31+ Days of Horror. 33 Horror Movies. 33 Reviews. Hooptober Challenges and Bonus Tasks.
View my 2016 Cinema Shame/Hoop-Tober Watch Pile Shame-a-thon Statement here.
Nature of Shame:
Shame comes in all varieties. The Seventh Victim doubles up the shame.
Hoop-tober Challenge Checklist:
Decade – 1940’s
The Advance Word: Val Lewton knew how to produce a horror movie. The Seventh Victim was one of those horror movies.
#11. The Seventh Victim
Cinema Shame comes in all varieties. We’ve investigated the first two garden varieties with this Shame-a-thon.
- I’ve never seen Evil Dead 2-variety SHAME! (Substitute your own unseen classic film.)
- Watch-Pile SHAME! (I’ve owned this movie for years and never cracked the seal.)
And now I’d like to introduce another brand of Shame:
- Lived on my DVR for eternity SHAME.
I recorded The Seventh Victim on my DVR last October during TCM’s volley of Halloween horror offerings. For more than a year this brooding Lewton-produced film about Greenwich Village satanists has resided on my DVR, unwatched. Oh look it’s airing on TCM again on October 22nd. Set your DVRs!
Sometime during my viewing of The Seventh Victim, I realized I even owned the movie as part of the Val Lewton box set! I didn’t need to DVR it in the first place. DOUBLE SHAME.
I’ve dabbled in Lewton’s productions, but I’ve never made a study of them. I’ve considered starting a focused Filmmaker Shame! series. I believe that some oeuvres are best appreciated en masse. There’s wisdom to be gained through more intense scrutiny of larger bodies of work. For another day, perhaps. I’ve got a CinemaShame/Hoop-Tober Watch-Pile Shame-a-thon to complete.
I have, however, spent due time with the three Lewton/Tourneur films that kickstarted Val Lewton’s production career. Mark Robson helms The Seventh Victim, and while he’s no slouch, the name Robson doesn’t carry the same cachet as Tourneur. Go ahead, just say “Jacques Tourneur.”
Chills right? Even his name oozes atmosphere. Dark alleys. Long shadows. A man hiding in darkened room. Look out he’s got a knife!
Robson would go on to become an accomplished director across many different genres after the conclusion of his lengthy stint with Lewton. He directed Bogart in The Harder They Fall, Peyton Place, The Inn of the Sixth Happiness and Von Ryan’s Express, among many other familiar titles. It turns out that this guy Robson has a pretty deft touch with the atmosphere as well.
Mary Gibson searches for her lost sister Jacqueline, a troubled girl who got tangled up with those Greenwich satanists and then disappears. The first half concerns Mary’s search as a dowdy, teetotaling, milquetoast Columbo. At first I thought Charles O’Neal and DeWitt Bodeen’s script merely gave her nothing to do, but upon reflection I’m quite certain that Kim Hunter (in her first film role) simultaneously overplayed and underplayed her part. It’s not that she’s necessarily out of her element, but as she acts alongside Tom Conway (as the same character he played in The Cat People), you’ll note a disparate version of “acting.”
As the “innocent” Hunter’s Mary becomes cloying and saccharine. She’s at once too calm (should she believe her sister’s really been kidnapped) or far too scattered (should she believe her flighty sister’s gone missing yet again). The narrative drags because Hunter’s character resists moving it forward. She’s constantly running headlong into roadblocks and asking for help from her skeptical male companions.
While the first half left me listless and checking the time stamp, the second half of The Seventh Victim becomes a master class in inner turmoil represented by the interplay between light and shadow. The movie only comes together when Jacqueline (Jean Brooks, of The Leopard Man) finally FINALLY! appears on screen and gives the movie a much needed kick in the ass. Brooks emotes through her eyes and through her total lack of dialogue.
All you need to know about the final thirty minutes can be found right there in those rigid bangs and soulful, sad eyes. This is the movie I needed from the beginning. Immediately The Seventh Victim shifts from being a slightly creepy noir to a haunting, gothic parable about a lost soul and misplaced faith.
As I consider The Seventh Victim‘s lasting impression, I’m forced to focus on one specific scene. The dialogue haunts me. The frankness with which this movie and this specific scene treats death kicked me in the testicles. It’ll do the same for you, whether or not you have any to kick. The dialogue takes place between Jacqueline and a woman named Mimi, whom she’s just met in the hallway of her apartment building.
Jacqueline: Who are you?
Mimi: I’m Mimi — I’m dying.
M: Yes. It’s been quiet, oh ever so quiet. I hardly move, yet it keeps coming all the time — closer and closer. I rest and rest and yet I am dying.
J: And you don’t want to die. I’ve always wanted to die — always.
M: I’m afaid.
[Jacqueline shakes her head.]
M: I’m tired for being afraid — of waiting.
J: Why wait?
M: [determined] I’m not going to wait. I’m going out — laugh, dance — do all the things I used to do.
J: And then?
M: I dont know.
J: [softly] You will die.
I won’t spoil what happens next, but it’s a damn near perfect sequence that concludes each narrative arc. Overall, I’m conflicted. Maybe I just needed a different actress in the role of Mary. It’s hard to overlook those first fifty minutes that barely held my attention.
Final Final Thoughts:
The satanist paranoia acts as the film’s tension, but that tension, as manifested in the characters’ all consuming fear of societal degradation, serves as a red herring. The film’s not about the “evil-doing” of satan worshippers; it’s about the characters’ perspective on death and our pedogogical and religious systems of belief as they pertain to the significance of life and death. Heavy f’ing shit.
30Hz Movie Rating:
DVD Verdict: I love this box set, but I never bothered to watch The Seventh Victim on disc so technically I can’t vouch for the quality of transfer contained within. I do like big box sets with lots of DVDs. Some day when I’m old, crazy and senile I hope to bathe in them. That day might be sooner than anticipated.
Availability: The OOP Val Lewton Horror Collection can be found here and there for a pretty pricey penny… or 9,000 pretty pennies according to this Amazon listing.
Earlier 2016 31 Days of Horror entries: #1. Vampyros Lesbos / #2. A Chinese Ghost Story / #3. The Haunting of Morella / #4. Delirium (1972) / #5. A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin / #6. She-Wolf of London / #7. Son of Frankenstein / #8. Killerfish / #9. The Bride of Re-Animator / #10. A Bay of Blood