Wednesday, October 12, 2011

My 5 Fave Val Lewton Produced Films!

1. Bedlam (1946)
Bedlam brings out that core fear of the thin line between what is sane and what is insanity. This film introduced me, as a kid, to the notion that those in charge of care may be more demented than those who are to be cared for. The idea that someone could be placed and destroyed for personal gain through manipulation and institutional corruption is more frightening than the lunatic running around screaming vile and threatening things. The lunatic shows you up front what to expect but the corrupt one greets you with big teeth and polite conversation! Plus this film gave me a sense that right always wins out in the end and karma can be a crazed bitch!
Nell Bowen, the spirited protege of rich Lord Mortimer, becomes interested in the conditions of notorious St. Mary's of Bethlehem Asylum (Bedlam). Encouraged by the Quaker Hannay, she tries to bring support to reforming Bedlam, but the cruel Master Sims who runs it has her committed there. The inmates, however, have the last say.

2. I Walked With A Zombie (1943)
This film was pure emotion and drama at its best. The melodrama and the musical score combined to keep me suspended in a frozen state. Late night on TBS I watched this film and learned of Voodoo, which was the first time I ever heard the word and that then lead to countless hours in the library that following morning researching the stuff. This film also helped solidify my love for old black and white horror movies.
Hired as a nurse to go to a San Sebastian sugar plantation to care for a patient, Canadian-born Betsy Connell (Frances Dee) is instructed by Paul Holland (Tom Conway) to care for his invalid wife Jessica (Christine Gordon), a woman who appears to be in an extreme state of aloofness. Paul is guilt-ridden by the thought that his wife's condition is his fault, and the knowledge that his alcoholic half-brother Wesley Rand (James Ellison) has been in love with Jessica for many years. Betsy begins to consider possible cures for Jessica, but Mrs. Holland (Edith Barrett) asserts that everything has been tried by every expert, event the private doctor on the plantation. Eventually Betsy begins to believe that Jessica is a zombie, a condition cured only by the mystic Voodoo high priests of the island. Betsy takes Jessica to a local voodoo encampment but Mrs. Holland is there consulting with the local priests who distrust Betsy and make her take Jessica home. Later that night a zombie slave Carrefour (Darby Jones) comes to take Jessica away but he is rebuffed by Paul who confesses to Betsy that his love for Jessica has died and that he wants to take Betsy away from the island. Mrs. Holland then confesses that she entered into a voodoo ritual to cast a spell on Jessica when she threatened to run away with Rand and destroy the marriage between her and Paul.

3. The Curse Of The Cat People (1944)
I only watched this film because of the first film “Cat People” which I only saw after the 1982 film “Cat People”.  I was one of those kids glued to late night television clinging to the traumatic and melodrama’s of the tortured souls in the tube. Still am, too!
4. Cat People (1942)
For me this film was just as good as the later 1982 version minus the nudity and maturity that came with later thrillers that I love! It brought out a fear that every damn cat running the neighborhood just might be some lady that was gonna eat me. I had a very vivid imagination as a child! This is a classic dramatic and emotional story that gets to the heart of Anglo-pean fear of ethnic peoples that our ancestors warned us about because they were prone to loose moral character and deviance. What a silly and prejudicial thing to think but it is how they felt for the most part and that is what I come away from this film thinking. However it is a great entertaining piece of cinema.
An American man marries a Serbian immigrant who fears that she will turn into the cat person of her homeland's fables if they are intimate together.

5. Isle Of The Dead (1945)
A great film about old world superstitions during a little mentioned event in American History, The First World War. This film brought to me the notion that dead people could come back and plagues could transform the normal into the paranormal. This was of coarse before my later days as a youth watching countless video rentals where I stumbled upon Romero's “Night Of The Living Dead”.
On a Greek island during the 1912 war, several people are trapped by quarantine for the plague. If that isn't enough worry, one of the people, a superstitious old peasant woman, suspects one young girl of being a vampiric kind of demon called a vorvolaka.

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