Friday, August 21, 2009

So...Cat People...Really?

Cat People wasn’t as bad as I’d hoped, but neither did it live up to the hype . It is not the best horror movie ever and certainly had nothing to do with sci-fi despite the autopsy scene (if that one scene makes it a sci-fi flick, then The Little Mermaid might as well be one, too). But don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying it was bad, just that there are bad parts that mix with some good parts to form an overall mediocre experience.

The Bad:
First of all, it’s not even original. It is virtually a remake. Weak. Secondly:
The score is so good it could tempt one to think that the whole film is simply a teaser for the song played during the closing credits…
Uh, no. What score? The drum machine or the guy alternating between two dissonant chords on the synthesizer for 10 minutes at a time? Saying this movie has a great score is like saying every episode of Law & Order has a great score…if the music were performed by Wang Chung. Don’t believe me? See for yourself. I recommend tracks two, four & eight.

Third, and perhaps most troublesome, it’s not really “scary”. Dark, creepy, disturbing? Sure, but mostly because of the whole incest thing. Suspensful? A little. Scary? Nope. To be truly scary a movie has to get inside your head and haunt you. You have to be thinking about it for a good day or two after you’re done watching it, and not just because there were a lot of tits or blood & gore. There should be something that really got to you that makes you think, “Damn, I would not want to be in that situation.” Surviving the Cat People universe would be simple: bring a gun.

The Good:
McDowell and Kinski were great, although I don’t think McDowell was in even half of the film, which is a waste. Real horrorshow, you might say. Let’s be honest, too: the real reason we’re fond of this movie is Kinski’s nudity, who is hot despite her ‘80s "little boy" haircut. That threw me off a bit, by the way, because in one scene I thought it was her waking up naked in the bathroom but it turned out to Malcom McDowell. Not sure I’ll ever get over that:

Also, the setting was good. No one can argue with New Orleans as a good horror setting, although I thought The Skeleton Key was a much scarier movie as far as horror movies set in New Orleans go. Again: the haunting thing. The implications of the plot twist at the end of that movie were that some really nightmarish, evil shit happened to those kids. Imagining that still bothers me. I’m already over Cat People.

Finally, the story did not follow the cookie cutter horror genre plot. I did not guess the ending. You can wipe this part out if it ends the same way as the original Cat People, though.

So am I here to simply slam this movie and not bring anything to the table myself? No, I have my own offering as best horror/sci-fi movie of all time: Event Horizon. It’s got everything but chicks gettin’ nekkid, which may disqualify it out of hand for a few people, but it’s got everything else. It has a freaky story, a great setting, good acting, a splash of gore, space ships, and it gets inside your mind (the video from the original crew: wow). I can’t vouch for the score, but if our gold standard is Cat People then I don’t feel like I really have to.

Before I finish up, I would like to hand out a few awards to the film. The award for Best Foreshadowing in a Scene goes to the one where the camera rests a little too long on the extreme close up of the prod strapped to Ed Begley Jr.’s arm. It’s a “what could possibly go wrong?” moment.

Next, the Most Awkward Romance Award goes to John Heard and Kinski. Starting with the truck ride out to the bayou there is indecisive petting, nervous conversation, truly bizarre dialogue such as, “You know how to stop alligators? We should make love!” and the whole true love after knowing each other for half a week syndrome.

The Barack Obama Theme Song Award goes to David Bowie's "Theme from Cat People":
Putting out the fire with gas-o-line!
Last but not least is the Sacrificial Lamb Award, which goes to Yeatman. As soon as he’s introduced you know he’s a dead man walking. He comes out of nowhere, you cannot possibly develop any emotional attachment to him, and there's no reason for him to be in the movie to begin with. “This is my, uh, older male friend who helped me build this shack and apparently lives here, too…or something.” Come on, at least make him Oliver's uncle. They didn't even give him a first name! Or did they not give him a last name? Sadly, we'll never know. Ah, Yeatman. We hardly knew ye:

That’s my take, anyway.


