I remember rolling with the pre-release buzz around this one, a loose remake of the 1942 original, in all the genre mags of the day, yet coming away from my first screening feeling pretty underwhelmed by it all somehow. By 1982, I guess I must have expected full-blown FX-dripping transformation sequences and gory murders abound, a much harder nut to crack in my early teens on monster-based matters than most. I like it a lot more now, and it's easy to see why: A superb cast built on familiar names like Malcolm McDowell, Nastassja Kinski, Lynn Lowry, and Ruby Dee, an engaging screenplay written by Alan Ormsby, who had a hand in some of my favorite movies of the prior decade (Deathdream, Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things, Deranged), some effectively minimalist makeup and gore work from Tom Burman, and competent direction from the guy who brought you Blue Collar(1978) and American Gigolo(1980).
Lynn Lowry can be a scratching post in my pad anytime.
Irena (Kinski) meets up with her long-lost brother Paul (McDowell) in New Orleans, having been separated since the death of their animal trainer parents in early childhood. He leaves his sibling with Female (Dee), his Creole housekeeper, while he slips off to maul a leggy prostitute (Lowry) after having taken the form of a melanistic leopard, as he sometimes enjoys doing. His feral indiscretions lead to an abrupt capture by the local police, aided by the hearty tranquilizers of some nearby zoo-hands, who transport the feline Paul to his new permanent res: a smelly, undersized zoo cage. His sister, also a were-leopard, though unrealized as yet, sniffs him out at the zoo, with her feline sensuality even attracting Oliver (John Heard), who hires her for the gift shop on the spot. For Paul, sex with humans transforms him into a big cat, but only by murdering one can he change back. Enter one poor bastard named Joe (Begley, Jr.), who gets a little too close to Paul's enclosure while carrying out his zoological duties, and eats arm-torn death because of it.
Watch Ed Begley, Jr. become less arm-ly, and thus, considerably more leg-ly.
As it goes, Paul suggest that he and his sister begin an incestuous relationship, as it is the only physical contact that either sibling can experience without metamorphosis occurring. A blech-worthy proposal until you factor in that the entire were-cat race is based on incest and your sister just so happens to be Nastassja Kinski. Well, Irena's more interested in having sex with Oliver, who's holding Alice (Annette O'Toole) at bay just for a chance to have sex with Irena, who would transform into a leopard if she had sex with...yeah, you get the idea. Paul's jealousy lands him on an autopsy table, where he ultimately disintegrates, leaving the oft-nude Irena to ponder the difficult decision between a sex-less romance with Oliver or life as a huge jungle feline. I'll leave the finale for you to discover when you check this one out for yourselves...
That's an odd-shaped fur ball.
There are some notable cameos from Dan "Night Court" Larroquette and Ray "Twin Peaks" Wise to mention. The always adorable Kinski is perfect here, exuding feline sensuality throughout the nearly two hour running time and bare-assed nearly as long, and I suppose McDowell is equally cattish, leaping about and preening himself when he isn't trying to slip 'Tass the brotherly bone. Speaking of sexies, Lynn Lowry also gets semi-nude for the cinematic cause, as per usual, as does O'Toole, who's in possession of the most impressive breasts of the lot, flat-chested McDowell included. Needless to say, the Giorgio Moroder score and familiar title track by Bowie are equally impressive. It's an odd, little movie that carves it's own erotic were-leopard thriller niche in the genre-drenched decade of the eighties, and holds up pretty well over thirty years later. Altered states will heighten your experience. Just sayin'. You'd do well to add a Shout! Factory copy to your collection immediately, if it isn't already there, that is. On the scale, People purrs it's way around my leg to three wops. Recommended.
Animal whisperer that I am, I'd put out a saucer o' milk for a sweet little stray like this one.