Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Oyster Season

Cat People (1982)
directed by Paul Schrader
rating: 2 out of 5 cravats
on DVD from Netflix

This production, once anathema to what I thought I wanted from a horror film--above all else, no remakes of one of my favorite movies--gained traction on my curiosity after I watched Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters. I wanted to see what Paul Schrader and cinematographer John Bailey did with New Orleans and I couldn't believe that John Heard, who I'll always think of as the dad from Home Alone, was once cast as a romantic lead. I try not to have "rules" about what I will watch or won't watch these days; remakes can be great!

John Heard is not a leading man. He does get a pickup line so laughable that I wish I'd know it when I was twenty, which is this: "I've been using this room as a darkroom so it might be a little cluttered." Try that one the next time you're giving a beautiful woman a place to stay because her brother was arrested for murder!

If you believe that Nastassja Kinski could ever be related to Malcolm McDowell, you'll have better luck with other narrative leaps of faith such as Ed Begley Jr. losing his entire arm to a panther or the absurd premise that relatives cursed by their mystical African ancestry must mate incestuously to avoid killing random sexual partners. The movie ends in a dark place, with Heard caging Kinski in the Audubon Zoo, ostensibly at her request, but more accurately as an assertion of sexual ownership.

Frankly, I enjoy that kind of a warped conclusion. I loved the opening credit sequence: a rhythmic Giorgio Moroder soundtrack, a red filter, and a close-up on desert sand as driving winds slowly draw skulls and skeletons from the earth. Oliver's first date with Irena takes place in an oyster bar at night, in an open room of white tiles and bay windows framed in aquamarine neon. Yellow lemon wedges and a bowl of red hot sauce sit on the table the couple shares. You think you wouldn't notice any of it for Nastassja Kinski's face, but of course you do. "I like a pretty girl/but still I like to eat."

In spite of all this--in spite of a bayou scene that gets close to a "what music they make" moment in the minutes before dawn--Schrader for the most part flubs it. Instead of footsteps on a dark street, we get the ugly mauling of a prostitute. Irena is approached by a Serbian woman in an atmospheric bar, but the stranger interrupts such a facile conversation between Irena and a friend that there is no loneliness or gravity in the scene. When the plot isn't silly in service of more nudity, it's racist or absurd (why such a cosy relationship between veterinary interests and the NOPD?).

But bad movies can be good movies if kids can be skeletons and vampires.