's endlessly watchable."[15] Leonard Maltin awarded the film a mixed two out of a possible four stars, calling it "sexy, bloody, technically well crafted, but uneven and ultimately unsatisfying."[16] However, Nastassja Kinski stated, when being interviewed by her friend and actress Jodie Foster, in Film Comment that she disliked the film, describing it as "slick" and "manipulative". This surprised Foster, who asserted she thoroughly enjoyed the film.[17]

Christopher John reviewed Cat People in Ares Magazine #13 and commented that "Cat People is distinguished as one of the year's top science fantasies for several reasons: aside from its superior camera work, tight story line and the rest, the movie told a story that mainstream filmmakers shy away from – a sexual story."[18]

Awards and nominations[edit]

The film was nominated for three prestigious awards:[19]

Best Actress (Nastassja Kinski)
Best Original Motion Picture Score (Giorgio Moroder)
Best Original Motion Picture Song (David Bowie)


Cat People: Original Soundtrack
Soundtrack album by
ReleasedApril 2, 1982[20]
RecordedCarla Ridge, Beverly Hills, California
Mountain Recording, Montreux, Switzerland (David Bowie's vocals)
GenreElectronic, synthpop, ambient
ProducerGiorgio Moroder
Singles from Cat People: Original Soundtrack
  1. "Cat People (Putting Out Fire)"
    Released: April 1982

The soundtrack album was released by MCA Records the same week as the film. The theme song, "Cat People (Putting Out Fire)", was performed by David Bowie, who wrote the lyrics to music composed by Giorgio Moroder. The song was released as a single in 1982.[21][22]

All compositions by Moroder, lyrics by David Bowie on "Cat People (Putting Out Fire)".

Side one[edit]

  1. "Cat People (Putting Out Fire)" – 6:43
  2. "The Autopsy" – 1:31
  3. "Irena's Theme" – 4:20
  4. "Night Rabbit" – 1:58
  5. "Leopard Tree Dream" – 4:01

Side two[edit]

  1. "Paul's Theme (Jogging Chase)" – 3:51
  2. "The Myth" – 5:11
  3. "To the Bridge" – 2:50
  4. "Transformation Seduction" – 2:44
  5. "Bring the Prod" – 1:57



  1. ^ "CAT PEOPLE (X)". British Board of Film Classification. 1982-04-20. Retrieved 2013-07-05.
  2. ^ a b "Cat People Box Office Data". Retrieved 2008-01-29.
  3. ^ a b c Newman 2009, p. 70.
  4. ^ a b c "Cat People (1982)". American Film Institute. Retrieved April 30, 2020.
  5. ^ Warren 1982, pp. 32–33.
  6. ^ Bailey 2016, 00:12:43.
  7. ^ Bailey 2016, 00:14:10.
  8. ^ DVD Verdict Review Archived 2010-09-02 at the Wayback Machine, Cat People (HD DVD).
  9. ^ "Cat People". Retrieved 2011-04-19.
  10. ^ "Cat People (DVD)". Retrieved 2011-04-18.
  11. ^ "Cat People (DVD)". Retrieved 2011-04-18.
  12. ^ "Cat People". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved 25 September 2019.
  13. ^ "Cat People 1982". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved June 21, 2019.
  14. ^ Ebert, Roger. - Review: "Cat People". - Chicago Sun-Times. - January 1, 1982. - Retrieved August 5, 2010
  15. ^ Variety Staff. - Review: "Cat People". - Variety. - January 1, 1982. - Retrieved August 5, 2010[dead link]
  16. ^ Maltin, Leonard. Leonard Maltin's 2014 Movie Guide. Penguin Press. p. 226. ISBN 9780451418104.
  17. ^ Interview, by Foster, with Nastassia Kinski, in Film Comment (New York), September/October 1982.
  18. ^ John, Christopher (Winter 1983). "Film & Television". Ares Magazine. TSR, Inc. (13): 40.
  19. ^, Cat People - Awards.
  20. ^ Giorgio Moroder. "Giorgio Moroder, Giorgio Moroder - Cat People: Original Soundtrack - Music". Retrieved 2016-12-08.
  21. ^ Pegg, Nicholas (2016). The Complete David Bowie (Revised and Updated ed.). London: Titan Books. p. 57. ISBN 978-1-78565-365-0.
  22. ^ Trynka, Paul (2011). David Bowie – Starman: The Definitive Biography. New York City: Little, Brown and Company. p. 366. ISBN 978-0-316-03225-4.

External links[edit]