Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Curse of the Leopard Zombie Cat People

To whet your appetite for the previously-mentioned Val Lewton Collection, here's a link to an excellent site, The Val Lewton Screenplay Collection reprints the original screenplays for all the Val Lewton / RKO horror films. Don't read them, of course, unless you've seen the films or don't mind having them spoiled for you.

It also has an excellent selection of articles on Lewton and those who worked with him, including several contemporary newspaper articles. One particularly interesting article, published in the Los Angeles Times in 1943, interviews the three key people in making Lewton's first three movies: Lewton, director Jacques Tourneur, and editor Mark Robson (who, along with Robert Wise, took over as Lewton's directors after Tourneur went off on his own), though Lewton does all the actual talking. Some good quotes:

[Lewton] "We make the audience participants; we make them do the work. How? I'll tell you a secret: If you make the screen dark enough, the mind's eye will read anything into it you want! We're great ones for dark patches... Remember Simone's long walk alone at night in 'The Cat People?'... Most people will swear they saw a leopard move in the hedge above her -- but they didn't! Optical illusion; dark patch."

Lewton & co. use the short story as their model because they believe you can't sustain horror beyond a certain length. "Our formula is simple," Lewton said. "A love story, three scenes of suggested horror and one of actual violence. Fadeout. It's all over in less than 70 minutes."

And, after the interviewer notes that characters in Lewton movies are usually "practical, matter-of-fact folk":

"That's Jacques' fine hand," Lewton nodded toward Director Tourneur, who is hardly the talkative sort. "Jacques doesn't like people who just live in old castles waiting to be scared. He insists that they have jobs, something to work at. He also insists on having what he calls 'weather in the streets,' even when weather has nothing to do with the case!"

The article also mentions some generic titles for upcoming Lewton movies (remember, RKO usually gave him the titles and then he'd come up with a movie to go with it, even when, as in Curse of the Cat People, the story had almost nothing to do with the title). Some of them, like "The Seventh Victim," got made, and superbly, though with Robson directing rather than Tourneur; others, like "The Screaming Skull" and "The Amorous Ghost," never got made, and it's doubtful that Lewton even came up with stories to fit those titles. But another article posted on the site, from 1945, mentions two projects he had in development that didn't get made: "Die Gently, Stranger," to be set on and around the beaches of Stockholm and to use fear of water and fog as the main source of horror, and "None So Blind," which was to star Joan Bennett and probably (based on the title) would have been some kind of proto-Wait Until Dark.

Also, shockingly, the obituary of Tourneur, from 1977, doesn't even mention Out of the Past. Shows you how the reputation of that movie has skyrocketed in recent years.

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