After the success of our Argento fest and the official end of exam season for most of our friends, this week was shaping up to be quite the party. Which again made me nervous about my programing choices. The more people present, the more the tendency to become chatty and being that we were watching the atmospheric and creepy “The Seventh Victim” and “I Walked With A Zombie” I really wanted to make sure people appreciated them. I’ve personally always been a fan of the subtler psychological horror movies, particularly those produced by Val Lewton for RKO pictures in the early ‘40s and the last thing I wanted was people making jokes about the hokey (dated) acting while I was marveling at the gorgeous black and white cinematography. This fear is proof that I was seriously underestimating the power these movies still possess as almost the entire peanut gallery was impressed and most of the comments were exclamations of “whoa!” or “is this out on DVD yet, I want to buy it”.
The return of the weekly reminder emails, and the fact that the Canucks are officially out of the playoffs conspired to make this one of our most heavily attended nights in a long time, and one of our most diverse. With 11 people in attendance, including another newbie, I popped in “The Seventh Victim” and waited to see what would happen.
As the film begins we are introduced to Mary Gibson (Kim Hunter in her film debut) a young student at an exclusive all girls school which did raise some questions regarding rooms full of razor wire in light of last week’s selections. However, things take a decidedly different turn when we find out that Mary’s sister, who incidentally has been paying her tuition at the school since their parents died, has gone missing. Oddly enough, the headmistress at the school loans Mary the money to go to New York to look for her sister and the adventures of the girl detective begin.
The first thing that struck me about the film was just how convoluted the plot got (not to mention the fact that most of us were able to follow it). First, Mary meets some guy who’s going to help her, then we find out the guy’s her sister’s husband, then there’s this poet guy who helps her, but it’s because he’s in love with Mary, but the other guy is also in love with Mary, but he’s married to her sister, then there’s this doctor, and the doctor and the poet don’t get along, but it’s okay ‘cause the doctor was protecting the poet and Mary inspires the poet to write again, oh, and there’s this secret society of Satanists called the Palladists, but they seem more like a weird math cult, and I forgot the private detective, but he gets killed… you get the idea. The other thing that struck me was how suggestive the language got. Granted this was 1943 and the Hays code was still in full swing, but there was quite a bit of thinly veiled adult material such as the poet using his powers of seduction on a lonely old librarian and Mary going to the third floor to the poets room which he hoped was her “advent into (his) world”.
However, the thing that seemed to strike everybody the most was just how damn spooky the movie was, especially since you don’t actually see anything and there’s really only one murder. My boyfriend commented on one of the early scenes where the headmistress’ assistant warns Mary to “never come back” that “it didn’t make complete sense, but it creeped the hell out of me”. Another super creepy sequence was a silhouetted shower scene that predates “Psycho” by nearly twenty years. Now, I’m not saying that Hitchcock ripped it off, but it’s hard not to think it when you see the scene. Also, “Rosemary’s Baby” seems to owe quite a bit to this film as both deal with genteel Satanic societies and Ruth Gordon’s character seems at least physically to have been modeled on one of the members of the Palladist society with her Channel jackets and beehive hairdo. All of this combined with a decidedly downer ending added up to a film much better received than I could have hoped.
Walk with a zombie in part two of ENTER THE DEN OF SIN: OLD AND CREEPY, THE HORROR FILMS OF VAL LEWTON>>>