  1. You got assigned Cat People.

    I got assigned On The Waterfront.

    Having now completed my assignment, and armed with full knowledge of what you suffered, I think it's safe to draw at least one conclusion:

    Boss likes me better. Nyaah.

    Seriously, good review, though perhaps it should more properly be treated like a surgeon general's warning. I had a bad feeling about this one...honestly, I think it was the Bowie.

  2. Whoa, Ed, you certainly gave that the full treatment. I'm still torrenting away on Cat People, but with few seeds to come by, it may take a while.

    Re: Event Horizon: yes. That movie creeped me out, stuck with me, and resided in a few fevered nightmares for about a year following. Seeing several years later, I was past it, but when I originally saw it in the theater, it GOT me. Part of the problem was that I didn't know it was a horror movie beforehand -- I was expecting a cool sci-fi flick, purely imaginitive. But that room, that ROOM... like I said, it got me.

  3. Whoa, Ed, you certainly gave that the full treatment.

    Hey, the "greatest sci-fi/horror movie of all time" deserves nothing less.

    ...I didn't know it was a horror movie beforehand...

    Neither did I. You don't really get that vibe from the preview, it just looks like a funky sci-fi flick. Caught me totally off guard since I'm kind of a wuss and don't like horror movies.

    And Apoth, I was disappointed that Bowie did not play a greater role in the soundtrack. I was thinking there would be a new song every 10 minutes or so. It's just as well, though, because nothing can top this Bowie experience:

  4. I liked Bowie in Labyrinth.

    Yeah, I know. Sue me.

  5. Well, Bowie in Labyrinth definitely falls into the category of roles you couldn't recast with other people today. Labyrinth wasn't bad for an '80s movie, though it's hard for me to watch now. Also, I could have lived w/out Bowie's unnecessarily tight pants.

  6. I think of Event Horizon as a bad movie that has a lot of good stuff in it -- good enough to re-watch every few years. I'm not sure why I think of it as a bad movie. Maybe it's because the people involved are (for me at least) so forgettable. I've seen it at least three times, and the only characters I can remember at all distinctly are the doctor whose wife died, the black dude who deserved to live but didn't, and the Event Horizon's captain on video.

    It's not really a movie about characters, though; it's a movie about a ship that went to Hell and brought some back with it. It's a terrific premise, and it makes for some unforgettable scenes, but I distinctly remember thinking "I like this, but it isn't really good." I should watch it again sometime soon to see if I can pin it down more.

  7. If it makes you feel any better, Ed, I'm going to be watching this, by choice, when it's done downloading. Because I couldn't find this or this.

    Apparently I'm in the mood for some serious penance.

  8. You've got a point, Gughunter. Most of the characters in E.H. are "Yeatmans", so to speak. They are mainly there to die. However, I do like that they mixed it up a little bit so the ones that survive aren't blatantly predictable. Sam Neil's character got to me because the ship uses his own personal agony to slowly drive him insane, much like it did to the one lady whose son had died. And the black dude you're referring to is, I think, Lawrence Fishburn who actually doesn't die but meets a fate presumably worse than death. Remember: the ship doesn't blow up at the end.

    And Apotheosis, if you're in the mood to hurt yourself, I'd like to suggest Space Raiders. It's incredibly ghetto, bad acting, bad story, bad effects, the whole 9 yards. When people get shot it looks like they dampen their clothes with water to simulate blood and the space ships are obviously models hung in front of a projection screen with space-like stock footage running in the background.

  9. Just found out that provides links to video that can legally be watched over the Internet. Cat People is available via Amazon ($2.99/24 hrs). Could be a good resource to keep in mind for future movies.

  10. Yep, Lawrence F is who I was thinking of. I'd forgotten that part of the ship remained intact... hmm, definitely have to watch that again.

  11. So so, Eduardo. All your criticisms are defensible. Just let me take a break to respond to the "Event Horizon" crowd, via Gughunter:

    "I think of Event Horizon as a bad movie that has good stuff in it..."

