|Index||9 reviews in total|
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
When there's something I enjoy as much as the Val Lewton movies, I simply cannot get enough information. Shadows in the Dark: The Val Lewton Legacy is a fascinating look at the man and his work. The documentary covers everything from Lewton's arrival in America as a child to his early work for David O. Selznick to the nine horror films he made for RKO. The stories and details of Lewton's life and films are presented through a series of interviews with experts on cinema, directors and screenwriters working today, and Lewton's son. The documentary obviously focuses and spends most of its runtime on the RKO period. The film makes it clear that what I've come to know as the "Lewton Look" was as much a budgetary issue as a conscious decision on his part. The only complaint I have is that it wasn't longer.
With a collection of Hollywood horror big guns talking about the films
they love, this documentary on the life and career of Val Lewton is
bound to make make you want to dive into his best known horror films.
Focusing on the nine horror films that Letwton made for RKO this film is as much about what is scary and the horror film's changing face as it is about its subject. Lewton, he produced the films and had input on the scripts, pretty much changed the face of horror as we know it. Gone were the monsters we could see, killed mostly due to budgetary considerations, and in their place we were given monsters of the mind, with horrors we never saw, only imagined. The films ended up being scarier as a result because the monster could be what ever we imagined it to be and not a man in a suit. Lewton's work foreshadowed the films of the 1960's including Hitchcock's Psycho.
This is a breezy 53 minutes that really only suffers in that you don't want it to end. Packaged as part of a DVD box set of the films, I'm hard pressed as when to say you should watch the film, before you dive into the films or after. I don't think it matters so long as you see it.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The contribution made by Val Lewton and his group to horror films is
quite important in the history of the genre and this documentary has
some big names of that genre telling you why.
For the uninitiated it might be a double edged sword. Watching this WILL tell you why you really need to see his 9 horror films made for RKO if you are truly interested in the genre (and probably even if you aren't considering how his films strayed from the traditional formula for horror films at that time at studios like Universal). The problem is that if you watch this documentary before seeing any of the films in it (most specifically 'Leopard Man', 'Seventh Victim') you will undermine the effect a few of those films' best scenes could have had on you in their first viewing. It even gives away the ending of 'Seventh Victim'.
This film does a good job of pointing out why Lewton's films are still effective when others of the period seem dated and tells you how much these films have helped to influence others working in the horror genre. It could be argued that the things discussed in the documentary could just as easily be stated in a good book about Lewton, but its nice to see some big names in horror saying them (writers like Richard Matheson and Neil Gaiman, directors like George A. Romero and William 'Exorcist' Friedkin, etc.).
I recommend watching this but only after seeing the films it discusses. Since it was made as part of a DVD set of Lewton's 9 horror films, you probably have those movies with you anyways, so please watch them first. Watching this first is almost like popping in a DVD of a movie you've never seen and watching the commentary track before you've even seen the film.
Legendary producer Val Lewton who made some of the scariest horror films of all time finally gets a documentary about his life and the movies. It quickly (but fully) covers his early life and explains how he got to work for RKO Pictures and produce "The Cat People", "I Walked With a Zombie", "Bedlam", "The Body Snatcher", "The Leopard Man", "Isle of the Dead", the long unseen "Ghost Ship" and "The Seventh Victim". "Curse of the Cat People" is pretty much ignored but that's understandable--it's not really a horror film despite the title. They talk to coworkers, relatives, friends, other horror directors and film historians who get into how he made the films and why they're so important. What I find most interesting is that the studios GAVE him the titles and told him to make a story out of the title! It's incredible what classics he made with no money and just a title to work on. If you're a fan of his horror films (like me) you'll find this absolutely riveting. At 53 minutes it also doesn't wear out its welcome. Just fascinating. A 10 all the way.
For many average film-goers the name of Val Lewton means absolutely nothing. For genre enthusiasts(in horror)the name begins to have greater meaning, and if you are a horror fan of the the horror films of the 30s and 40s - then Val Lewton is not just an important name but a giant. Val Lewton was a producer that produced a group of atmospherically charged, elegantly filmed, subtly contexed films from a period roughly from 1942 to 1945 or so. These films were horror films that were meant to help dig RKO out of the mire that Orson Welles had put them in with his Citizen Kane and The Magnificent Ambersons. RKO would give Lewton a title and he would assemble the script, the director, the crew team, the actors, and then blend them all together to make not only viable box office hits but some of the most powerfully symbolic, metaphorical, suggestive horror films ever made. Included in these films were Cat People, I Walked with a Zombie, The Body Snatcher, and The Leopard Man. Shadows in the Dark chronicles Lewton's impact in the genre and gives us some information about his life. It is a short(53) minutes that goes by very pleasantly and leaves you wanting to know more about the man and his films. Horror icons and writers such as George Romero, William Freidkin, Richard Matheson, and so on give their takes on the legacy of Lewton and his films. Val Lewton's son is on hand to probably give the best insights into the world of his father. This is a wonderful documentary that comes with the five disc set released in 2005 with 9 of Lewton;s films. Although the documentary is very engaging and has lots of information in it I had not realized, I had wished that they would have examined each film in a bit more depth. It certainly left me hungering for more.
Documentary about the great 1940s horror movie producer Val Lewton,
featured on the 2005 DVD release "The Val Lewton Horror Collection."
