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Val Lewton Horror Flicks

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RedRiver
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Re: Val Lewton Horror Flicks

Postby RedRiver » October 31st, 2011, 6:17 pm

I'm violating parole by talking about these unique, poetic wonders of low budget cinema. They're among the movies I'm not allowed to speak of anymore. But this is such a good choice for Halloween programming. They're soft, gentle psycho-dramas, but every bit as scary as the Universal classics. Horror for grown-ups!

ISLE OF THE DEAD does, indeed, feature the most ghostly walk on film. THE SEVENTH VICTIM boldly quotes John Donne, almost certainly knowing that would not appeal to mainstream audiences. LEOPARD MAN may have a flaws. But it also has claws. It's the ultimate example of "what's really scary is what you don't see."

"Zombie" is actually my favorite. The acting is not the best in the business. But that's part of the charm. If Lewton had had access to the top talent of the era, his work would have had an altogether different look. The film has a slow building excitement, a thrilling story and a spellbinding atmosphere. It's one of the great works of the genre.

BOO!

RedRiver
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Re: Val Lewton Horror Flicks

Postby RedRiver » October 31st, 2011, 6:29 pm

OOPS! I didn't realize I posted most of these thoughts in August. Sorry!

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intothenitrate
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Re: Val Lewton Horror Flicks

Postby intothenitrate » December 19th, 2011, 7:44 am

I recently secured a copy of The Ghost Ship to (nearly) round out my collection of Lewton films. Sure, it's not of the same stature as the other films of the Lewton canon, but it does pass the two important tests of the DVD era: 1) Once you start watching it, you don't want to turn it off, and 2) After you've seen it, it creeps back into your memory, beckoning you to watch it again.

Typical of several Lewton films, the film boasts a provocative title, then completely sidesteps the supernatural elements, and finally delivers something that is even "scarier" than what you thought you were going to see in the first place.

In this case, the "scary" core of the film comes in the person of the Richard Dix character, the captain of a freighter. He's introduced as strong and steady, warm and avuncular--just the way you would want to see him. He welcomes aboard a third officer, a freshly minted graduate from some maritime school. As the story develops, you begin to see the chinks in Dix's armor, until you finally realize that he's mad as a hatter, inwardly ruthless and vindictive. The lighting of the film is bright and unremarkable early on--which struck me as odd for a Lewton picture--until Dix's madness is fully revealed. That's when the signature "mood" kicks in.

The crux of the "horror" is when the protagonist (the third officer) realizes that--when push comes to shove--the crew would rather overlook the Captain's idiosyncrasies, shortcomings and derelictions than challenge authority and jeopardize their jobs. And even though this theme is played out in extreme and dramatic dimensions in the context of the film, the script takes care to summarize the issue in such a way that it can be applied to situations outside of "ghost ships."

Lewton, who had worked under Selznick for the making of Gone with the Wind, knew inside and out "how it was done." Here he was at RKO, working under intense financial stress for executives of dubious abilities. I can't help but to think that the "horror" he sketches out for us in this film is surreptitiously mirroring the authority structure that he had to contend with at the studio.

I'm not sure how well this film will play on it's own merits (without knowing Lewton's backstory), but for me--a big fan--it's gold.
"Immorality may be fun, but it isn't fun enough to take the place of one hundred percent virtue and three square meals a day."
Goodnight Basington

RedRiver
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Re: Val Lewton Horror Flicks

Postby RedRiver » December 21st, 2011, 2:12 pm

Lewton also worked on MGM's A TALE OF TWO CITIES, overseeing the creepy revolution scene.

MikeBSG
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Re: Val Lewton Horror Flicks

Postby MikeBSG » December 21st, 2011, 5:15 pm

I saw 'The Ghost Ship' several years ago. (Perhaps appropriately, it was a pirated copy.)

I thought the film was interesting but not really a horror film. I thought the movie worked best as an allegory about the rise of fascism. I think "Isle of the Dead" and "Bedlam" are also anti-fascist allegories, Lewton trying to "do his bit" for the war effort since he couldn't make films like "Youth Runs Wild" and "Mademoselle Fifi" any more.

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JackFavell
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Re: Val Lewton Horror Flicks

Postby JackFavell » October 16th, 2012, 7:56 am

Alice, my daughter and I watched her first Val Lewton film yesterday.

She was home sick and asked to watch a movie, and decided on a Halloween flick. I gave her a choice, got a stack of films out and explained some of them to her. She picked Cat People of course, after hearing a brief description and liking the idea of a female protagonist, especially because it had to do with cats. I explained about Lewton just a bit so she knew it was subtle and dark.... friendly, if you will.

