Every month A Place for Film will bring you a selection of films from our group of regular bloggers. Even though these films aren’t currently being screened at the IU Cinema, this series will reflect the varied programming that can be found at the Cinema, as well as demonstrate the eclectic tastes of the bloggers. Each contributor has picked one film that they saw this month that they couldn’t wait to share with others. Keep reading to find out what discoveries these cinephiles have made, as well as some of the old friends they’ve revisited.
Jesse Pasternack, contributor | The Seventh Victim (1943)
I have admired writer/producer Val Lewton since I saw the documentary Val Lewton: The Man in the Shadows as a kid. He excelled at creating horror films that had a unique tone that was realistic, slightly surreal, and terrifying all at once. Of all of his films, the one that most neatly manages the trick of encapsulating this style but also pushes it to darker depths is the cult classic The Seventh Victim.
The Seventh Victim follows Mary Gibson as she searches for her missing sister Jacqueline in New York City. Mary discovers that Jacqueline got involved with a Satanic cult called the Palladists which tries to kill its members who they feel “betrayed” them. Mary tries to save her increasingly vulnerable sister from the vengeful Palladists.
This film achieves some of its scares in part because of its use of realism. The Palladists, when we finally meet them, are dressed in normal clothes and talk about whether to end Jacqueline’s life as if they were debating about where they should go out to eat. This makes the story’s events more frightening because they seem like something that could happen to you or someone you know. Nevertheless, Lewton and director Mark Robson make great use of stylized visuals to drive home Jacqueline’s despair. The combination of these two different modes of storytelling — realism and surrealism — results in a film that was just as terrifying today as it was in 1943.
Lewton and his collaborators were also unafraid in this film to explore the darker side of humanity. They offer an unsparing look at the ruthlessness of the Palladists, and give their leader the chance to articulate his philosophy. A rebuttal to them delivered by Mary’s ally Dr. Judd doesn’t take away from the film’s bleak ending, which still has the power to shock.
Each of Lewton’s films is unique. There is even one that is set on a Caribbean island that was the subject of a piece by my colleague Jack Miller. But The Seventh Victim is an excellent example of the special tone that worked across genres to help make Val Lewton’s work some of the most memorable and strange horror films of the 1940s.
You can view the trailer here.
Jack Miller, contributor | Lisa and the Devil (1973)
Like many people during the month of October, I’ve spent a great deal of my time watching films of the horror variety. In particular, the director that I’ve most enjoyed exploring has been Mario Bava (1914-1980), the great Italian genre filmmaker. Bava films are, above all, sensuous aesthetic experiences: the ravishing intensity of his images is often startling to behold. Bava’s cinema typically synthesizes a kind of quasi-Victorian romanticism (which veers toward notions of the gothic, the sublime, and the non-rational) with a powerful sense of smoldering, decayed atmospherics, replete with melting candles, wigged-out camera movements, and colored gel lighting techniques which imbue his work with the entrancing illusion of heat.
There are quite a few Bava films which I can recommend enthusiastically, including The Whip and the Body (1963), perhaps the filmmaker’s most obsessive and profound expression of romantic doom, as well as A Bay of Blood (1971), a gorgeous proto-slasher rendered in surreal illumination. In some respects my favorite Bava picture is one of his late works, the mysterious and personal supernatural-horror film Lisa and the Devil (1973), a text which may be placed within the Alice in Wonderland tradition in that it deals with a woman who “falls down the rabbit hole,” if you will, into a baroque realm of non-rationality, terror, and artistic creation.
In the context of the film, the romanticist portal or “rabbit hole” is embodied by a deliciously-colored gothic manor, populated by a few anguished souls who are forced to restage centuries of generational trauma. Lisa (Elke Sommer) stumbles into this scenario quite by chance, and becomes implicated in its play-within-a-play of Victorian melodrama and domestic abuse (the theatrical trappings of which bare some resemblance to Jacques Rivette’s Celine and Julie Go Boating of 1974), all of which is overseen by a psychotic, lollipop-sucking Satanic figure, played with aplomb by Telly Savalas. The devil, who creates life-size wax replicas of the dead artistocratic family members, might be read as a kind of surrogate for Bava himself, and in this regard the film can be read as a kind of personal testament on the part of the filmmaker, a reflexive study on horror and the death-image. Lisa and the Devil is a very strange and beautiful masterpiece that deserves to be more widely seen, and it’s available in an excellent Blu-ray edition from Kino Lorber.
Warning: this trailer contains adult content.
Michaela Owens, Editor | Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)
My favorite recent addition to my annual Halloween film rotation has been Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, a hilarious mash-up of the comedic stylings of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello and the iconic Universal monsters Dracula (Bela Lugosi), the Wolf Man (Lon Chaney, Jr.), and Frankenstein’s Monster (Glenn Strange). From the fantastic animated opening credits to the final scene’s perfect use of an uncredited Vincent Price, this film is a non-stop delight.
While I love all of the goofy hijinks, I’m also blown away by what a well-crafted movie it is. Charles Van Enger’s cinematography is drop-dead gorgeous; the special effects are beautifully silly; the 83-minute runtime is exactly right; and much of its imagery, including repeated close-ups of different characters’ eyes, is wonderfully spooky. The strong female leads are great as well, especially Lenore Aubert as Costello’s cooing girlfriend who turns out to be an evil scientist out to harvest his brain.
Laura Ivins, contributor | Out of Tune (2019)
Earlier this month I had the opportunity to attend the Oaxaca Film Fest, a large, multilingual festival in Oaxaca, Mexico. As a general rule, festivals can be overwhelming and at some point many films start to run together. However, one short I saw was utterly unique in content and visual style. Conceived by a musician (Aaron With) who wanted to build a story out of sonic concepts, Out of Tune focuses on a journeyman with a supernova body who must continually correct sonic vandalism. It was the most visually and aurally distinctive film I saw at the festival, and I loved how it took advantage of a Mexico City sculptural park for its location.
You can find the trailer here.