Criterion Prediction #159: The Seventh Victim, by Alexander Miller
Title: The Seventh Victim
Director: Mark Robson
Cast: Kim Hunter, Jean Brooks, Tom Conway, Elizabeth Russell
Synopsis: Mary Gibson (Hunter) leaves school to track down her sister Jacqueline who has gone missing. Her journey turns dark when she’s pulled into the shadowy and dangerous underworld that has enveloped Jacqueline.
Critique: Look at Val Lewton’s thread of horror films and what you see is a pattern of consistently chilling and original explorations of fear and terror. In the spirit of the maverick auteur producer, The 7th Victim continues to stand out as it’s the one title that feels most removed from his more classifiable horror work. Lewton’s movies were anything but conventional but The Seventh Victim is a departure from the gothic period decor of Bedlam, Isle of the Dead, and The Body Snatcher. The title itself doesn’t carry the outward implication of the supernatural. There are no zombies, feline shapeshifters, or ghost ships. The 7th Victim is a contemporary yarn with a reasonably simple narrative; while Lewton’s peripheral chillers relied on the implication of the supernatural while straddling actuality horror, The 7th Victim is the most forward in exploring the primary tenet of Lewton’s work, the fear of the unknown and perverse fascination with death.
Director Robson helms his first feature film after an impressive resume having been an assistant editor to Robert Wise on Citizen Kane. After going on to cut I Walked with a Zombie and The Leopard Man, Robson proved to be a model fit for the Lewton aesthetic. The 7th Victim remains a potent filmic contribution in Robson’s ability to elaborate on the starkly contrasted thematic groundwork laid out by Jacques Tourneur by elevating the atmospheric with desolate existentialism. The recurring utilization of spare, desperate images imbues the film with a subtly unnerving air of suspense and horror throughout. Robson elicits frissons of fear in unlikely arenas, a seemingly drunk man escorted by two strangers in a subway car is revealed to be the dead body of a character known to the protagonist. A nearly abandoned apartment is furnished with no more than a noose and chair. A silhouette of a woman appears through a shower curtain to calmly deliver a menacing threat to the main character. Satan worshippers are presented without demonizing embellishment. The 7th Victim has the dreamy sway that has a kinship to the cryptic stylings of Carl Dreyer, but the fascination with death, and the grounded nature of the modern storyline moor the film in a singular place from a pool of talent already renowned for their dedication to originality.
Why It Belongs in the Collection: Does the inclusion of Lewton’s Cat People mean that it could usher all of the infamous producer’s thrillers into The Criterion Collection? Well, I’d like to think so, and while this column has devoted two previous entries, pulling for a release of The Body Snatcher (CP#56) and I Walked With a Zombie (CP#110), aside from appearing on Criterion’s streaming network and some supportive forums and threads, there’s no supportive evidence that indicates more Lewton titles will be released.
However, there’s no argument supporting the contrary; Warner Bros.’ DVD collection of Lewton’s horror films has been a buttress of support for fans for years and, aside from Criterion’s reasonably recent release of Cat People, there’s very little (to none) of Lewton’s work available on Blu-Ray. Criterion could easily acquire the rights to The Seventh Victim, and in the spirit of highlighting comparatively undervalued movies, the release of this film would be a gem.