Friday, May 14, 2010

Film #24: The Seventh Victim (1943)

Welcome to our Satanic Club!
Come in… come in, have a seat. You must have seen our ad in the paper.
Let’s just hang up your coat and… oh, I see you brought a severed cat head.
Awwwwwkward… you see, our Satanic Club doesn’t really do sacrifices. People mainly do that on their own time.
Yeah, we are more “hands-off” Satan worshipers. Mostly, we just recite dark lord text and peer-pressure defunct members into committing suicide.
Tonight is actually recipe exchange night… I’m going to share my grandma’s mix for Devil’s Food Cake.
But, you know, it’s cool, it’s cool. We’ll just put that head in the fridge and you can pick it up on your way out.
Ick… got some blood on my cuff link there...

There is nothing worse than lame devil worshipers. But you will find them galore in this week’s movie “The Seventh Victim.” The above scene could have come straight out of a Tuesday night meeting of the Diabolists, the Satan-servants at the center of this low-budget thriller. The flick starts with an introduction to sweet as pie Mary Gibson, a late-teens boarding school student who learns that her meal-ticket sister has stopped paying tuition. Where’s the beef?! Seems Mary’s sister Jacqueline, a beautiful and successful cosmetics maker in Manhattan, has suddenly sold her business and disappeared into the New York madness.

Worried about her sister, Mary high-tails it to New York City to track her down. But Jacqueline has vanished without a trace, leaving behind only suspicious coworkers and a mysterious rented room with a single empty noose hanging from the rafters. A private investigator takes the case to track down Jackie, and discovers that Jacqueline didn’t sell her company to coworker Ms. Fallon, but gifted it to her. Something for nuthin’, in New York! It just doesn’t add up. Then Mary learns Jacqueline has a secret husband, and has been seeing mysterious psychologist Dr. Louis Judd – who claims to know where Jacqueline is but can never produce her when asked. His eyes are shifty too. Sh#& is going down!

One night while searching the cosmetics store, the private investigator is murdered in the shadows just out of Mary’s sight. Later, two men are seen by Mary sneaking the corpse away Weekend at Bernie’s style on a late night subway train. Who are these people! Are they after Mary too? What is Jacqueline involved in? Is Mary Kay trying to take out the competition?!?

It is soon revealed that Jacqueline – a woman always interested in death and the macabre (as evident by her little hangman’s noose room) – has fallen in and then fallen out with the Diabolists cult, a somewhat pacifist devil group headed in part by Ms. Fallon. Jackie recently tried to escape the grip of the cult by seeing psychiatrist Dr. Judd, but her loose tongue on the doings of the Diabolists enraged the group and forced them to try and “murder” the woman, just as they have six times before in the group's history with other non-team players. Of course, their way of murdering someone is first driving the person insane and then convincing them to kill themselves. Wouldn’t a gunshot to the head be faster?
Will Jacqueline become the seventh victim in 1943’s shadowy “The Seventh Victim?”

RDHP Ratings and Reviews

C-Rating: 2.5

Chris Dimick chants:
“Yawwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwn! Oh, excuse me… I just now woke up from the snooze inducing drug that is The Seventh Victim. If a movie is going to have Satan worshipers in it, don’t make them pacifists hell-bent on reading dark scripture and debating the morality of murder. I want tattooed, nipple-pieced, blood-drinking, devil horn wearing, heart-eating, GWAR listening crazies all up in my face, yo!
But let’s be fair, this is 1943. Even devil worshipers wore formal dresses and a suit and tie. I’m a man who tries to focus on the good in this world. So instead of going on about the evils of The Seventh Victim, I’d like to highlight its white side.

Here we have another movie from producer Val Lewton, who became famous for his wartime series of low budget but effective spook stories, like the previously RDHP reviewed film “Cat People.”

Lewton’s films are very stylistic and chic, and this one felt like warm velvet cascading across your eye lids. The Seventh Victim is heavy on dialog, and low on action. While that could seem boring, and at times it is, it is also brilliant in that it makes much of the movie take place inside a person’s cranium.
In classic Lewton fashion, the use of shadow, angled camera shots and creepy atmosphere is very effective in this movie. You can’t quite see the action, but a shadow is good enough given the great setup. The characters are the center of interest for the audience, especially the strange Jacqueline, played almost like a mindless zombie by actress Jean Brooks.

Although the characters are developed quickly, they are also developed deep. We learn that Jacqueline keeps the hanging noose in that apartment as a guarantee that whenever she wants, she can kill herself. That thought, that death can come at any point necessary, frees Jacqueline to live life with purpose and vigor.
Then there is the presentation of the Diabolists. I know I joked earlier about what boring Satanists they were, but in all honestly I thought it was refreshing that this group was displayed not as monsters but as rational, sympathetic and keen people who choose to worship Satan because they felt it is the right choice. It was almost an unbiased look at devil worshipers… at least for awhile until a preachy character chastises their evil ways.

