Val Lewton: The Master of Shadow

The advent of the talkies and keen interest in the works of Mary Shelley and Bram Stoker helped pave way for the Classic monsters Frankenstein, Dracula and later on, The Wolf Man. All major productions for Universal Pictures. These were big budgeted films with makeup legends like Jack Pierce attached. In 1942, another studio decided to take on the horror genre and hired Val Lewton to produce a string of low budget films that audience would flock to. A films but with B level budgets.

The films used space and shadow in unique way and moved and spoke in ways that were more on the level of implication than showmanship. Lewton’s creative process made it’s stamp felt on each of the pictures. Character’s don’t try to escape the shadows and mystery but rather go forward and try to understand it.

Jean Brooks – The Seventh Victim (1943)

The producer would bring in a talented stable of directors to tackle these techniques: Jacques Tourneur (Cat People, I Walked With A Zombie, The Leopard Man), Mark Robson (The Seventh Victim, The Ghost Ship, Isle of the Dead, Bedlam) and Robert Wise (Curse of the Cat People, The Body Snatcher)

Some of these directors like Tourneur would take their Lewton-esque horror and translate it to noir with Out of the Past. Robert Wise would go on to make the immortal haunted house classic The Haunting. Lewton may not have been able to afford special effects or makeup prosthetics, but he didn’t need them. A restricted budget allows creativity to blossom.

Val Lewton and director Mark Robson at RKO (1945)
Val Lewton and director Mark Robson at RKO (1945)
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