Filmmaker Val Lewton was hired by RKO to make movies to rival the Universal monster movies that had made that studio tons of money. Lewton took a different approach to the scary movie. With a smaller budget than Universal, Lewton managed to create a slate of psychological, atmospheric films that hold up today.
Cat People (1942)
Based on Lewton’s own short story, Cat People tells the story of a young Serbian woman, Irena, who believes herself to be a descendant of a race of people who turn into cats when angered. Costing only $141,659 ($7,000 under budget), it brought in almost $4 million in its first two years and saved the studio from financial disaster, cause primarily by Orson Welles. Add to your Netflix queue.
I Walked with a Zombie (1943)
Lewton wrote this as a version of Jane Eyre in the Caribbean. A nurse is hired to move to a tropical island to take care of a woman who exhibits strange sleepwalking behavior. She also attempts to navigate the world of the voodoo traditions. Add to your Netflix queue.
Revisiting the idea of catlike violence, Leopard Man explores the characteristics of a serial killer. What starts as a publicity stunt for a nightclub act, turns into a frightening hunt for the culprit. Add to your Netflix queue.
The Seventh Victim (1943)
Perhaps not the strongest storyline of Lewton’s films, it is still notable for its unsettling atmosphere and creative camerawork. A young woman stumbles on an underground cult in Greenwich Village, while searching for her missing sister. Add to your Netflix queue.
A young officer believes his ship’s captain is mentally unbalanced and endangering the lives of the crew. The ship’s crew, however, thinks it is the vessel that haunted and cursed, as several mysterious deaths occur. Add to your Netflix queue.
The Curse of the Cat People (1944)
Following the death of his wife Irina in the first film, Oliver Reed moves to Tarrytown, New York, remarries and has a small girl. Their daughter is visited by the spirit of Irina who keeps a loving eye on her. Add to your Netflix queue.
The Body Snatcher (1945)
Based on the story by Robert Louis Stevenson, it stars Boris Karloff as an unscrupulous carriage driver turned grave robber. Influenced by the Burke and Hare murders and the acts of Dr. Knox, the film ends with a brilliant action scene. Add to your Netflix queue.
Isle of the Dead (1945)
In Isle of the Dead, Karloff plays a general quarantined during a battlefield plague with a group of people haunted by peasant superstitions of vampiric demons. It was inspired by a painting of the same name by Arnold Böcklin. Add to your Netflix queue.
Anna Lee is wrongfully imprisoned in the Bedlam asylum by a dastardly Boris Karloff. He is attempting to silence her for the poor conditions in the asylum, so she must leverage the inmates’ anger to effect change. Add to your Netflix queue.
Do you have a favorite Val Lewton movie?
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