“Val Lewton: The Man in the Shadows” is a pretty straightforward documentary on the legendary producer who worked for RKO Pictures in the 1940s as head of their horror movie unit, creating low-budget pictures meant to rival those of Universal’s movie monster line with just as much bang for less buck. Narrated by Martin Scorsese, the documentary serves as a rather thorough history lesson on the man, illustrated by a nearly non-stop stream of imagery from his films that include “Cat People,” “Isle of the Dead” and “I Walked with a Zombie.” This isn’t just a dull talking head interview doc and while there is commentary from various experts, we’re rarely shown them. Rather, filmmaker Kent Jones lets us bask in the Lewton’s shadowy images, producing a very dreamlike state, as the filmmaker’s legend unfolds.
I’ve never been a fan of Val Lewton’s films. As a young monster movie lover, I would be fooled into seeing his work with the monstrous titles in the hopes of catching a creepy creature feature, but instead would end up with something along the lines of a moody period piece. Not all that thrilling for a kid feasting on a regular diet of Godzilla movies and Elvira’s “Movie Macabre.” Now that I’m an old man I still don’t think I could ever seeing myself sitting down to a Lewton feature, but after seeing this documentary I can at least appreciate his role in cinema history. Lewton fans will dig this one while newcomers to the man’s work may not exactly get turned on to his films, but they will most definitely enjoy this tale of a B-movie pioneer.