The Seventh Victim (1943)

“No, that room made her happy in some strange way I couldn’t understand. She lived in a world of her own fancy. She didn’t always tell the truth. In fact, I’m afraid she didn’t know what the truth was.”

‘The Seventh Victim’, directed by Mark Robson in 1943, is a psychological horror set in contemporary New York City. Mary, played by Kim Hunter, quits her job and goes to the city in search of her missing sister. She meets a wall of silence and conspiracy as she slowly and painfully uncovers a cult of Satan worshippers. Her search is complicated by a series of murders and by a romance with her sister’s secret husband. Robson’s movie is melodramatic with heightened performances and a complex plot designed to shock. The film is produced by Val Lewton who had supervised ‘Cat People’ and ‘I Walked With a Zombie’ the previous year, and like those movies, ‘The Seventh Victim’ balances a skewed noirish look with unsettling imagery and characteristic aural shocks. What struck me, however, was how similar the themes and story in ‘The Seventh Victim; were to later horror and thriller classics Roman Polanski’s ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ and Hitchcock’s ‘Vertigo’. Robson’s film is a compact distillation of the same anxieties that drove those later movies, and as such feels ahead of its time. The acute tensions between the contemporary normality of the middle class Manhattan society and the brutal and archaic weirdness of the devil worshippers would be attributed to the legacy of the anti-Communist witch-hunts in later decades, but here they seem to spring from other sources, possibly the fears of Nazi sleeper agents. Either way, this tension provides a fresh and engrossing alternative to the gothic fantasies and abstractions of the Universal horror movies of the 1930s.

Would I recommend it? Yes – either with ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ or even with Jacques Tourner’s ‘Night of the Demon’, a film that contains similar themes but relocates them to rural England.

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