10 Fur-Raising Facts About 1982’s Cat People

The 80s had no shortage of great horror remakes, most famously John Carpenter’s The Thing and David Cronenberg’s The Fly, but another that doesn’t seem to get as much love is Paul Schrader’s Cat People. Based on the 1942 film of the same name, it stars Nastassja Kinski as a young woman who is alarmed to learn she belongs to a race of were-cats who assume the form of leopards after having sex. Obviously it’s not one to watch with the whole family, but Cat People is worth watching nonetheless – and here are some facts about the film you might not have known.

10. Bo Derek was almost cast in the lead before Nastassja Kinski

In the early 80s, one actress above all was synonymous with sex appeal: Bo Derek, who had sprung to stardom in the 1979 romantic comedy 10, and went on to appear in such steamy films as Fantasies and Tarzan, the Ape Man. It makes sense, then, that Derek was the first actress linked to the role of Cat People’s lead Irena.

This, of course, did not come to pass, and the role of Irena would instead be taken by Nastassja Kinski, best known at the time for her role in Roman Polanski’s 1979 period drama Tess.

9. Only two scenes are based on the original 1942 film

1942’s Cat People is often ranked among the best horror films ever made, and it proved highly influential in its use of suggestion, with its monstrous elements implied but never shown. The 1982 film takes very much the opposite approach, and treats the concept very differently – but there are still two moments in the remake that come straight from the original.

The two moments from the 1942 film which are directly recreated in the remake involve Annette O’Toole’s Alice being stalked; the first takes place in a park, whilst the second takes place in a swimming pool.

8. Malcolm McDowell’s character was introduced to keep the film from appearing sexist

Part of why first choice director Roger Vadim backed out of making Cat People was his concern that the material would come off as sexist, because it sees a woman literally becoming a vicious animal because of her sex drive.

For this reason, screenwriter Alan Ormsby created a new character: Malcolm McDowell’s Paul, brother of Kinski’s Irena, who struggles with his animal side more violently than she does.

7. Reporters were so unfamiliar with John Heard they initially reported that ‘John Hurt’ would star

Cat People was among the earliest films of John Heard, who would later become best known for the Home Alone movies. It seems the actor wasn’t too familiar to reporters at the time, because when his casting was announced, Heard’s name was misheard (no pun intended).

Variety’s initial announcement on Cat People inaccurately stated that John Hurt (the British actor best known for Alien and The Elephant Man) would be appearing.

6. Nastassja Kinski and Paul Schrader had an affair during production

Credit: Frank Schramm / Montclair Film

The sexually-charged antics of Cat People were not only happening on camera. Director Paul Schrader and leading lady Nastassja Kinski became lovers during the shoot. Schrader has since admitted this affected him deeply and that he was ready to propose marriage, but it seems Kinski did not take their dalliance as seriously.

In Peter Biskind’s book Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, Schrader’s friend John Milius alleges that Kinski said to her one-time partner, “Paul, I always f*** my directors. And with you it was difficult.”

5. Drug use was rampant on set

It’s no secret that Paul Schrader was for many years a heavy recreational drug user, and many critics have suggested this informs the outlandish tone of Cat People. By the director’s own admission, he was using throughout production on the film, and at times this threatened to derail their working schedule.

Schrader recalls, “One day, I had been doing some coke in my trailer, I didn’t want to come out. My AD [assistant director] came in to get me. He started doing drugs. The second AD came in to try and get us both out. Then the three of us were there doing coke… Somebody said, ‘How are we gonna get anybody to direct this movie?’”

4. Its box office failure meant that a series of planned RKO horror remakes were abandoned

Studio Universal released Cat People in 1982, the same year as John Carpenter’s The Thing. Both films were remakes of old black and white horror movies made by the now-defunct studio RKO. Universal had bought the rights to RKO’s library, and planned to produce a series of remakes.

However, Cat People and The Thing were disappointments at the box office, both earning around $20 million each. For this reason, Universal abandoned plans for further films based on old RKO productions.

3. Nastassja Kinski didn’t like the film

Cat People may have introduced a lot of audiences to Nastassja Kinski, and helped to further her career in Hollywood. However, the German actress was reportedly not a fan of the film herself.

In a magazine interview at the time conducted by fellow actress Jodie Foster, Kinski reportedly dismissed Cat People as “slick” and “manipulative.”

2. It was one of the earliest Jerry Bruckheimer productions

Credit: Mike Windle/Getty Images for Bethesda

Cat People was the eighth credit of Jerry Bruckheimer, who served as the film’s executive producer. As a fairly abstract and arty production geared toward mature audiences, it was a far cry from the films he’d become famous for.

Later, Bruckheimer teamed up with Don Simpson to produce some of the biggest, most commercially-oriented blockbusters of the 80s, including Flashdance, Beverly Hills Cop and Top Gun.

1. Roger Vadim was the first choice to direct

Credit: Earl Leaf/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

As it’s an unorthodox blend of supernatural horror and eroticism, Cat People was hardly the most obvious choice for director Paul Schrader, previously best known for writing Taxi Driver and directing such gritty dramas as Blue Collar, Hardcore and American Gigolo. However, the film was far more in the ballpark of the man originally tapped to direct, Roger Vadim.

French filmmaker Vadim was famed for making some of the most sexually-charged films of the 50s and 60s, including And God Created Woman with Brigitte Bardot, and Barbarella with Jane Fonda.