Ah, the 80s... that was the time when a film produced by a major studio could have as a central plot the risks (and joys) of getting laid.
So true. While today we have to switch channels at late night to get some poorly choreographed PG sex, Jerry Bruckheimer (yep, the guy who produced all those mindless actioners) spent loads of money so Paul Schrader could shot a kinky remake of a 40s horror film.
The plot revolves around a young woman, Irena (Natassia Kinski). She's an orphan who just met her long-time lost borther (Malcolm McDowell), and her body language and image scream naivety and lack of self-confidence. She starts to fall in love with a workmate, Oliver, but their relationship is quickly undermined by both Irena's irrational fears and the progresively deranged attitude of her brother.
To be honest, the film has several important flaws. The script basculates into being an study of sexual repression (most of the main characters suffer it one way or another) and a supernatural thriller. And after two hours you can't tell it's one thing or the other one. Yawn.
But there are so many good things in this film you can't deny it a place on the "Good movies" phorum. To start with, Natassia Kinski and Malcolm McDowell are great. If Schrader was looking for feline-looking actors, he couldn't do wrong with these two, and he doesn't. McDowell is perfect as Irena's deranged brother, a role many other actors would have killed going over the top. And Kinski has still to find a role that suits her better than this one. She is credible as the prudish Irena, but also convincing when she finally fights her inner demons and returns as a sexually mature, self-assured woman. Not to mention she has to do a good deal of acting in the buff, which I'm sure wasn't easy.
Then there's the story. As muddled as the script is, you can't deny how brave the story is. Imagine a sexually charged werewolf story, but with panthers instead of wolves and you'll almost hit the mark. How cool is that? A lot, believe me. Specially with sex being the main topic.
And then there's Paul Schrader's direction. True, the man can't direct horror, as the recent "Exorcist - Dominion" proves, but his failures are better than most people's achievements. His camerawork is both subtle and majestic, well accompanied by one of Giorgio Moroder's best scores. The horror falls short, but Schrader scores whenever he can opt for a more subtle approach (such as the scenes with Natassia Kinski walking through a deserted New Orleans or the several oniric scenes) or when he can focus on the personal struggles of the main characters.