The Seventh Victim (1943) is a marvelous horror noir, directed by Mark Robson & produced by Val Lewton.
Kim Hunter plays Mary Gibson who is seeking her missing sister. Leave It To Beaver's dad Hugh Beaumont is the innocuous love interest of the missing Jacqueline. Tom Conway (brother of George Saunders) plays psychiatrist Dr. Lewis Judd. Conway is less like his more famous brother than he is a poor man's Ronald Coleman, & lends his character surprisingly dignified complexity.
Jean Brooks as Jacqueline, looking like the prototype for the whole Goth movement, adding the sexiness of a Betty Page, is the furtive young woman who has rented a room & keeps nothing in it but a chair & a hangman's noose.
Jaqueline's the perfect gloomy Goth chick with huge eerie beautiful eyes, black hair, & black clothing contrasted to deathly pale complexion. She romanticizes death, dwells on the idea of suicide, & joins a devil cult. But when she "betrays" the cult by mentioning it to her psychiatrist, she has to vanish in order to hide from the cult's wrath.
Purely a psychological horror story, the poetic effectiveness is due in large part to the casting of Brooks & the dismally dark design of her character's look.
It's unfortunate that in her thirty or so films she never had a second role that permitted her to shine. She suffered from severe alcoholism which made it impossible for any studio to launch her as a star. In days when studios tried to control a star's image, Brooks had a reputation for passing out at public events.
The most tense scene in The Seventh Victim is when the cultists provide Jacqueline with a draught of poison & coldly strive to convince her to drink, all the while denying her water or sleep, & knowing full well that emotionally she dwells always on the possibility of suicide.
The story's sexual tensions extend even to woman on woman implications. The menacing lesbian subtext, the Satanic threat, & a shower scene (widely recognized as the precursor to Hitchcock's Psycho), are just part of what makes this elegant film so effective.
The only hokey scene is when the gumshoe Irving August (Lou Lubin) & Mary have to walk down a dark hall. They are scared for no reason. A murder will occur all righty, but there's seriously no reason for the characters to expect danger, so their fear of the hallway is accidentally comical.
Action, what little there is, happens mainly off-screen. The strength is not in incident but in characterization, acting, & the striking high contrast shadowy b/w cinematography. This is a poem of death, a film of eccentric beauty.
Among the dvd extras is an interesting little documentary Shadows in the Dark: The Val Lewton Legacy (2005). It includes comments from horror authors like Richard Matheson, Ramsey Campbell, Harlan Ellison, & Neil Gaiman, horror editors like Stephen Jones, & directors such as George Romero, Joe Dante, & Robert Wise, as well as Boris Karloff's daughter & son.
This documentary authentically gets at the heart of Lewton's unique & innovative contribution to horror cinema, his ability as a writer & producer to aim horror at the psychological & human darkness rather than in the direction of Universal Studios style monsters.
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