I Walked with a Zombie: Special Edition

Warner Home Video releases this wonderfully chilling Val Lewton Horror Collection in time for Halloween. The five-disc collection includes three double-feature discs: Cat People/Curse of the Cat People, I Walked with a Zombie/The Body Snatcher and Isle of the Dead/Bedlam, each of which is also available separately.

Rounding out the collection are two additional discs exclusive to the gift set collection: The Leopard Man/The Ghost Ship and The Seventh Victim which is double-billed with a new bonus documentary about the famous RKO producer, Shadows in the Dark: The Val Lewton Legacy.

Universal may have been the king of 1930s horror genre, but RKO and Val Lewton held the crown in the 1940s with this landmark series of unforgettable films. Lewton’s skill as a producer and writer are the reason these films have remained immensely popular.

Val Lewton’s Career

In 1942, when RKO was suffering financial difficulties, the studio decided to follow Universal and start a unit to make inexpensive horror B-movies, just for profit. The studio put producer Val Lewton in charge and gave him a series of tiny budgets and lurid pre-tested titles. They wanted shorter films (under 75 minutes) so two could be shown together on double-bills. Because RKO was concerned only with the bottom line, they also gave him a relatively free hand creatively.

Between 1942 and 1946, Lewton produced eleven films (nine of which were in the horror genre), turning those meager studio resources into momentous works of psychological terror that infused the horror genre with a new intelligence and literary luster.

Lewton created his great legacy by emphasizing the fear of the unseen instead of focusing on special effects. Additionally he hired young filmmakers who had yet to prove their worth, but were amazingly talented — Jacques Tourneur, Robert Wise and Mark Robson direct all films in this collection.

Lewton is also noted for another horror tactic, one that has since become the basis for what is now a standard horror movie device known as The Bus.” Lewton first used it in Cat People. A woman is trailed by someone as she walks through dark city streets. As she hurries along, music, sound effects, lighting and editing stress that something terribly ominous is about to happen. Suddenly, a hissing, screeching roar fills the sound track. The woman puts up one arm, as if to defend herself, and we realize the roar is a just a bus coming to a stop. The door opens, the bus driver routinely asks the stunned woman whether shes coming aboard and the woman gets on. The bus driver shakes his head, as if greeting a crazy person, and the bus pulls away.

I Walked with a Zombie/The Body Snatcher

This double bill features two great Val Lewton classics which are based on literary sources. Using the gothic romance of Jane Eyre reset in the West Indies, director Jacques Tourneur and Lewton created I Walked with a Zombie, noted for its overriding terror of the living dead. Frances Dee plays the nurse who witnesses the strange power of voodoo.

Boris Karloff, the most celebrated star in the history of screen horror, stars in the title role in the Lewton adaptation of Robert Louis Stevensons The Body Snatcher, directed with subtle calculation by versatile young Robert Wise. A doctor (Henry Daniell) needs cadavers for medical studies and Karloff is willing to provide them one way or another. This film includes Karloffs famous scene with fellow horror icon Bela Lugosi.

Bonus content on the DVD includes:
Commentary by:
o Film historians Kim Newman and Steve Jones on I Walked with a Zombie
o Director Robert Wise with Steve Haberman on The Body Snatcher
Theatrical Trailers
Subtitles: English, Franais & Espaol (Feature Films Only).