As no one has heard from her sister in some time and tuition money has stopped flowing, Mary Gibson (Kim Hunter, in her film debut) leaves her private school and heads to New York City. Sister’s landlords open the door to her Greenwich Village apartment.

They see a chair, still upright, with a noose hanging above it.

The Seventh Victim (1943) fared poorly at first, though it made some money in England. Pity, because it now holds a curious place in the history of the horror film. Beautifully shot in shadows and light, it links Film Noir with the horror genre. It presages later occult thrillers, and likely inspired one of Alfred Hitchcock’s most famous scenes1. It also shares a cinematic universe with the well-remembered (and remade) 1940s horror movie, Cat People.

Our October Countdown of Halloween Horrors past and present continues with the definitive 40s cult horror movie.

Title: The Seventh Victim

Cast, Crew, and Other Info:

Director: Mark Robson
Writers: Charles O’Neal, DeWitt Bodeen
Producer: Val Lewton

Jean Brooks as Jacqueline Gibson
Kim Hunter as Mary Gibson
Tom Conway as Dr. Louis Judd
Isabel Jewell as Frances Fallon
Evelyn Brent as Natalie Cortez
Erford Gage as Jason Hoag
Ben Bard as Mr. Brun
Hugh Beaumont as Gregory Ward
Chef Milani as Mr. Giacomo Romari
Marguerita Sylva as Mrs. Bella Romari
Joan Barclay as Gladys
Lou Lubin as Irving August

Available on DVD and as a part of the Val Lewton horror collection.

Premise:

A young woman searches for her missing sister, encountering friends, foes, deliberate deception, and the murder of a detective with important information. One of her newfound allies claims to be her sister’s husband. Another is Dr. Louis Judd (Tom Conway), the psychiatrist who appears in Cat People.2

High Points:

The film makes excellent use of light and shadow. The highlight may be a suspenseful chase seen through a studio-created, Caligarian Greenwich Village.

“Beer and Sandwiches!”

Low Points:

Not surprising, given its low budget and period content restrictions, the film presents an uneven viewing experience. Portions of the story seem jarringly disjointed. I surmised scenes had been cut before learning this was in fact the case. The villains, when revealed, have been softened too much. The world’s least threatening and least competent cultists, they follow dubious rules rather than just murder a certain character outright, which would solve their central problem. Near the end, they react complacently, even thoughtfully, when confronted with rhetoric at which these characters should at least roll their eyes.

The motives and actions of Mary and her allies also prove puzzling. At one point, they leave a disturbed woman who is in danger alone, figuring she’ll be perfectly safe.

The Scores:

Originality: 4/6 The plot twist of modern-dress Satanists, quietly going about their business was a lot less common in 1943.

Effects 3/6 The film’s only effects are minor, used to create NYC after dark in the studio. They work admirably well.

Story: 4/6 The convoluted story works, despite some abrupt shifts and at least one unexplained plot detail. In fact, the studio removed four scenes, creating some of the chaos.

Apart from everything else in this strange film, good arguments can (and have) been made for a repressed lesbian relationship driving parts of the plot. This reading seems entirely plausible. Homosexual relationships were taboo in movies at the time, and such a subplot would have to be presented in a coded manner. On second viewing, I found the subtext impossible to miss.3

Acting: 5/6 It’s Golden Age Hollywood b-movie acting, but it’s good Golden Age Hollywood b-movie acting.

Production: 5/6 The film works well despite a low budget. The use of light and shadow are, as I have said, excellent, and the opening sequence effectively reuses an existing set.

Emotional Response: 5/6 The Seventh Victim engages the viewer, the early scenes present tantalizing clues, and certain scenes are genuinely suspenseful.

Its tone is uneven, in part due to restrictions the filmmakers knew they had to follow.

Overall: 5/6 We have an uneven but unsettling movie, filled with intriguing details and references. While some allusion —Dante’s Restaurant— seem rather obvious, others may take repeat viewing to notice.

In total, The Seventh Victim receives 31/42.

Notes:

1. One of the most jarring aspects, for cinephiles, may be Mary’s brief, interrupted shower. It resembles Psycho‘s notorious scene enough that it would be easy to believe it provided Hitchcock with the germ of the idea he would realize almost twenty years later.

2. The film presents a minor mystery for fans. Tom Conway plays Dr. Louis Judd, the same character he played in Cat People (1942). He makes a possible reference to the events of that film. However, Doctor Judd dies at the end of Cat People. If we imagine the films exist in the same universe, then he is referring to someone other than Irena, and Seventh Victim takes place before Cat People. Alternatively, we must rethink the apparent ending of Cat People— or just not worry about continuity.

3. Interestingly enough, The Seventh Victim managed to skirt an entirely different Hayes Code rule in its uncompromising (and weirdly poetic) ending.

September 30: Lemora: A Child’s Tale of the Supernatural (JD)

October 6: Suspiria (Alex)
October 7: The Seventh Victim (JD)

October 13: Friday the 13th-a “Make Me Watch It” Podcast (Blaine)
October 14: Hereditary (JD)

October 20: Hausu (Alex)
October 21: Eye of the Devil (JD)

October 27: A Quiet Place (JD)
October 28: Alone in the Dark (JD)

October 31: Halloween 2018 (JD)
Return of the Living Dead (JD)