Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Val Lewton on TCM: A Moody Marathon

I get the feeling that someone at TCM got the Val Lewton Horror Collection for Christmas and thought “Holy crap – we’ve got to run a marathon of these”. I certainly can’t fault that logic, and they really are a treat to watch back to back. I picked up the DVD collection back in 2005 and thought the same thing – but I don’t work for a network so nothing came of it. I only caught bits an piece of some of the movies on TCM (about 10 minutes of I Walked With a Zombie while rocking my 4 month old daughter to sleep, and 10 minutes of Isle of the Dead while eating breakfast this morning). What strikes me is how unbelievably captivating they are – an atmosphere is established immediately and it sucks you right in. The Val Lewton Collection came with a documentary “Shadows in the Dark”, which was quite illuminating. As far as I can tell, the TCM marathon included a new doc – I’ve recorded it and look forward to watching it when I get a quiet moment. Rather than go through each movie, I thought I’d share a few random thought on a few of them because that sort of rudderless opining is why blogs were created. If I find the time or inclination, I may eventually comment on all of them.

Isle of the Dead
Right off the bat let me tell you that while there is an island, there aren’t many of the ‘Dead’. What we’ve got here is a fairly claustrophobic tale of a small group of people quarantined on a Greek island. They slowly succumb to disease one by one. If you are expecting the suspense of a film like Cat People, you should look elsewhere. If you’d like to see Karloff playing a stern Greek General with curly hair, this is the film for you. Even without the ‘horror’, it’s actually quite interesting, as I don’t think I’ve ever seen Karloff play a role like this. He is very convincing – a real joy to watch. I’m just impressed that someone gave the green light to a film set during the 1912 Balkan war.

I Walked With a Zombie
Obviously, this is the greatest movie title of all-time. Although the collaborations with Robert Wise and MarkRobson were strong, the team of Lewton and Tourneur simply cannot be beat. There are so many great shots in this film, that I’d be surprised if they didn’t teach it in film school. As he was cranking out B movies for a failing studio, Lewton always had a tight budget and it’s a testament to his skill that he could always do so much for so little.

The Seventh Victim
This is a true hidden gem. I’ll bet this one would likely qualify as Lewton’s most misunderstood film and I would really think that it had people scratching their heads back in the 60s. This script could indeed use some tightening and there are some redundant characters, but like Cat People and Zombie, the atmosphere is gripping. I’ve got to think that some people were paying attention as certain items such as a creepy shower scene and a satanic cult composed of cheery seniors were later used by big name filmmakers. Certainly far from a perfect film, but both Kim Hunter and Jean Brooks are strong and there are enough ‘ahead of its time’ aspects of this film to warrant repeat viewings.

1 comment:

Dan said...

I went on a bit of a Lewton kick about 4 years ago -- maybe a year or so before the Lewton Collection came out -- & I think I watched all 3 of these during it, along with The Body Snatcher, The Leopard Man & Ghost Ship (the bootleg VHS of which cost me about half what the entire DVD collection went for a few months after that ... c'est la vie). Except for Seventh Victim, I was seeing them all for the first time. Pretty impressive, to say the very least.

But yeah, Seventh Victim is indeed "a true hidden gem." I'd go so far as to call it one of my top, I dunno, 25 or so movies, period. So utterly *bleak*.