EDITOR’S NOTE: This originally ran on March 12, 2021 on our site, but with Val Lewton’s birthday being today, we’ve re-running it.
Part of The Val Lewton Horror Collection, this documentary explains the magic of Val Lewton. Directed by Constantine Nasr (who has created many featurettes for DVDs), it unites William Friedkin, Joe Dante, John Landis, Mick Garris, Guillermo del Toro, Kim Newman, George Romero and many more to help tell the story.
Lewton was only alive for 47 years, but in that time — working late into the night — he created a shadow world of noir and suggestion that was the funhouse mirror of the Universal big monster shows. Lewton always wrote the final draft of the screenplays. Movies like Cat People, I Walked With A Zombie, The Body Snatcher, The Seventh Victim, Isle of the Dead, The Curse of the Cat People and Bedlam are part of the language that we use to bring horror to film.
Lewton’s films may have been horror movies that only cost $150,000, but unlike many in Hollywood, he was giving artistic freedom within those confines. Before even starting to work at RKO, he said, “They may think I’m going to do the usual chiller stuff which’ll make a quick profit, be laughed at, and be forgotten, but I’m going to fool them…I’m going to do the kind of suspense movie I like.”
Unlike those aforementioned films, Lewton understood that true terror remained in the shadows and never showed its face. “If you make the screen dark enough,” he said, “the mind’s eye will read into it anything you want.”
Who else could have produced a film that featured the line “We’ve found that there is no Heaven on Earth, so we must worship evil for evil’s own sake.”?*
You’ll learn just enough about Lewton by watching this. You’ll get so much more actually watching his movies.
*The Seventh Victim, an astoundingly dark film.