    And I can't find who said it but it's still Ten Little Indians. Who knew Agatha Christie would be responsible for most of the sci-fi horror classics of an entire century?

    Back to CP. I understand your critique, but I should explain that the Bowie song hit the airwaves at least simultaneously with the movie. Which was a bit of artful art. Those footsteps at the beginning of the song... everybody was tiptoeing along waiting for the song, and that's why the score was so stretchingly suspenseful... If you still don't get it, I can explain later.

    You acknowledge almost in passing that the plot was different from most horror films. Gee, that's a checkmark? It absolutely WAS a remake, as was "The Thing," which some other expert solemnly informed me was better. What in this genre is NOT a remake?

    Call that a sudden closing question.

    Plus, a final reinforcement of horror. The scene where you mistook McDowell for Kinski was absolutely deliberate, absolutely creepily inside your head. That's horror. That's the director's objective correlative for incest. He GOT you, and you dismissed it as bad cutting...

    How much else did you miss?

    Hell, things are a lot more predictable and formulaic now than they were then. CP wasn't an 80s film. It was an early 70s film delayed by a long drug trip.

    Not true that I gave you an easier assignment than Apoth. His is bigger. Yours is subtler.

    And you haven't actually thought about what the premise is about. The horror is in the mind, in the soul. You're approaching it like, oh, say, Even Horizon.


  12. The scene where you mistook McDowell for Kinski was absolutely deliberate, absolutely creepily inside your head. That's horror.

    Hey, I'm not arguing with you. I'm still horrified by that and I never said it was bad cutting. But that makes me more scared of the director than it does this movie. We might as well make The Crying Game a great horror movie because I'm not sure I'm over that yet, either. That was also deliberate.

    IP made the comment Over There that his only reaction after seeing Star Wars was "so what?" That was my initial reaction after seeing this movie. No, it's not Ten Little Indians, but it's more like reverse psychology. "Ah-ha! We didn't kill everybody one by one!" I have a hard time awarding points because the writers make you think it's going to be like TLI but the only difference is that some people don't actually die. Come on: all those characters had the death scene set-ups, the trigger just didn't get pulled. You should give Event Horizon the same credit because it wasn't predictable either. Lawrence Fishburn got it bad in the end without dying.

    Now I'll freely admit that I went into this being biased because I don't like most '80s movies and I don't particularly like David Bowie. Maybe there is something I've missed. If that's the case, thump me on the head and tell me. I'm not so obtuse and proud that I can't admit when I'm wrong.

    That being said, I got the feeling that the story was designed just to make you uncomfortable. Thus the whole incest angle. I don't like it when movies have things that are just gross, like excessive gore, and that's a substitute for something truly scary.

    Here's what I got from the premise: McDowell and Kinski cannot have sex with anyone else on earth but each other without turning into vicious animals, but unfortunately they are brother and sister. Is it better to die? Better to live celibate? Or is it better to live as an animal in a cage until you die? Is that really any different from being forced into celibacy and not able to live a normal life?

    I wasn't being sarcastic when I said it's not bad. If there is a greater premise to the movie then I have to be honest with you: I missed it. My head's on the chopping block. Lop it off if you need to teach me a lesson. I'm here to learn.

    Whatever I missed with the premise, though, I am not going to give ground on the score. I don't like '80s music, I don't like synthesizers, and I thought the music was forgettable. I didn't even think Bowie's song was that great. Some of the songs from Labyrinth got stuck in my head more. I have a feeling that's just a battle of personal preference that is a stalemate.

  13. Some of the songs from Labyrinth got stuck in my head more.

    I know, right?

  14. The true horror of "Cat People" comes from Irena's dawning realization that her own nature has trapped her and there can never be any escape.

