Posts Tagged ‘Robert Wise’

Movie Reviews 307 – The Val Lewton Collection

July 22, 2017

When we praise a set of movies by the creative talent behind them, we usually identify them by either the actors or directors involved as they are the ones that have the most significant contribution to the works in question. But as a producer Val Lewton had as much influence on his films than the directors he hired. So much so that when referencing any of the films he had a hand in, his name is recalled as much as that of the director or stars. This high regard for his films has earned him something no other producer has been accorded, a DVD box set of his own. The Val Lewton Collection released in 2005 is a five DVD set featuring nine movies and a documentary on Lewton’s career.

Lewton’s films can easy be characterized by his cerebral approach in providing psychological horror instead in lieu of physical and creature scares. The nine films in this set, all created in the 1940’s at RKO, are – with one notable exception – fine examples of chilling stories primarily directed by three directors. Jacques Tourneur basically made his reputation on the very films he created for Lewton, while Mark Robson and Robert Wise both started their illustrious careers with these films.

Here is a rundown of the set with the exception of the documentary Shadows in the Dark, which ashamedly, I have yet found the time to watch.

Isle of the Dead (1945): Boris Karloff stars in a tale of the mythical Vorvolaka of Grecian folklore. After setting out for a desolate island with a war reporter, a cold-blooded general discovers that fears that a plague is rampant and therefore he must quarantine the island in order to prevent spreading of the disease to the mainland. But is it just a medical contagion at work or something more sinister?  [Dir. Mark Robson]

Bedlam (1946):  A young socialite trying to better the forgotten social castaways of the wards in the Bedlam asylum suddenly finds herself committed within its very walls by the evil master (Boris Karloff) running the institution. A testament to how politics and the powers that be could eliminate social reformers as well as a glimpse into how mental illness was dealt with before scientific and medical advancements even touted the notion of it being a treatable disease. [Dir. Mark Robson]

The Leopard Man (1943): When the manager of a dancer at a nightclub decides to give her a live leopard in order to rouse the jealousy of a rival dancer, the leopard escapes and begins a killing spree in the New Mexico town. But signs point to something else. This film was a early example of how horrors unseen and only hinted at could be as effective, if not be even better, than visual depictions. Aside from the silly dancer names, KiKi and Clo-Clo, the movie posits both the possibility of a real escaped leopard as the culprit or the more sinister option. [Dir. Jacques Tourneur]

The Ghost Ship (1943): A newly arrived third officer on a merchant ship finds that the authoritarian captain has gone crazy. But despite the captain killing of members of the crew, they are all loyal to him when the officer tries to sound the alarm he soon finds himself captive on the ship at sea and without any means to get help. The film is actually much better than the simplistic plot as the two play a game of cat-and-mouse as the tension mounts throughout the officer’s ever growing dire predicament. [Dir. Mark Robson]

Cat People (1942): Probably the best known movie in the lot and also reknown for the 1982 remake with Nastassja Kinski. When Irina a Serbian woman who believes she is cursed falls in love she tries to rebuff the man fearing that she will turn into a ferocious feline and kill him. But she succumbs to his advances and  thereafter battles her own beliefs amid a spree of murders. Another great example of how hints and symbolism replace actual displays of horror, but just as or even more effective. [Dir. Jacques Tourneur]

The Curse of the Cat People (1944): A direct sequel to Cat People, this one takes the odd perspective of a young girl who can communicate with the ghost of the Irina character in Cat People while her parents struggle to comprehend their child’s fantasies. Not necessarily a bad film but more fantasy than horror or even thriller and so different from Cat People with only the most tenuous of links that most will be disappointed. [Dir. Gunther von Fritsch and Robert Wise]

I Walked with a Zombie (1943): This is ‘old school’ zombie as in Caribbean voodoo somnambule walking dead. A nurse living in frigid Ottawa, Canada (yay!) is hired as a caretaker for a patient the Caribbean island of Saint Sebastian. When she gets there she suspects that the mental state of her charge may be cured by the locals and their traditional rituals. Her problems stem from the dysfunctional family and having to deal with sibling rivalry and of course falling in love. The only scares are from the native, stalking bug-eyed Zombie guard but that is more than enough. [Dir. Jacques Tourneur]

The Body Snatcher (1945): Not to the be confused with Invasion of the Body Snatchers this horror with both Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi delves into the age old question of moral ethics and medical research. When a young paralysed girl is refused treatment by the arrogant but learned Dr. MacFarlane, his young student and lab assistant Donald, who has just learned that a grave robber is supplying the doctor’s cadavers, makes a deal in which he will keep the secret as long as MacFarlane treats the girl. When Donald discovers that the robber isn’t bothering to wait for people to die naturally, his conscience is torn before he learns an even darker secret about MacFarlane. Karloff is at his best as the grave robber in this film which both references the real life case of grave robbers Burke and Hare who killed 18 people and essentially is a retelling of those events. [Dir. Robert Wise]

The Seventh Victim (1943): A very strange mystery in which a woman, Mary (Kim Hunter), goes looking for her older sister Jacqueline who has gone missing. Tracing back Jacqueline’s last business which she seems to have purposely abandoned, Mary discovers that her sister rented out a room in which she keeps only a chair and a hangman’s noose. With the help of some of Jacqueline’s acquaintances (some who have secretes of their own), Mary pieces together her sister’s involvement with a Satanic cult. But even the evil worshiping cult abides by a strange ‘non-violent’ pledge which proves problematic.  [Dir. Mark Robson]