Starring: Kim Hunter, Tom Conway, Jean Brooks
Director: Mark Robson
Mary Gibson (Hunter) is at school when she is told that her sister and only remaining family member, Jacqueline (Brooks), has gone missing. She heads to Manhattan to find out what’s happened to her, and discovers a trail of black magic and betrayal that leads to her sister, who is being pressured to kill herself by her coven.
If you haven’t seen a Val Lewton produced horror film before, you’re in for a treat. A lot of older horror films are kind of hysterical and comic, but Lewton managed to imbue his horror films with a little something more serious and philosophical, at least as an undercurrent, during his time at RKO.
I love Brooks as Jacqueline in this film, with her black vamp wig. She’s all darkness and depression, and very fascinating. As a member of the coven, she’s caught in their web, and yet it is very much her choice to die, as someone who cannot enjoy life anymore. While her sister, Mary, is the innocent, the ingenue who cannot believe how dark the world her sister inhabits is, Jacqueline is the woman who has seen and done it all, and knows there is nothing left for her.
The witches in this film are not traditional. They’re more lesbian satan worshippers than pointy hat wearing, broomstick wielders, and in that sense, this film feels much more modern than it’s 1940’s release date suggests. It’s a dark and stylish film, full of innuendo, suicide and murder, and some wonderful set pieces. It’s a little confused in it’s plotting, which adds to the sense of drama, though at the time left some viewers cold. The film has since become a cult classic, especially for it’s sympathetic portrayal of homoeroticism and it’s hopeless, nihilistic central character, Jacqueline. There is some wonderful imagery in this film, and is a dark delight, enough to satisfy any horror fan.
See It If: you love horror films, this is a strange and wonderful RKO cult classic.