    Unlike most horror films which have distinct "threats" and "victims", in CP they are one in the same. The victim is virginal Irena -- young, innocent, looking for True Love (and hot as all get-out). The horrific threat is... Irena -- the essence of what she is and to which she is initially oblivious. Paul is only a threat to the extent that he depicts the most gruesome of Irena's possible futures. Irena is trapped... She cannot love. She cannot allow herself to live like Paul. She is alone, and will always be alone. The horror is the monster within her, from which there is no escape. In most horror films, there's at least the possibility that the threat can be stopped (and usually is). In CP, the credits roll over the freeze-frame of Irena imprisoned in a cat imprisoned in a cage. No escape.

    An extra layer of horror emerges in the way the viewer is drawn into the story. You are expected to sympathize with Irena... care about her... If you're a red-blooded male, you *want* to watch her have sex with Oliver even though you know full well what must happen afterward. See? You have an inner panther also, just as hungry... And the old caretaker at the end? Small price to pay for getting to see Irena naked one last time...

    The beast within, from whom no flight is possible. What is more horrific than that?

  15. Fair enough. One scene I did forget about was when Kinski visits Female (pronounced Feh-mah-lee) in jail. That was pretty good because she confirms that there are no answers, there is no way out. Most people would probably be expecting her to reveal the secret, ancient way to lift the curse. Instead, they come up with an original, unique ending. The spell is not broken by "true love" and Kinski doesn't simply murder everybody. I'll give CP credit for that. It's really not as bad as I thought it was going to be, I just don't agree that it's the best horror/sci-fi movie ever.

    I still think Event Horizon was more terrifying, more disturbing, more haunting. Kinski could have kept living as a human if she were celibate. It would be sad because that's not what she would want, but she could still live. A living ship with hell inside of it that's capable of tearing apart the fabric of reality and driving people to madness, that's a little bit tougher to deal with.

    C-minus, so be it. The semester is just getting started.

  16. What is more horrific than that?

    Naked McDowell when you were expecting naked Kinski, that's what.

  17. Naked McDowell when you were expecting naked Kinski, that's what.

    Heh. I get the humor of your point. But the wanting to see naked Kinski is part of the horror. See, in order for that to be post-cat Irena on the floor naked, she has to have killed. We, the viewers, are wanting sweet, pure Irena to have killed, even knowing how appalled she herself would be at the notion. Some of the horror of the film for me was how compelled I was to watch it knowing full well what it was about. Shouldn't I be disturbed and revolted enough to stop watching?

    Of course, that's kind of an interesting question to ask of the entire horror genre. Why do we watch it? I've got images in my head placed there by twisted directors that I'd pay good money to have erased... and yet, I paid good money to put them there in the first place.

  18. I still think Event Horizon was more terrifying, more disturbing, more haunting. Kinski could have kept living as a human if she were celibate. It would be sad because that's not what she would want, but she could still live. A living ship with hell inside of it that's capable of tearing apart the fabric of reality and driving people to madness, that's a little bit tougher to deal with.

    I had the precisely opposite reaction. A shipful of hell and madness is a little too bizarre to gain traction on me. I saw "Event Horizon" and was unimpressed. It was shocking and disturbing, but just in a "ewww, I didn't need to see that" sort of way. I couldn't relate to the predicament of the victims at all.

    Living celibate, on the other hand... I can imagine that. Nooooo thank you. ;-) Living alone, without love, at war with inner evil that I fear may consume me or others I love... These things seem real enough to be truly frightening to me. I can fear for Irena because, particulars aside, I can understand the threat. Having my sanity sucked out by a singularity from hell isn't something I can relate to.

  19. Having my sanity sucked out by a singularity from hell isn't something I can relate to.

    I understand what you mean, but the fact that I can't relate to that is why it's more terrifying to me. I think one of the scariest parts of the movie is that they didn't try to show you what the other side of the portal looks like. You don't really want to know, and yet part of you does because that would be the only way you can relate to what is happening to the crew of the ship.