She actually enjoyed it (thank goodness - as I really couldn't have taken it if she were picky about it, it's one of my all time faves), and kept gasping at little things, like the shadows and statues of the cats showing up every now and then. The scene where Alice (the character) walked down the street at night worked perfectly, she jumped when the bus came up and so did I, even though I've seen it a hundred times. Her biggest gasp was when Irena rends the couch with her claws...um, I mean fingernails. We had to rewind the film right there, so she could see it again, and also because it was the first time I noticed a cat shadow crossing Irena's path right before she rips into the furniture. She gasped again when she saw it! It was wonderful.

After it was done, Alice asked to watch CURSE OF THE CAT PEOPLE... Yes! My evil plan to lure her into classic films was working! We started, and I told her about how it wasn't especially horrific, and also warned her that I would cry. I think she did too, in the scene where Irena tells little Amy she must send her away for her own good.... choke.... Anyway, I was very pleased that she liked them, and though she wasn't feeling well, I think she enjoyed them as much as she could have.She may even go back to them someday and remember sitting with mom watching. A very poignant afternoon on a dreary day, just perfect for watching Lewton.

MikeBSG
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Re: Val Lewton Horror Flicks

Postby MikeBSG » October 16th, 2012, 8:17 am

So glad that your daughter liked "Cat People" and "Curse of the Cat People." It sounds like you two had a wonderful time.

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JackFavell
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Re: Val Lewton Horror Flicks

Postby JackFavell » October 16th, 2012, 8:30 am

Oh, am I relieved, Mike. There is nothing worse than someone not really responding to your favorites. And for me, seeing her reactions was sweet, especially with the second film, since it's about childhood.

I also saw things in the movies I had never noticed before, I always got so swept away into the emotion of them, I missed some of the stunning art direction, and the imagery. I'm glad, they seemed somehow new to me watching through my daughter's eyes.

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Re: Val Lewton Horror Flicks

Postby CineMaven » October 16th, 2012, 8:50 am

Mother and daughter, sharing Val Lewton.

Seeee? THAT's how it starts. The slow initiation of a budding classic film fan. HA! Kids don't even know the medicine is good for them. A very sweet story, Wendy.
"You build my gallows high, baby."

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intothenitrate
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Re: Val Lewton Horror Flicks

Postby intothenitrate » October 16th, 2012, 9:29 am

Nice post, JF. Congratulations on your conquest. How old is your daughter?

When my youngest was 10 or 11, he was riveted by both I Walked with a Zombie and Curse of the Cat People. I was afraid he would find both of them boring, but he didn't -- not on the least. Between him and his brother -- two years older -- he's the more sympathetic to classic film. In the case of the Lewton films, maybe it's that meticulously crafted ambience, that gentle but insistent overture to the viewer's subconscious.

I just ordered some films from my bootlegger, three of which were selected to appeal to my sons' tastes. Those are Cry of the Werewolf, Seven Samurai, and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. I will share the results of the "experiment" over on that thread, Do you have Trouble Getting Others to Watch Classic Movies.

Oh, and I hope she gets well soon.
"Immorality may be fun, but it isn't fun enough to take the place of one hundred percent virtue and three square meals a day."
Goodnight Basington

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JackFavell
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Re: Val Lewton Horror Flicks

Postby JackFavell » October 16th, 2012, 11:24 am

She's eleven, almost 12. I think they were perfect for her. I love I Walked with a Zombie too. That may be next, unless I go a different route, to some scare movies. I don't want to burn her out on Lewton before she really gets going.

RedRiver
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Re: Val Lewton Horror Flicks

Postby RedRiver » October 16th, 2012, 12:16 pm

Zombies are IN these days! I bet Alice would like Lewton's look at the subject. CAT PEOPLE is a good one to start with. And that bus scene! It fits in with the "what you don't see" theory. You do see the vehicle. But it's the sound that sends you through the ceiling. I like the creepy pool scene too. Lewton made QUIET so scary! That scene even works well in the remake. Not a bad film in its own right.

Mother and daughter, sharing Val Lewton. Seeee? THAT's how it starts.

My mom kept us up late to watch BEAU GESTE!

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JackFavell
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Re: Val Lewton Horror Flicks

Postby JackFavell » October 16th, 2012, 12:46 pm

Your mom was cool!

RedRiver
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Re: Val Lewton Horror Flicks

Postby RedRiver » October 16th, 2012, 1:00 pm

THE PLAINSMAN would soon follow. Then UNCONQUERED, HIGH NOON, NORTHWEST MOUNTED POLICE. We get it, Mom. You like Gary Cooper!

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JackFavell
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Re: Val Lewton Horror Flicks

Postby JackFavell » October 16th, 2012, 1:51 pm

She had good taste. :D


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