I first watched this film almost 50 years ago and it scared the pants off me. I have never forgotten the experience, still evoked by repeat viewings, although I am now on the sofa rather than behind and have graduated into long trousers (bicycle clips optional). Based on a Burke and Hare theme from Robert Louis Stevenson's story, producer Val Lewton has created a superb film of gruesome terror with an impeccable cast. Dr 'Toddy' MacFarlane (Henry Daniell) is an eminent surgeon- anatomist and researcher in a medical school in 1830s Edinburgh. He is assisted by his student protege Donald Fettes (Russell Wade). He needs cadavers for his knowledge to progress, the fresher the better rather than stiff. There is a shortage of this material.He pays an unscrupulous cabman,John Gray (Boris Karloff) to supply the dead bodies. With the upsurge in body snatching,graveyards are guarded and Gray compensates for this by selecting and murdering victims for MacFarlane. MacFarlane finds out but Gray knows of the doctor's past misdemeanours giving him the upper hand when MacFarlane tries to bribe him to leave Edinburgh (he refuses). Fettes eventually realises where the material for his dissection classes is coming from and is implored to leave the school before fate befalls him. Macfarlane's servant-janitor, the shifty Joseph (Bela Lugosi) quietly eavesdrops on the daily events and duly tells Gray "I know you kill people to sell bodies", making the mistake of attempting to blackmail Gray. The frustrations of MacFarlane with the perverse Gray lead to a memorable, inevitable clash and film climax.
Authentically shot under Robert Wise's direction, the film depicts a symbiotic relationship between two characters who are motivated by their individual needs.
Boris Karloff,although not a 'monster' as such, is palpably menacing, drifting between the daylight cabman and the foggy shadowy Scottish night producing an atmospheric mesmerising effect. Behind his soft voice is a villainous, menacing stare real enough to frighten all and sundry. Henry Daniell's doctor is played convincingly as a man with conflicting interests of his work with the necessity of dealing with a "crawling graveyard rat" who is like "a cancer" (Karloff) who he knows is vindictive. Their plights may be dissimilar but are brought together by circumstance. Lugosi's part is small but he adds to the feeling of creepiness especially on screen with Karloff (the last time they appeared together).
This,to me, is psychological horror as good as it gets. Moral issues and humanity may be set in the script and performances but ultimately this is a gripping scary movie of 5 star quality. Unforgettable.
on 27 November 2013
The Val Lewton collection of films 9 are boxed here, is quite simply some of the greatest horror/drama/suspense films of all time. It's a magnificent box set. The pairing of RKO later bought by Howard Hughes and Val Lewton was a short marriage, but a marriage made in heaven. Lewtons films quite rightly come under horror, but there is so much suspense and suggestion that, non horror fans will love this too. Basically if you love film you will love this.
Included are the following:
The Cat People- stars Simone Simon, Kent Smith and Jane Randolph to name a few, these players come back for a sequel also. This film is probably the best known work of Lewton's but I wouldn't say it is his best- still a wonderful atmospheric film.
The Curse of the Cat People- is a near masterpiece, that deals with child psychology in quite a manner. Special mention must go to the then 8 year old little girl, what a performance she puts in. Went off the radar though by the 50s.
The Leopard Man is one of my favouites on the set. Brilliant acting from Margo-. What a fantastic film.
The Ghost Ship considering it's lack of story is strangely a very engaging film. Again it's a film ahead of it's time and the dialogue is superb.
Boris Karloff was thankfully in Val Lewtons movies and what an actor! Isle of the Dead, Bedlam and the quite superb The Body Snatchers. All covered in great acting, cinematography and direction, not to mention dialogue that was sent from the heavens.
