Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Val Lewton

I've commented in the past that a good story is just as important for making a good movie as A-list actors or elaborate special effects. One of the best exemplars of this idea is the producer Val Lewton. Lewton worked as a producer at RKO in the 1940s, making horror movies on B budgets that, thanks to intelligent script writing and direction that creates the horror in that which is unseen, leaving the viewer to imagine the frightening things himself, are just as good as any horror movie made today.

One of Lewton's best movies, The Seventh Victim, is airing at 6:00 AM ET on March 26 on TCM. In The Seventh Victim, Kim Hunter makes her film d├ębut as Mary Gibson, young woman at a Catholic school whose sister Jacqueline has headed for the big city, seemingly never to be seen again, and saddling her with tuition debts. The school administrators are naturally worried, as is Mary, so she heads off for the city determined to find out what has happened to her sister.

What Mary finds is shocking: Jacqueline has joined an odd religious sect that people today would consider a cult. And, as is the case with cults, they generally try to get their members to do things they otherwise would not do, deeming it not in their best interests. But what is this cult going to do to Jacqueline? Can Jacqueline stop herself? Or can Mary stop Jacqueline?

There's relatively little violence in this movie; what violence there is is implied by being depicted in the shadows -- as opposed to, say, Alfred Hitchcock's famous shower scene in Psycho. And yet, not actually showing the violence still leaves it just as frightening a prospect: after all, we all know what violence looks like.

The Seventh Victim isn't as well-remembered today as Lewton's other masterpiece, The Cat People, but it's just as good. In addition to being on TV tomorrow, it's also available on DVD. I can give this movie a strong recommendation.

No comments: