Val Lewton Horror Films: Cat People, I Walked with a Zombie

Cat People/Curse of the Cat People
I Walked with a Zombie/The Body Snatcher
Isle of the Dead/Bedlam

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.

The Lewton Double Features

Cat People and Curse of the Cat People

Cat People/Curse of the Cat PeopleCat People, directed by Jacques Tourneur (Out of the Past, I Walked with a Zombie), is the trailblazing first of Lewtons nine horror classics. The film stars Simone Simon portraying a bride who fears an ancient hex will turn her into a deadly panther when shes in passions grip.

Simon returns in The Curse of the Cat People, a sequel that has become a landmark study of a troubled child that proved to be so astute it has been used in college psychology classes. This gothic-laced mix of fantasy and fright marks Robert Wises directorial debut.

The double-feature DVD extra content includes:
Commentary on both movies by Historian Greg Mank, with audio interview excerpts of Simone Simon
Theatrical trailers
Subtitles: English, Franais & Espaol (Feature Films Only).

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).

The Leopard Man/The Ghost Ship

The Leopard Man and Ghhost Ship are two more gems from innovative producer Val Lewton in which he returns to the theme of living dead to instill horror. In The Leopard Man, an escaped leopard provides the catalyst for a foray into fear in which castanets clack wildly, a cemetery is a rendezvous for death and love, and a closed door heightens rather than hides the horror of a young girls fate. Its the third and final teaming of producer Lewton and director Jacques Tourneur.

Director Mark Robson (Bedlam, Peyton Place) helms the brilliant nautical thriller The Ghost Ship. Richard Dix (Cimarron, The Whistler series) plays the sinister captain whose port of call may be madness.

Double-feature DVD extra content includes:
Commentary by Director William Friedkin on The Leopard Man
Theatrical Trailer of The Leopard Man
Subtitles: English, Franais & Espaol (Feature Films Only).

Isle of the Dead/Bedlam

Boris Karloff headlines these two atmospheric works filled with producer Val Lewtons trademark mix of mood, madness and premeditated dread. In Isle of the Dead Boris Karloff shares a quarantined house with other strangers on a plague-infested and perhaps spirit-haunted island.

St. Marys of Bethlehem Asylum in 1761 London provides the setting for Bedlam. Here, Karloff gives an uncanny performance as the doomed overseer who fawns on high-society benefactors while ruling the mentally disturbed inmates with an iron fist. Mark Robson, who edited three films for Lewton and directed five, guides both of these films.

DVD special features include:
Commentary on Bedlam by Film Historian Tom Weaver
Subtitles: English, Franais & Espaol (Feature Films Only).

The Seventh Victim

The Seventh Victim is Val Lewtons stunner about a Greenwich Village devil cult where six people have broken the clandestine groups code of silence. The same six appear to have died as a result. Now a new member of the group has gone missing. Will she meet the same fate Kim Hunter debuts as a schoolgirl whose search for her vanished sister unearths an urban lair of devil worshippers. Mark Robson directs the first of his five Lewton films, bringing dark foreboding to moments that include a much-noted pre-Psycho shower scene and a shocker of a subway encounter.

DVD special features include:
Commentary by Film Historian Steve Haberman
New Documentary Shadows in the Dark: The Val Lewton Legacy narrated by James Cromwell and features interviews with Val Lewton, Jr., Sara Karloff and directors George Romero, Joe Dante, John Landis, William Friedkin and Robert Wise
Theatrical Trailer
Subtitles: English, Franais & Espaol (Feature Film Only).