Lewton’s B Horror Movies

Poster for

Curse of the B Horror Movie

By Allan Maurer

Back in the 1942, RKO studios gave producer Val Lewton a piddling $150,000 and a title, “The Cat People.” Lewton made up for the lack of a decent special effects budget by keeping all the suspense scenes wrapped in shadows.

“The Cat People” is famous for its creepy swimming pool scene, which stills sends shivers up my spine with its creative use of sound and suggestion. The film also introduced what would later be called “The Bus,” in which a woman who believes she is being followed by… something, is startled by the air brakes of a bus stopping at a corner. Even when you know it’s coming, if you watch it in the dark, you’ll jump.

Many horror film directors still use a version of “The Bus” today, making us jump at loud sounds that are red herrings.

Lewton would make nine more films for RKO, including “Curse of the Cat People,” which was really a sweet story about a little girl with an imaginary friend and not a horror story at all, and three films that gave Boris Karloff two of the best roles of his career in “Bedlam,” and “Body Snatcher,” which also starred Bela Lugosi.

The poster from “Curse of the Cat People” is often used as an example of how misleading film art can be regarding the actual content of a film.

Lewton’s other films included “The Ghost Ship,” “Isle of the Dead,” “The Seventh Victim,” “The Leopard Man,” and “I Walked With a Zombie,” all notable for their ability to conjure fear from shadows and sound and nearly nonexistent budgets.

Lewton hired directors who would later achieve fame and acclaim, including Jacques Tourneur, Mark Robson, and Robert Wise.

Always appreciated by critics such as James Agee, novelist, film critic and author of the script for John Huston’s “The African Queen,” Lewton was the topic of a recent new documentary narrated by Martin Scorsese, shown repeatedly on Turner Movie Channel and available as an extra in the Val Lewton DVD set.

Posters from the Lewton films took another leap in value the last few years, partly as a result of increased attention, but also just due to growing appreciation for how well these spooky films hold up today.

Many 1-sheets, half-sheets, and lobby cards from Lewton’s films sell for several hundred dollars each, and I noticed prices on the rise this year.

An insert from “The Cat People” sold for $1,250 in 2004 and a 1-sheet sold for $675 as far back as 1997. It’s still possible to pick up some less desirable (image-wise) lobby cards for under $50.

One-sheets from “Body Snatcher,” starring Karloff and Lugosi, sold for $1,200 to $1,500 this year. Almost anything with either Karloff or Lugosi generally brings higher prices for any type of movie paper, including original stills.

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