Box set is rounded off by I Walked with a Zombie and the 7th Victim, both classics. You may have heard me say, superb and classics quite a lot, but I cannot lie, these films really are. I'd go as far as to say that this is the best box set of films put together that I have. Theres a bonus doc of Lewtons life, well worth it.
on 15 August 2009
This set features 9 movies,cat people ,curse of the cat people,isle of the dead,bedlam,I walked with a zombie,seventh victim,the body snatcher,leopard man and ghost ship.With stars such as boris karloff,simone simon,tom conway,kent smith and kim hunter.Directors jacques tourneur,mark robson(earthquake)and robert wise.Seven of the movies have commentaries,by the likes of william friedkin,kim newman,steve haberman,robert wise,tom weaver and greg mank with audio interview excerpts by simone simon.There is a documentary "shadows in the dark;the legacy of val lewton"(53:20) and one extra documentary,that was not in the previous set,"man in the shadows"(76:36),the latter is presented by Martin Scorcese.For around £30 you cant go wrong.I am most looking forward to body snatcher,the two cat people movies and bedlam,and of course the two documentaries.
Val Lewton was that Hollywood anomaly: A creative producer, but whose talents never exceeded the B-movie environment in which he operated. The result was a series of horror films made fast and on the cheap but which, 60 years later, still have enough interest to qualify for their own genre: The endearing horror movie. Through the happenstance of Lewton's ability to attract and work with some talented (and inexpensive) directors and writers, we now have the opportunity to watch these nine movies. Some, notably Bedlam and The Body Snatchers, are very good. Some, like The Leopard Man, are eerily satisfying. Sit back and enjoy.
Says psychiatrist Dr. Louis Judd to Irena Reed, his reluctant patient. He is describing the things they have just talked about. "...and the cat women of your village...women who in jealousy or anger or out of their own corrupt passions can change into great cats, like panthers. And if one of these women were to fall in love, and her lover was to kiss her and to take her into his embrace, she would be driven by her own evil to kill him." As we can tell, Irena may have a problem. Her husband may have an even worse one.
THE CURSE OF THE CAT PEOPLE:
Great potential within limited means, and then the slow leak of air from the balloon. The Curse of the Cat People pulls together Simone Simon, Kent Smith and Jane Randolph from Cat People. This time, however, despite great photography and some eerie situations, the pieces simply fall apart. There is some tension and suspense, but to no great purpose. We just wind up knowing more than we want to about the needs of lonely children.
I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE:
"Everything seems beautiful because you don't understand," says Paul Holland (Tom Conway) to nurse Betsy Connell (Frances Dee), on their voyage to Haiti where she will take care of his seriously ill wife. "Those flying fish, they're jumping in terror because bigger fish want to eat them. That luminous water...it takes its gleam from millions of tiny dead bodies, the glitter of putrescence..." If that attitude isn't enough to be off-putting, Betsy discovers that Holland's "ill" wife may well be a zombie. The movie veers into melodramatic silliness; still, there's plenty of eerie atmosphere.
THE BODY SNATCHER:
For a low-budget, B movie horror quickie, The Body Snatcher holds up remarkably well. The horror is in the situation, not the actors' make-up or the staggering around of corpses. Corpses there are, but they're freshly dug up, and their purpose is not to grasp and choke, but to be dissected by a complex and morally ambiguous surgeon. We're watching a duel, as director Robert Wise says, between the two lead characters. Henry Daniell, the surgeon, and Boris Karloff, who provides bodies, pull off the trick of combining distaste, arrogance and mutual need.
ISLE OF THE DEAD:
This programmer is a good example of why B movies are B movies. The story could be interesting: A small group of people in an isolated setting are forced to deal with a threat to their lives. In the course of the movie some will live and some will die, some will prove brave and some will go mad. "The vorvolaka still lives," whispers the crone of a housekeeper, "rose-cheeked and full of blood!" Even with ripe dialogue like this, the movie becomes predictable.
Bedlam was not successful at the box office yet was probably the best constructed of Lewton's films. Along with The Body Snatchers, it stands up as a compelling story with solid dialogue and better acting than we've come to expect from Lewton's films. Boris Karloff, in a performance of skill and complexity, plays Master George Sims, the ruler of St. Mary's of Bethlehem Asylum in London...a forbidding hulk of a stone building. Bedlam, for short. The time is 1761. Bedlam is the place where the insane are sent, as well as inconvenient or embarrassing relatives. Nell Bowen (Anna Lee), is the smart, privileged and arrogant protege of a fat English lord. When she meets Sims, her dislike is instant. Before long, Mistress Bowen finds herself committed to Bedlam and must find a way to expose Sims. Bedlam is a clever and well-made film.