    Consider that Irena's sacrifice was to live out her life as an animal in a cage for the sake of the man she loved. Fishburn's sacrifice was to literally go to hell to save what was left of his crew. Far-fetched? Of course it is, but what if you were faced with a choice like that? It's something I'd rather not think about, which is why that movie disturbs me so much.

  20. Interesting.

    Kudos to Mr. Ashbless. You put your finger on a key difference that has always confounded me about these sci-fi fans. All that "vacuum of space" imagery has always seemed to me so anti-erotic, so arid, antiseptic, and cold.

    Now I realize that's what they like about it. In the sci-fi generation, eros is dead. As a doornail. They can talk about it without ever feeling it, without ever understanding what you're telling them. It's just gone from their natures. Hence no horror. Hence a piece of trash like Event Horizon is somehow what? Moving? Please.

    Thank you. I get it now. And I feel sad. Post-civilization also means post-passion. The kinds will never ever know what passion was, and yes, the incredible soul-destroying horror it can be.

    That's a horror show all its own.

  21. Hey, Norm. If there's something you want to say to me, take off your top hat and monocle, look me in eye, and say it directly to me like a man. No need to talk around me like I'm not here. I'll be happy to respond to you quite passionately.

    On the other hand, if you want to have private conversations with Mr. Ashbless, just send him an email. You obviously have internet access way up there on your high horse.

  22. Norm: I'm not sure exactly who you are referring to when you speak of the "sci-fi generation". I grew up reading SF, but I don't really see myself or my SF-fan friends in your description. Perhaps you can clarify.

    In my experience, there isn't anything inherently anti-erotic or cold about science fiction. In fact, the best SF always had quite a bit of passion. A recurring SF theme is a dystopian future where human passions have been tamed and have to be recovered or reignited. Eros may not be particularly prevalent, but that may be perhaps because erotic stories can be told just as easily without all the effort of creating a believable science fiction setting.

    I consider Dan Simmons' Hyperion and its continuation Fall of Hyperion to be the quintessential science fiction. Perhaps the most perfect the genre has ever produced. It is intensely passionate (I cried at more than one point), and has a fair bit of eros in it also. Simmons does horror as well, and in fact has published a collection of erotic horror/SF stories called Lovedeath which is guaranteed to disturb you... (Bit of trivia: Harlan Ellison is notorious in the SF world for being a cold-hearted bastard. He read one of Simmons' short stories submitted at a workshop, "The River Styx Runs Upstream", and it allegedly made him cry. Ellison is on record as saying that if he's remembered for anything, he wants it to be as the Man Who Discovered Dan Simmons.) If you can't find the time for the Hyperion novels, track down Simmons' anthology, Prayers to Broken Stones. You will not regret it.

    I guess all that's to say: I don't really find SF per se to be anti-erotic, arid, or cold at all.

    For the record, a lot of what folks call SF these days doesn't really fit my definition of it, especially where movies are concerned. I wouldn't call "Cat People" SF... But I wouldn't call "Event Horizon" SF either, since it's basically a standard "haunted house with portal to hell" story with a thin "science-fictiony" veneer applied. I'm not particularly hung up on my definition... I'm more interested in good stories (which is why I chimed in when I thought "Cat People" was getting kind of an unfair treatment).

    I am rather suprised that a blog ostensibly about SF movies has yet to mention "Blade Runner" (director's cut, of course), arguably one of the top three SF movies ever made, if not the best. (To segue in from the current topic: curiously, the character in BR with the most passion and one of the most moving bits if dialog in SF film --- "I've seen things you people wouldn't believe..." --- isn't "human" at all...)

  23. I liked "Blade Runner", but "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" was better. I wish they had found a way to work in the part of the story about how people in the future had the fake animals, but they're all supposed to keep up appearances like they aren't fake, as if it was a type of status symbol, even though everyone knew that their neighbor's animal was probably as fake as theirs was. I thought that was clever. I think they did have a passing reference to that in the movie, but it wasn't nearly as in-depth as it was in the novel.