Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Night of Terror #16: 'The Seventh Victim'

It's not really Halloween for me until I watch at least one Val Lewton movie. This is despite the fact that his movies, despite being generically categorized as "horror," don't really fit the Halloween mold - they tend to be more gloomy than fun, and not built to shock as much as built to disturb in their own low-key way.

That description goes more for The Seventh Victim than any of his other movies. Every time I watch it I'm a little puzzled by exactly what is being said by the movie. Is it some kind of pro-suicide parable? Or maybe just a simple "evil is bad" morality play? You could probably make a convincing argument for either one or both, which gives you an idea of how much more complex this is than your average horror movie. Watching it this time around I was struck by how little it follows any kind of commercial model - what was the audience for this movie? It goes to show the power of taking a little bit of studio money rather than a lot, and relishing the creative control that comes with it.

But there are scares to be had - the signature Val Lewton shot is of a woman, walking down the sidewalk late at night, being pursued by some unseen and unknown entity that means her harm. That shot is repeated more than once in The Seventh Victim, and it joins a whole gaggle of suspenseful set-pieces, like a ghoulish scene on a subway, a dark hallway murder, and even a shower-set intimidation that will probably remind you of another much more famous shower scene.

Which reminds me of another fascinating aspect of The Seventh Victim - it has to be one of the most underseen movies in proportion to its huge influence on the horror genre and movies in general. Would we have a Psycho without it? Or a Rosemary's Baby? Or even a Weekend At Bernie's? It's impossible to say but there are shades of all those movies and more to be found here, and the strength of these sequences give the movie a staying power that its sometimes confusing plot can't take away.

I saw an account of Val Lewton summing up his thoughts on this movie like this: "Death is good." Even the most shocking torture-porn horror movies of today would be hard-pressed to commit to an idea like that.

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