THE LEOPARD MAN:
Sure, The Leopard Man is a cheap B movie, but I like it a lot. It only runs 66 minutes and it packs a lot of craftsmanship into that time. What seems unusual to me is that the film, made to be filled with dread, is also filled with regret. "What sort of man would kill like a leopard and leave traces of a leopard..." says one character. When we find out, we're a little saddened. This was no raving monster with steel claws taped to his hands, just a quiet guy who was the victim of his nature and his obsessions.
THE GHOST SHIP:
This quickie is the story of a mad sea captain who has become fixated on doing away with his young third officer. Most of the action takes place on ship as the young man tries to convince the crew that the captain is mad. There is no style to the movie and the acting is just passable.
THE SEVENTH VICTIM:
This programer is noteworthy for just three things. First, an atmosphere of creepy mystery. Second, some effective characterizations by actors who never escaped from B-movie purgatory. Third, and by far the most important, an excellent performance by Kim Hunter in her first movie role. The movie has to do with a coven whose members seem to believe in death...for others.
All the movies look just fine on their two-to-a-disc DVDs.
on 13 November 2006
at last a chance to see some of the greatest horror movies of the 40's!
Relying more on suggestion and atmosphere than monsters and ghouls lewtons series of scary movies still remain influential today. My personal faves on this set are Isle of the dead (great karloff movie and a unique take on the vampire myth) and ghost ship (still a great study in power and madness) Most of the films come with insightful commentery's and a supurb documentary on the final disc. there is some wear and tear on the prints in places but otherwise the films look and sound great and well worth 25 quid of any film-buff's cash.
on 7 September 2015
A macabre and grotesque old horror film, that relies more on the atmosphere than on really scary effects and scenes.
From the excellent director of The Haunting and West Side Story (and editing supervisor of Citizen Kane).
For a low-budget, B movie horror quickie, The Body Snatcher holds up remarkably well as a tightly-told, well-acted story. The horror is in the situation, not the actors' make-up or the staggering around of corpses. Corpses there are, but they're freshly dug up, and their purpose is not to grasp and choke, but to be dissected by a complex and morally ambiguous surgeon.
Dr. Wolfe MacFarlane (Henry Daniell) is a brilliant surgeon and teacher in 1831 Edinburgh. He is on the verge of medical breakthroughs involving the spine and the spinal cord. For his work, he needs fresh corpses to dissect for his research. John Gray (Boris Karloff), a cabman, provides those corpses for a price. Gray digs up the freshly interred and delivers them to MacFarlane's laboratory in the basement of the doctor's home. If the pickings are thin, Gray will also create a corpse by applying tightly his hand and finger's over a person's nose and mouth. MacFarlane, who is doing genuinely valuable work, doesn't want to know the details. And it seems Gray also has something to hold over MacFarlane. Only two or three years previously, the body snatching work of Burke and Hare had been discovered. Gray kept MacFarlane's use of the bodies a secret. While MacFarlane may be the verge of a break-through, he is repulsed by his need for Gray and by Gray's increasing familiarity. Gray enjoys his power over MacFarlane and pushes his familiarity to the limit. MacFarlane eventually forces a showdown. The climax is a clattering, rolling carriage ride through driving rain, with MacFarlane whipping the horses on, half-mad, and collapsed beside him is the pale, shuddering corpse of...well, see the movie.
For a low-budget film, the movie looks authentic as well as atmospheric. The wet, cobblestoned streets of Edinburgh gleam in the moonlight, the coal fires in the drawing-room grates cast shadows. Night scenes can cover many shortcuts, and there are a lot of night scenes in The Body Snatcher, but what we can see looks like quality.
