For my screenwriting class I'm taking in graduate school, I have to read 2 scripts a week and write a one-page response for each. This week I chose to do sort of a script-double-feature and read the scripts for Cat People (1942) and it's sequel The Curse of the Cat People (1944).
Here is my response to Cat People. This is my original extended version which was later cut down for class purposes.
Val Lewton is one of my favorite producers. RKO gave him horrible concept titles and he worked with screenwriters to come up with stories based on them. With only the title and a very low-budget, he and writers like DeWitt Bodeen would come up with these amazing stories that turned out to be cult classics. For having such little money to work with and trying to make this story a "horror" movie, it was needed to set up a sense of ambiance thus the script is highly descriptive. It served its purpose, showing readers (whom were probably film executives) that this film had substance enough to entertain audiences. Also, the writing is very sensual and there is a lot of chemistry written between characters. Maybe this subtle sexuality is lost on screen to contemporary viewers because of all the sex we are bombarded with in today’s media. But reading the script, rather than watching the film, this sensuality and underlying eroticism becomes apparent. One of my favorite examples in the writing is when Oliver enters his love interest Irena's apartment for the first time, notices the perfume as smelling like something "warm and living".
Even though this story is different from what you would expect, there are no actors dressed in cheap-looking cat costumes, the writer never lets go of the "Cat" element. It's the theme that intertwines the story together. Pretty much every scene has a cat or cat-like element in it. But you don't feel overwhelmed by cats though, like you've just entered a woman's apartment and 30 cats swarm around you. There are a lot of hints thrown at the audience to give them a heads up that there is something suspicious about Irena, the main character. It's intensified by the fact that Oliver, Irena’s love interest, is oblivious to the signs which are omens of potential evil. The most famous scene is the one when Irena's jealousy overcomes her and she prepares to pounce on Alice as she swims alone in a hotel pool. Lots of writing here to set the mood, build up the tension. I noticed a heavy amount of text in order to make sure the important scenes convey what they need to.
What's really scary here? The fact that this nubile, delicate young woman can entice an everyday, normal, nice guy into marriage when her true evil, which she has tried very hard to surpress, bubbles to the surface. And the idea of being cursed and living your curse without ever having a hope to be able to break it, forever being trapped by extenuating circumstances. The idea that a basic human emotion, like jealousy, could transform oneself into a monster!