The psychological horror films produced at RKO by Val Lewton, in the brief but fertile span from 1942 to 1946, are really something special. They stand apart from the more flamboyant, monster-dominated thrillers that came out of Universal Studios in the 1930s. Lewton was a highly-educated, sensitive man who brought a subtlety and finely-tuned artistic sensibility to what was considered by many in the industry as a crass, "lowest common denominator" genre. He was far more interested in the horrors of the mind, and the kinds of psychological violence that man perpetuates on to others and torments himself with, than in any outright presence of the supernatural. There are plenty who might prefer the grab-you-by-the-throat monster menaces of Universal over the ambiguous, "is it real or imagined?" horrors that populate Lewton's works, but few can dispute the skill with which Lewton and his crew of talented collaborators made such powerful films out of such low means.
Starting with Cat People in 1942, Lewton created 9 short, polished little gems of unease and quiet, slowly-escalating terror, several of which are minor masterpieces of mood and atmosphere. Lewton and his directors (Jacques Tourneur, Robert Wise and Mark Robson), managed to eke out maximum production value from low budgets, through a combination of carefully-composed shots, inventive cinematography and a deliberate, thoughtful blending of the poetic and the macabre. Lewton's films are revered by fans of classic horror, who love to argue over the relative merits of his output. I happen to be partial to I Walked with a Zombie (a classy update of Jane Eyre set in Haiti, more melodrama than horror but gripping nonetheless) and Isle of the Dead (a somber meditation on war, disease, death and madness). All nine - even the comparatively unloved The Ghost Ship - remain fascinating works, and offer many rewards for the patient viewer.
Halloween has long been my favorite holiday, and October my favorite time of year. I love that the days are warm yet the nights cool. There's a nice crispness in the autumn air, the leaves change color and fall from the trees, there are pumpkins, corn husks and scary decorations everywhere...and of course, TV stations flood their schedules with horror movies and yearly specials. It doesn't hurt that my birthday falls in October, as well. I may have long outgrown trick or treating, dressing up in costume and visiting haunted house attractions, but a part of me always thrills each year as October dawns.
Growing up in the 70s, I was a regular viewer of monster movies; every Saturday would find me sprawled on the floor in front of our dinky 19 inch TV, eyes rapt, as KSTW Channel 11's Sci-Fi Theater unspooled monster movie hits both schlocky and sublime. Later, as teenagers are wont to do, I consumed more than my fair share of splatteriffic horror films, the gorier and grislier the better. As I've gotten older, my tolerance for such fare has diminished considerably...except for around this time of year. This season brings with it an incipient desire to curl up with a hefty collection of great ghost stories, to decorate my house with miniature pumpkins, bobble-head Frankensteins and witch window decals, and to comb through my DVD collection and indulge in a month-long monster bash.
Even though this blog wasn't around last Halloween, I thought I'd take a moment and share my thoughts on my own personal 2011 scary movie challenge. It was a banner year in my adult movie viewing life, as I made a concerted effort to watch as many genre flicks during last October as possible and, much to my surprise, managed a solid 36 films. (Note: This is total amateur hour compared to some online horror movie freaks and geeks out there, who regularly surpass 100 films in 31 days every year).
This year, various real life contingencies preclude me from attempting anything like that number again, but I do plan to chime in on a baker's dozen of spooky delights later in the month, so stay tuned. In the meantime, let's take a little trip back to this time last year in The Stalking Moon's video diary:
Opinionated ramblings about new and old movies (mostly old, as that's the way I like 'em!)
Blogs of Note
Stuart Galbraith IV's World Cinema Paradise
Movie Morlocks (TCM's Classic Movie Blog)
50 Westerns from the 50s
Riding the High Country
Tipping My Fedora
Thrilling Days of Yesteryear
Laura's Miscellaneous Musings
Classic TV and Film Cafe
Just a Cineast
She Blogged By Night
Chess, Comics, Crosswords, Books, Music, Cinema
Out of the Past -
A Classic Film Blog
Pretty Sinister Books
They Don't Make 'Em Like They Used To
In So Many Words...
Greenbriar Picture Shows
My Love of Old Hollywood
Tales of the Easily Distracted
Another Old Movie Blog
Lasso the Movies
Kevin's Movie Corner
Films From Beyond the Time Barrier
Carole & Co.
Rupert Pupkin Speaks
Vienna's Classic Hollywood
The Lady Eve's Reel Life
ClassicBecky's Brain Food
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