Kellee writes about classic film, family and life... all with a sassy Irish attitude and a flair for whimsy.
Thursday, October 25, 2012
Val Lewton: A Horror Original and Modern Influencer
When I discovered there was to be a Val Lewton blogathon hosted by twitter film pals Stephen aka @sreggie and Kristina aka @HQofK , I just had to to get in on the action. This post is part of the Val Lewton blogathon hosted by Stephen aka Classic Movie Man and Kristina of the Speakeasy blog.
I'm a fan of the horror genre. Not the typical youthful fan that enjoys 'the more blood splatter, the better' school of thought though. Most of the horror genre I love generally falls into 'classic horror' camp. I want to be scared in a slowly building process. I want the fear to hit me at the core only after it's gotten inside my head, in that more subtle way. When I think of a filmmaker who was masterful at doing this in a most beautiful way, I think of Val Lewton.
But in 1942, Lewton was offered a lucrative deal as head of the Horror Dept. for RKO. He was paid handsomely but his burden was to crank out horror flicks fast and furious on a low budget with catchy titles. RKO wanted to capture the same magic Universal experienced with it's line-up of horror genre films that headlined Karloff and Lugosi. Val Lewton had an uncanny ability to remain true to his responsibilities to please RKO, yet still managed to turn out his own magic within these low budget films. One of his most well-known of these RKO horror flicks was his very first production, Jacques Tourneur's CAT PEOPLE (1942).
What's key about these scenes and reflective of the Val Lewton style, is that they exhibit a building tension that is truly more terrifying that any typical blood fest film. With little dialogue and no tricks nor props, Lewton creates horror by getting inside our heads and arousing our senses slowly. Everything about Irena's character is sexual and primal in nature, just like a black sleek panther. The symbolism is haunting and erotic.
I've always been drawn to Lewton's style and any films that exhibit such similar style. I think Lewton's approach was unique and he was an original in horror genre and film-making. Impressive considering his low budget restraints. He influenced countless others but he was an original in creating this magnetic quality. It's said that he's influenced Alfred Hitchcock (whom he was instrumental in bringing to the U.S.), Martin Scorsese, George Romero and Robert Wise to name a few. Personally, when I think of the horror genre films that followed his productions, there are many who clearly took cue from the Lewton style book. One such example of an attempt at a Lewton style for me, is the popular TV show, F/X's "American Horror Story." Although it clearly infuses the modern elements of horror, it also blends in the Lewton influence. Now in it's 2nd season, this show takes moments to create a sexy, often primal tone. From it's characters to plot points, there is a decidedly sexual tension as the show moves through fascinating story lines.
I encourage you to test my theory. Please watch CAT PEOPLE (1942) and all of Val Lewton's productions, then watch horror films, especially films that followed by the aforementioned filmmakers and even "American Horror Story" and "American Horror Story:Asylum" (2nd season). Then, watch for potential connections of style and tone. Be sure to let me know if Lewton affects you in the same way and whether you see his ongoing influence today.
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Great post! I agree it's the horror "that gets inside your head" that gets a person the most.ReplyDelete
yes i agree, that's the key to great horror and to Lewton, the horrors you can relate to, and he covered more psychological scares in other genres too, not just in the straight horror movies. he left enough to the imagination that you could "make it personal". Thanks for taking part and and or a great post, linking Lewton to those that followed.ReplyDelete
Thanks Kristina! It was a fun blogathon. Could've gone deeper into this topic but ran short on time. Thanks for hosting!Delete
That makes three of us. Like Hitchcock, the horror in Lewton's films is mostly all in your head. With the proper setting and setup, what we think is happening is far scarier than what we could ever see on the screen. I think the scene in "The Seventh Victim" where the detective walks down a dark corridor while Kim Hunter's character watches him disappear in the darkness, sums up the Lewton "horror" style. What's happening the dark places where you can't see anything? Thanks for participating in the blogathon!ReplyDelete
"What's happening in the dark shadows" is exactly what Lewton asks of his audience. Great blogathon, Reggie. Thanks for promoting us writers and I appreciate you asking me to join! Thanks!!Delete
I also prefer the classic horror, not the blood and massacre. What I found more powerful in Lewton's films is his power of suggestion, we get scared by shadows and things we don't really seen on the screen.ReplyDelete
Don't forget to read my contribution to the blogathon! :)
Thanks so much, Le! I hope to read your blog by getting caught up on all my blog reading this weekend. Looking forward to it!Delete
Lol. I love this line... "I want the fear to hit me at the core only after it's gotten inside my head, in that more subtle way." - it's so true for sickos like us. We'd rather let the horror scar us for life, rather than a mere, cheap shock.ReplyDelete
Another great post, Kellee!
Ha ha! So happy you 'get me', Aurora! Two birds of a feather, are we! Thanks, sweetie!Delete