The movie is really a duel, as director Robert Wise has said, between the two lead characters. Henry Daniell (in one of the best roles he ever had) and Boris Karloff pull off the trick of combining distaste, arrogance and mutual need. Daniell was a major character actor specializing almost exclusively in condescending or villainous types. He unfortunately, perhaps, had the kind of face that, when relaxed, just looked disdainful. With his deepset eyes and thin, mean-spirited line of a mouth, he was instantly recognizable. But he also was an excellent professional actor. When he had occasion to smile genuinely, rare in the parts he played, he could look quite warm. Karloff matches Daniell in the acting. John Gray is no monster. He is a man of great resentments who enjoys having the great Dr. MacFarlane under his thumb. He kills, but once in awhile seems to regret having to do so. He can also move quickly from false subservience to lethal violence.
What you can't see "will" hurt you
A man marries a strange woman with a European accent. She seems shy, but she actually carries a secret. Seems she knows she came from a line of "Cat People" and passion can bring out her claws. This is reinforced in a scene at a restaurant where another one of her kind recognizes her. She also suspects her new hubby's female friend has designs on him. So we get a spooky scene at a swimming pool at night alone in the gym.
There was not enough money or sufficient technology to show scary cat people. They tried people in cat suits, but they just looked cutesy. So they decided to just show shadows and sounds. The rest was up to your imagination. It is a psychological movie with a touch of film noir. ---------------------------------------------
"The Curse of the Cat People"
In many ways superior to the original
The Curse of the Cat People (1944) is not really sequel to Cat People (1942) as much as a stand alone physiological thriller that just happens to be an extension of the original characters. We have seen the formula before but you may not have seen such a presentation; a lonely child Amy Reed (Ann Carter) seeks a playmate that understands her. Who best but the spirit of Oliver's dead wife, Irena (Simone Simon) one of the cat people. Naturally this upsets the parents. Toss in Amy's new relation to reclusive neighbor Julia Farren (Julia Dean). Julia has problems of her own relating to her daughter. The story just gets complex from there.
The question is, is it dangerous to fantasize that much and what will become of the characters in the end.
"I Walked with a Zombie"
A classic Val Lewton production
We are treated to exotic titles and expectations with titles such as "I walked With a Zombie." My only encounters with Zombies are those that process in an UNIX operating system that can not be killed. I also watched "Weekend at Bernie's II."
As with other Lewton productions he got a way with a psychological thriller in the guise of a monster movie. In the days of sailing ships a nurse (Frances Dee) is employed to go to San Sebastian to look after a plantation owner's wife (Christine Gordon.) She fined that her charge is more than just a victim of a disease that heft her without will. Turns out if you cut the wife she does not bleed. We all know what that means.
The true story is the relationship to man and wife, man and nurse, nurse and wife, brother and brother, brother and wife, need I say more? Could it mean that there is nothing supernatural or is love moving in mysterious natural.
Can this all be straightened out or is Jessica Holland the wife destined to be zomiated for ever and the nurse must learn to love from afar?
Yeah Lord pity them who are dead and give peace and happiness to the living.
"The Body Snatcher"
Based on a short story by Robert Louis Stevenson
"It is through error that a man tries and rises. It is through tragedy he learns. All the roads of learning begin in darkness and go out into the light." Hippocrates of Gos
This film has the psychological complexity of a Val Lewton production but is a lot more graphic than most of his productions where he just implies violence. He even takes it out on innocent dogs. I feel that some one was pushing Lewton from behind to be more vicious with this film.
A young student (Russell Wade) wants to become a doctor like the great Dr. Wolfe 'Toddy' MacFarlane (Henry Daniell.) Little does he know what it will entail?
The DVD has a voiceover commentary from the late Director Robert Wise who directed "West Side Story" and "The Sound of Music." Surprisingly he said that the original basic script was written by Philip MacDonald.
"Isle of the Dead"
"There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
than are dreamt of in your philosophy."
WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE / Hamlet Act 1. Scene V abt. 1601
`Under conquest and oppression the people of Greece allowed their legends to degenerate into superstition; the Goddess Aphrodite giving way to the `Vorvolaka.' This nightmare figure was very much alive in the mines of the peasants when Greece fought the victorious war of 1912."
Gen. Nikolas Pherides (Boris Karloff) is an experienced watcher. That is he must watch over his troops to be sure the do what they are supposed to and survive to win the day.