Alright, enough with the good. This movie is very underwhelming, which made it hard to like. Like a frat-boy on an ice-skating date, the film moved very, very slow, which is a feat for a flick with only a 70 minute run time. It’s too heavily dependent on dialog, and not original enough to keep my eyes from closing.
While it was nice to see devil worshipers portrayed in a unique light, their rational ways didn’t make for very interesting cinema. Less talk, more devil worshiping!
But the movie had heart, great character development, and an ending that makes you think, shout, and grin a twisted grin.
You get a 2.5, The Seventh Victim. Now, get in your DVD case and let me go back to sleep."

N-Rating: 2.4
Nick Rich chants:
"I'm not quite sure how to feel about The Seventh Victim... Much like the female vying for the heralded status of the "seventh victim", sitting down to write my review has left me feeling trapped, desperate, and surprisingly fetching. I suppose these feelings are rooted in the fact that my heart and my head seem unable to agree upon how to respond to this film.

Nick's Heart: Oh , the dreaminess of the 1940's - I never tire of it! Ladies dressed to the nine's (I don't know what that means, but it makes me beat faster!) sporting impossibly impractical hairdos, shadowy shadows at every corner for people to sneak or smolder in (and boy howdy do they ever!
Did you know that in the 1940's telling someone your name could mean you've agreed to marry them? I beat faster just thinking about it!), and the formality to the point of absurdity (when else could you politely confront a group trying to kill someone with such good manners? Did you feel that? I think I just skipped!)! Then there's the story - I had never seen one like it! It had all the makings of a real nail biter... but I think it forgot that is was supposed to bite... but that's ok, it tried!

Nick's Head: Yes, well, the heart isn't all that intelligent if you hadn't noticed. Dim as it may be, it does occasionally nag me into submission, but in the case of The Seventh Victim I simply could not concede defeat.
Everything the heart said was true - partially. As usual, it viewed everything through rose colored glasses. Certainly, the story was original (at one point I even asserted how I would frustrate Nick should the lead female not appear in the film as she was spoken of so highly that one would expect to see the lovechild of history's most beautiful people - I was shocked when she eventually appeared and I wasn't given cause to bother Nick), but just because it was a story I had never processed before does not make it great. The story seemed to meander along, not quite knowing what to do with itself which caused it to seem quite long - even though it was 2 minutes shorter than the last RKO film I analyzed for Nick which seemed to breeze by (see Cat People)! The characters, like most we've seen in films from this era, behaved as if their life-spans were akin to a fruit fly, thereby enabling them to commit to mates after a few moments of banal interaction (absurd!).
I did allow Nick a thrill of excitement when I processed that this film featured a reoccurring RKO character: Dr. Louis Judd. While his demure behavior, pencil-thin mustache and ridiculous social airs in dire situations were amusing, I simply could not give myself over to allowing Nick to fully enjoy this film.

Phew! Well, they certainly were opinionated today... if you think this was bad, you should see them at overpopulated animal shelters when kittens and puppies are involved.

The Skinny: Check this flick out if you ever wondered what would happen if Maria from The Sound of Music had wandered into noir New York instead of the Austrian countryside - but don't expect any singing..."

RDHP Story Corner Presents:
The Worm
By Chris Dimick
The worm squiggled between the boy’s dirty thumb and index finger. As the crowd roared, the boy flinched and clicked his teeth. "Will this make them love me?" he thought.
The worm, it wouldn’t give up. Thrashing and whipping its oblong body, it tried its best to avoid becoming an afternoon recess snack.

Perhaps the thing I found most interesting about The Seventh Victim is its portrayal of peer-pressure. At one point, the group of Diabolists gather around the mentally broken Jacqueline, and try to convince her to kill herself… thereby enacting the Diabolists revenge for leaving their group. The whole scene, and its outcome, reminded me of the powerful and damaging effects peer pressure can have on the pressured, and sometimes even the pressurers.

In fourth grade, I walked onto the Washington Elementary School playground at the start of afternoon recess to find a group gathered around a large mud puddle at the back of the schoolyard.

It had just rained, and worms were desperately climbing from the waterlogged earth onto dry land near the puddle. Just before I arrived to the group, a classmate of mine had dared another boy to eat one of the earthworms.
Now, granted, the dared kid had a penchant for eating anything and everything on the face of the earth – from pencil erasers, to pre-chewed sidewalk gum, to moldy food out of a garbage can. Let’s call him Jake.

He was legendary in school, or more likely notorious for this behavior. Naturally, if a kid that weird will eat a moldy sandwich out of a trash can, he’d be down with slugging down an earthworm right? Hence came the dare.