You will learn how Lewton saved RKO by making successful B-movies between 1942 and 1946. How he opposed the idea of "Gone With the Wind", which was a mistake on Lewton's part. How he inspired Richard Matheson to write Lewton a letter, and thus change the history of horror cinema... no Matheson, no great horror of the 1960s!
John Landis calls Cat People's ethics "demented" and sees a lot of sexuality in the plot. Was it there? Maybe. Others have commented on the sexuality and homosexuality of Lewton's films, including "Cat People" and "The Seventh Victim". Was he a more clever script writer than already given credit for?
Serviceable rather than outstanding documentary (close to one hour in
length) about Val Lewton, the celebrated producer of a series of nine
classic - and highly influential - horror films made at RKO in the
1940s; it's part of Warner's 5-Disc THE VAL LEWTON COLLECTION Box Set
(included as a double-feature with THE SEVENTH VICTIM ).
Apart from the films themselves (which are dealt with in more detail - though not all of them! - in the individual Audio Commentaries on their respective discs), it touches upon his entire life and career. Therefore, I was somewhat disappointed to find that CAT PEOPLE (1942) takes up a lot of the running-time - having been the first film in the series - while THE GHOST SHIP (1943) and ISLE OF THE DEAD (1945) are once again overlooked; in fact, the three Boris Karloff films are discussed simultaneously - with, for instance, BEDLAM (1946) cited as being Lewton's best film but with no proper context provided to back up such a statement (with which many would argue to begin with, myself included)!
Still, all the participants - including film-makers such as Joe Dante, William Friedkin, John Landis, George A. Romero and Robert Wise (at the time, the sole surviving member of Lewton's "Snake Pit" unit), as well as the critics/writers who contributed to the various Audio Commentaries (it was especially nice to be able to see the face behind the voice) - are clearly well-informed, enthusiastic and reverential about their subject, so that, in the end, the documentary proves well worth viewing (if not the penetrating look at the man himself - what really made him tick, essentially - one would have wished for).
Shadows in the Dark (2005)
*** 1/2 (out of 4)
Another wonderful documentary from Warner, this time covering the career of Val Lewton and the nine horror films he made for RKO. The documentary does a great job at showing how Orson Welles pretty much destroyed RKO and how Lewton's horror films saved the studio from going out of business. As usual there's a lot of historians and fans talking about the films, which is always fun to see. It's also nice to see these horror films get their due on DVD. The one downfall with the film is that there's really not too much known about Lewton so this leads to a lot of questions not getting answered.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Between 1942 and 1946 the Russian immigrant Val Lewton produced a
series of low-budget, B-level horror movies for the almost-bankrupt RKO
Studios and turned most of them into near masterpieces.
The grandiose Orson Welles had practically demolished RKO with "Citizen Kane" and "The Magnificent Ambersons" and the studio was in desperate need of money. The studio heads looked towards Universal Studios, raking in the shekels with one monster movie after another -- "Frankenstein," "The Bride of Frankenstein," "The House of Frankenstein," "The Briss of the Son of Frankenstein." They all made hordes of dough. Well, then, why not have Val Lewton, who was working in a story department, produce some imitations?
A good idea. They told Lewton he could hire anyone on the RKO payroll and use standing sets, which saved a great deal in the way of expense. The vast staircase that RKO had built for Welles' "The Magnificent Ambersons" could now be put to use as an inclined plane for some hairy monster. Lewton didn't get to choose his titles though. The studio threw them at him. And look at the hand Lewton was dealt.
The Cat People, The Curse of the Cat People, I Walked With a Zombie, The Leopard Man, Bedlam, The Ghost Ship, The Body Snatcher, The Seventh Victim
Has there ever been a list of titles with less promise?
But Lewton pretty much fooled all of them. While the moguls ignored him, Lewton, the Russian anxiety neurotic, ground out some of the most literate and scary scripts the psychological horror genre has ever known.
There's no space here to go over Lewton's biography, which this documentary treats in just enough detail, nor to limn an aesthetic appreciation of his work, which narrator James Cromwell and a dozen talking heads do satisfactorily.
It's just worth noting that nothing quite like Lewton's films had been done before. In Lewton's movies no human being in a shaggy monster costume ever descended that Amberson staircase. The horror was always in the ominous, noirish shadows and the slight but unsettling sounds that might become a monstrous hiss or screech at any moment.
I don't know that today's kids would find these films particularly likable today, or scary, for that matter. Nobody's head gets wrenched off. Screams are infrequent. Lewton's characters speak in polite tones, logically, quietly, urbanely. He was a perfectionist in this regard and in some others, such as set dressing and source music. He made certain his characters had full lives and were fully fleshed out and were propelled by realistic mixed motives.
People were seen at their jobs, for instance -- a teacher sings along with her kids, a nurse cares for her patient. In his first movie, "The Cat People," Lewton even managed to stage a couple of scenes in the offices of a marine engineer! He always edited and rewrote the final draft of the script, so although he worked with two different directors, the actual "auteur" in his films was Lewton himself.
The movies tended towards fatalism. Lewton was often ill. He died at forty-six. And he was constantly worried that he would be fired. Maybe that influenced his work. He provided "more clouds of gray than any Russian play could guarantee." How often, in a movie of the 1940s, does a heroine, who is being pursued by a band of devil worshipers intent on killing her, finally give up all hope, say "the hell with it," and hang herself, as happens in his most despairing movie, "The Seventh Victim"?
It's a splendidly done appreciation of Lewton, his colleagues, and their work. The subtlety of his films is sadly missed today.
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