Lewton Lascivious Behavior

Though I stated in an earlier post ("Recently Rated Movies #3") that I had been more than patient for most of this year in regards to the just-released Val Lewton Horror Collection and the still impending King Kong set, the real truth is that I have been less than patient about the situation for over the better part of the last decade, which would mean since I first read about the future of DVD's back around 1995. These releases would have been and were my first choices to appear on DVD, and I have reacted with supreme frustration over this time over the rumors and false starts that have afflicted me ever since.

I love the Lewton films of the 40's on an equal par with the initial spate of Universal classics in the 30's, and my weakness for these films is only superseded by the adoration with which I approach King Kong, the movie that I more than gladly offer up as my favorite film of all time. While possession of the Lewton and Cooper/Schoedsack libraries have been possible on VHS (and I have always had copies of them all except for The Ghost Ship, which I only saw for the first time and taped off of Turner late last year), it was ceaselessly vexing not to have gorgeous DVD prints in my collection while thousands of lesser films flooded the market.

The torture became unbearable once I got on the internet on a regular basis and the movie and video sites would regale me endlessly with hints and rumors of special editions, box sets, occasional "official" release dates and, worst of all, proposed cover art. Digital Bits has had the supposed Kong cover art on their site, without an official date, for the last couple of years it seems, dangling there carrot-like in the most taunting fashion. Due to my devotion to the cause, I would never fail to click on it only to have first DVD Planet and then Amazon.com tell me the sad ending to the tale. Though I have nothing against their wonderful site, Amazon is always the worst site to find out that something you crave is not coming out soon because of the January 2010 release date that is always plastered up there for something without a definitely set date. (The NewsRadio set drove me crazy last year after it was initially announced, then pulled, and then I stuck with that ambiguous 2010 date until it actually came out for good. Now if only DVD release dates could get married...)

Around the time that I first read about DVD's, I was definitely considering the jump over to LaserDisc. The chief reason for this switch in format? King Kong. Specifically, the Criterion Collection King Kong set that stared me down every time that I walked into the video store, screaming at me and beating its chest in a desperate bid to get me to purchase it, whether or not I owned a LD player. Without resorting to throwing his monstrously sized poop at me, the mighty Kong nearly convinced me to do it. I was saving up money for the nearly $100 disc and the even more expensive player, and it seemed than within a couple months I would do the deed and make the change for good. But then I began to read in the various video magazines of the coming future of video. I read about DVD, and I could sense that I needed to wait for this phenomenon to hit the ground.

So, I waited. And the instant DVD players hit the stores, I was in the market. But no Kong and Lewton. And I began rebuilding my collection of classic horror and sci-fi in the new DVD format, but there was still no Kong and Lewton. I read, in the waning days of LaserDisc popularity, of the release of the Val Lewton Horror Collection, and I held out hope that a similar thing would come out on DVD, and that this rush of RKO material would bring out the beast in a Kong release, but there was still no Kong and Lewton. The 65th and 70th anniversaries of Kong rushed by with hints of a Kong release, as did the 60th of Cat People, but there was still no Kong and Lewton. What would it take to get these out on disc?

Apparently, Peter Jackson.

I don't know the true how's-and-why's of Kong's delayed release. I don't really care to know. And I have no idea whether Peter Jackson's remake will climb or fall artistically, though I have great, great, great hope that he can pull it off (the early trailer was a terrific show of confidence, though the score problems scare me a bit and make me think there are even more problems with the production). I'm not even sure that Kong coming out has anything at all to do with the Val Lewton release, and that it is only the complete coincidence of their shared studio of RKO that bonds these different collections in my head.

I don't care. All that I know is that the Val Lewton Horror Collection is here and in my nervy little hands, and that Kong is on the way. I have watched gorgeous prints of Cat People, I Walked With A Zombie and The Seventh Victim in the last few days, and this weekend I am going to hole up with the other 6 movies for Halloween. (The films are relatively short, just over an hour in length each, so holing up with take a total of just over seven hours, so I will see daylight at some point in the weekend.) I have also watched a good, not great, documentary called Shadows in the Dark: The Legacy of Val Lewton, which goes into fairly decent detail about the Val Lewton's life and RKO years.

A small disappointment for me is that only 7 of the 9 films have commentaries on them, for I feel that Isle of the Dead is interesting enough for simply Karloff's unique performance in it to merit some sort of breakdown of the film, let alone for the distinct story itself, and that The Ghost Ship certainly warrants a commentary track, given the darkness of the subject matter and mainly for the fact that the film was suppressed in the vaults for 50 years due to a series of legal battles owing to copyright problems (a battle that is brought up in the documentary, but is not enough for me).

The other disappointment is the lack of the other two films that Lewton produced for RKO: Mademoiselle Fifi (with Cat People's appropriately kittenish Simone Simon) and Youth Runs Wild. Though they do not fit the horror definition of the collection, and while I have not seen these movies and cannot attest to their quality or worthiness, I still wish they could have given us a complete RKO Lewton collection. Perhaps they could have included them in as Easter Eggs (and perhaps they did and I have not located them yet).

All told, so far it is an awesome set as is, though I am hoping for even more from the upcoming Kong set in this, the Year of the Missing RKO.


EggOfTheDead said…
I'm a Val Lewton fan, too, which is no jaw-dropping revelation I'm sure! He defined "atmospheric horror" for me, opening up a whole new, eerie, effective way to be creeped out. Argento's Suspiria is the first modern movie to come to mind when I think "atmospheric," although that also had very modern blood & guts. Lewton meets Herschell Gordon Lewis? It'd be hard for me to pick a favorite from the Lewton set - which I do not yet own - but the film I was most excited to see included is Bedlam, as it's possibly the seminal insane asylum horror movie, and that may be my favorite sub-genre :-) Also, I haven't seen Ghost Ship so that's a treat to look forward to. (I confess to liking the 2002 Ghost Ship, though I'm sure it's no relation!) I'd be interested, too, to see the documentary. I'm always curious about what geniuses like Lewton are like in person. He seemed to love what he did, and had such a gift for making something beautiful & terrifying out of next-to-nothing, was he perhaps what Ed Wood could have been?

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