The Seventh Victim

Dir: Mark Robson, 1943. Starring: Kim Hunter, Tom Conway, Jean Brooks. Horror.
The Seventh Victim

The best Val Lewton movie not directed by Jacques Tourneur, The Seventh Victim is an almost perfect summation of the famed producer’s themes of loneliness, alienation, urban paranoia, and romantic fatalism, just without some of the visual poetry that Tourneur brought to his own Lewton films (Cat People, I Walked With A Zombie). But it’s pretty haunting all the same. The plot is so sinister. A naive but determined teenage girl named Mary (a plain Jane named Kim Hunter) leaves her upstate boarding school to look for her missing older sister, Jacqueline (played by Lewton regular, Jean Brooks) in New York. Once in New York Mary acts as a Nancy Drew sort of detective, piecing together the clues of her sister’s disappearance before arriving at the conclusion that her sister is under the control of a group of Greenwich Village devil worshipers.

Mary’s only guardian is her older sister Jacqueline, a New York sophisticate with a sort of Egyptian art deco haircut who owns her own perfume company. Mary traces her previous whereabouts, discovering that before her disappearance Jacqueline mysteriously deeded her company to some of her co-workers. Various friends and lovers of Jacqueline, equally concerned about her, help Mary in her quest but nothing seems to quell the overarching feeling of doom hanging over the character of Jacqueline. She’s a different take on the Laura Palmer mystery, a beguiling woman no one could save.

Jacqueline eventually does show up looking like a hunted animal, her eyes full of terror. Though she is promised protection from the people out to get her she knows she can never be safe. The sect can always get to her. She gives in to her despair, killing herself at the end, and the suicide is rendered in classic Lewton fashion – with the camera fixed on the outside of her front door we hear the sound of her kicking the step ladder out from under her feet and the rope she hangs herself with stretching from the weight. That Lewton got away with a suicide in a film made in 1943 is pretty shocking. Maybe the Breen Office thought that was a just punishment for hobnobbing with Satanists.

Though underrated in the Lewton canon, The Seventh Victim is a film that has also clearly been picked over for inspiration by other, more famous filmmakers. Hitchcock cribbed a lot from a scene in which Mary gets a creepy visitor while in the shower. There isn’t a stabbing but the vulnerability of her character in the shower, facing an agent of menace from behind the shower curtain who came to warn her to stop prying, is pretty intense. Another scene that I would not be surprised if it was a direct influence on Rosemary’s Baby is one in which a tragic victim of the secret sect is forced to sit in the darkness of their apartment, a glass of poison put in front of her. The lot of them sits in silence staring at her, waiting for her to kill herself to protect them. This is the stuff Lewton was famous for; he brought an existential poetry to a genre – the horror/thriller – that wasn’t yet known for being particularly sophisticated. The Seventh Victim is essential viewing.

Posted by:
Jed Leland
Mar 24, 2014 11:55am
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