Finding some time take a war correspondent (Marc Cramer) to visit the grave yard island where his wife is buried. There he meats a strange collection of people and an unseen enemy that is much deadlier than any bullet. Will he be able to fight it logically and scientifically? Or will his cultural fears lead him to see the truth?
Once again we see that Boris Karloff can act and that Val Lewton can take a scary title and turn it from a cheap horror movie into a classic Psychological Thriller.
Story suggested by The William Hogarth painting Bedlam plate 8 "The Rake's Progress
Once again Val Lewton takes what would have been a second rate horror story and turns it into a sit on the edge of your seat psychological thriller. The basic question of the story is the same as the one in his movie "Ghost Ship"; that is, is man fundamentally good and helpful of others or is he so self centered that he will act even to his own ultimate demise? An added element is that of not quite being granted all mental faculties.
The year is 1791 Lord Mortimer (Billy House) is just one of the upper class (Wiggs) that gets his kicks from watching the loonies of Bedlam loon. His protégé (Anna Lee) is discussed at the treatment of the "guests" by the head apothecary, Master George Sims (Boris Karloff who can actually act). She attempts to correct this to the detriment of Lord Mortimer. So Lord Mortimer and Sims invite her as a guest to Bedlam.
Will she ever get out or just go crazy. While there she applies a theory supplied by a Quaker (Richard Fraser), one of the Society of Friends if this works the tables may turn on Sims. What can Sims say in his defense?
"The Leopard Man"
All or our lives are like the ball bouncing at the top of the fountain
Rival entertainers meet in a club in New Mexico Kiki Walker (Jean Brooks) brings in a leopard to upstage Clo-Clo (Margo). But Clo-Clo gets the last laugh when she chases the leopard off with her castanets.
All is fun rivalry until people start dying. Naturally the local authorities think it is the leopard. But Jerry Manning (Dennis O'Keefe) who rented the leopard has a theory that this is the work of a demented person. This theory is sort of supported by Dr. Galbraith (James Bell) the local museum curator. To make matters worse the leopard's owner, Charlie How-Come (Abner Biberman) does not remember where he was at the time.
As with the cat people it is what you don't see that can harm you. And the simile turning of a card can mark you for death.
You may recognize Dynamite the leopard that was also used in the movie "Cat People".
Produced by Val Lewton (7 May 1904, Yalta, Crimea, Russian Empire (now Ukraine) ) whose story telling device is unique in that this is more of a psychological film that does not focus on any one person as they are all pawns in a much larger story. Some time it verges on the surreal.
Now that you have seen the film read the book "Black Alibi" by Cornell Woolrich.
"The Ghost Ship"
A new third mate on his first long sea voyage in introduced to captain and crew. Before he steps on bard he is warned by a blond man. He runs into a mute. And before they even leave port Jensen is found dead, just a heat attack. "With his death the waters of the sea are open to us. But there will be other deaths and the agony of dieing."
Don't go looking for anything supernatural as this is a Val Lewton movie. I would pay close attention to the characters. One of them may be a bit unhinged. The big question in this story is man's nature to help or ignore their fellow man.
"Shadows in the Dark"
This is more of a Val Lewton biography with more emphasis on his producer years.
on 28 June 2016
Boris on very lively form here (Karloff, not Johnson) as a grinning, lisping cabman-cum-grave robber with vice-like grip on tetchy Henry Daniell's Edinburgh doctor and surgical pioneer. Ghastly good fun.
on 7 March 2014
If you are looking at this because you want to see either 'Cat people' or 'I walked with a Zombie'.. and wondering if the rest will live up to them..
Well the answer (in my opinion) is very, very nearly. Close enough to make this a very worthwhile purchase.
Those two take some matching .. they are the two most notable ones.. but if you like them you should be pretty happy with all the others.
And hey.. you get commentary tracks on.. some of them.. Superb ones.. especially on 'I walked with a zombie'
Be aware this is a region one.. But let me tell you.. i bought a R1 player mainly so i could then buy this set.. and well worth doing so.. it's that good.