At first, Jake the anything-eater denied the request. Gross, a worm! Too far, he said. But as the crowd grew and grew, so did the shouts for Jake to swallow one of the slimy suckers.
Looking back, I’m sure this kid was a few bricks short. He had been held back at least one grade, was not very sociable, and always had dirt on his face. Most of the taunters gathered knew this about Jake, which just made them yell for worm blood even louder.

Everyone knew that if they kept encouraging Jake to eat it, the guy would. It was his one way to get attention. In Jake's mind, he thought that by eating anything someone dared him that he would gain their admiration, their friendship, their respect. The horrible truth though was the opposite occurred every time he put a dirty toe nail down his throat.

Each thing he ate made people dislike him more, think he was more of a freak, a weirdo, a spaz. People were only nice to Jake when they wanted him to do something disgusting for their amusement.
“Eat it! Eat it! Eat it!” chants soon began. Jake’s eyes twitched with fright.
“No! I don’t want to!” he said, still holding the shaking worm between his fingers. The boy also began to shake with nervousness, moving his head as he uncontrollably laughed.
Just when the shouts for eating reached their highest point, Jake yelled, his eyes went wide, and he threw the worm into his mouth.
One crunch, and down it went.

Then came the laughs.

The worm-eater smiled, hoping this bold action would surely bring at least one friend to his usually empty lunch room table. Yet this act had only made more enemies. A few people laughed in his face. Some others called him a “sick retard.” Most threw him a chuckle, then a look of disgust.

Once the initial shock and awe wore off, the mob dispersed for the jungle gym and swings. Their mission was completed, nothing left to see here. “Jake the sick retard” ate another gross thing. Once again, peer pressure had overcome the weak.

I was one of the last to leave, and as I did, I looked over my shoulder to see Jake’s smile fade into a scowl. Just before I turned away, I saw him start to cry.

I have to admit, at first I was one of the people chanting and cheering, and also one of those who – after the worm checked into the stomach hotel – yelled in disgust and then went about my business.

Afterward I remembered this incident mainly because I saw a kid eat a worm. Holy shit! That was gross! But after a few years, I would look back at that day, that situation, and it would make me feel sick.

This sick feeling came not because someone ate a worm, but the reasons why they ate it. That kid didn’t want to eat that worm. Nor did he probably want to eat that ABC gum, garbage sandwich or pencil eraser. Jake did it because he thought it would make him popular. Would make him a somebody. He did it because he cracked under the pressure of his peers.
An angry mob, shouting at a mentally challenged boy to embarrass himself. It amazes me, the things people do to others for their amusement. But the real thing that gets me is the things people can get others to do, if enough of them ask.

Peer-pressure is a powerful thing. I’ve asked myself the following question for a few years now following this event. Which of us was the sick one? The boy who ate the worm? Or the crowd who called for it?

Things We Learned From Watching The Seventh Victim:
-The Betty Page hairdo only looked good on Betty Page
-People instantly fall in love in the 1940s, without showing any emotion.
-The following song is appropriate for kindergartners: “Here comes a candle to light you to bed. Here comes a chopper to chop off your head.”
-Satan worshipers in the 1940s dressed to the nines.
-Lonely librarians love to hear how slim their hands are.
-People actually used the library in 1943.
-Most people are “lonely and unhappy.”
-When you need a waitress, bang a knife on your glass. Wait staff think it is charming.
-One must have courage to really live in the world.
-“Life isn’t worth living if you can’t end it yourself.”

RDHP Presents:
The Best Ways to Kill Yourself
Suicide should never be an option. No matter how hard dark life gets, one should know that the next dawn is not far off. However, if you gotta take yourself out, then do it in style! In honor of The Seventh Victim main character Jacqueline – who just couldn’t get enough of self-inflicted death – we present the absolute best ways to kill yourself. Put down those prescription drugs, and have fun with it, dawg!

Drown in Beer
Who hasn’t wanted to swim around in a beer vat? Might as well make your last request your mode of death too.

Head in the Oven
A classic suicide! Retro is in, so why not gas yourself with this efficient, easy and novel way to croak! This doesn’t work so well if you have an electric oven, but I guess you could always just burn yourself to death too.

Naked Model Avalanche
Homer Simpson once said this was his dream way to die. Can’t argue with the man. Model can be man or woman, or both... pick your poison.

Thelma and Louise Style
When plummeting to your death, always make sure you hold hands.

Double-Down to Death
All it will take is three of these babies, and your blood will curdle into chicken grease, stopping your heart. Make KFC stand for Killed From Chicken!

Death can be lonely. Caring is sharing. Doing things with friends is much more fun than doing them alone.

RDHP Fashion Show!
Turn to the left, 1940s! The RDHP just can’t get over the fashion of the 1940s. Oh how we long for the days when people wore suits to worship Satan, or a knee-high dress on their trip to the morgue. As the “slobification of America” continues, we take a look back at the wonderful fashions that clothed the Greatest Generation.
Down with blue jeans! Up with formal wear!

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