A Val Lewton Fall Film Festival

In this blog, I’ve always featured lots of horror movies because I love them and they are associated with Halloween.

And you know, there are all kinds of horror movies. There are Universal monsters we all know and the lurid Hammer vampires. There are 1950s sci fi drive-in flicks and 1970s supernatural films. All wonderful in their own ways.

But the films I am presenting this fall will haunt you. Welcome to the body of 1940s horror films that is the legacy of producer Val Lewton, best known, perhaps, for his film, Cat People, his greatest commercial success.

These are spooky, evocative, films noirs with complex psychological themes, along with their frights.

Not all were well received in their day but have come to be appreciated by film buffs, as well directors like Martin Scorsese.

They are not perfect films but they are original: the qualities that make them special are really unique. Some of the scenes are dream-like, some of the dialogue is almost poetic. Every film has at least one beautiful line.

Look for a blog post each Monday through the end of October with an introduction and link to the following films.

  • Week of September 26 – Isle of the Dead (1945) – when quarantine goes wrong…
  • Week of October 3 – The Leopard Man (1943) – the villain is the first of its kind in horror movie history…
  • Week of October 10 – I Walked With A Zombie (1943) – a coded commentary on racial injustice…
  • Week of October 17 – The Seventh Victim (1943) – said to have inspired Rosemary’s Baby
  • Week of October 24 – Cat People (1944) – Lewton’s most famous movie…
  • Halloween, October 31 – Night of the Demon (1957) …not actually a Lewton production…but it kind of is!

They say necessity is the mother of invention and this was quite true about these films. RKO was in financial trouble in the 1940s. They wanted to duplicate the box office success Universal had with their horror movies. But they did not have a Universal budget so they set about making B-movies that were shorter in length using sets and assets they already had.

RKO gave producer Val Lewton a small budget but giant creative freedom. He and his colleagues were imaginative men who worked together as a team, and together, they elevated these B movies to an art form. Not having a budget for elaborate special effects, he decided to capitalize on the eerie quality of suggestion. So, we hear the screams of a terrified girl…but we do not see the act of her being attacked…we do not see her death.

Across this body of work, many things repeat. Movie viewers will recognize the cast members who sometimes appear in more than one film, like Calypso singer Sir Lancelot, who appeared in three Lewton films. You may also recognize recurring themes, themes that we know were personally important to Lewton and his script-writers: trauma, isolation, loneliness, yearning, freedom, fear, superstition and love.

Val Lewton died an untimely death in 1951 after working like the dickens on these and other movies, including The Body Snatcher, Curse of the Cat People and The Ghost Ship, among others.

I guess you could say I am obsessed this fall with Val Lewton films! But I thought you would enjoy seeing these films together as we draw closer to Halloween.

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