Archive for Val Lewton

Monster Kid Radio #287: Cat People

Posted in Old School, Podcasts with tags , , on October 7, 2016 by MONSTERMINIONS

Fun time discussing Cat People with Derek!

LINK

or

https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/monster-kid-radio/id643581994?mt=2&i=376276553

Black Cat Mansion (1958)

Posted in Horror with tags , , , on July 2, 2012 by MONSTERMINIONS

For my money, the Val Lewton | Jacques Tourneur thriller Cat People (RKO, 1942) is one of the finest horror films ever made. Some people argue that the film is plodding and that nothing really happens, but under Tourneur’s direction I think the film delivers and I find it influential.

I like moody, suggestive horror with stark lighting, and Cat People’s use of the bus scene —where the startling screeching sound of a bus’s brakes punctuates the end of a dramatic sequence has been used countless times since.

I suspect Japanese director Nobuo Nakagawa had seen Cat People sometime prior to filming Borei kaibyo yashiki (Black Cat Mansion, aka The Mansion of the Black Cat, 1958).  Some parts of the film feel like a Lewton flick.

The opening scenes in the clinic and the Yoriko mansion are noirish, and remind me of I Walked with A Zombie (1943), the second Lewton-Tourneur film, and the earlier mentioned Cat People.  Black Cat Mansion also borrows a bit from Jane Eyre which serves as the loose plot of Zombie.

Director Nakagawa’s later films include the disturbing visual feast Jigoku (1960), about hell, the creepy Snake Woman’s Curse (1968), and several others.  His films are visual treats. However, there’s nothing remotely similar to the Val Lewton films and Jigoku.  I think by the early 60’s Nakagawa was exploring new territories.

Black Cat Mansion is a strange film —part ghost story, part Chanbara-Jidaigeki (period sword fighting movie).  I’d say by today’s standard it’s analogous to making a zombie war film. That’s an odd blend of styles and Nakagawa makes it work.  In the mid-to-late 50’s, Chanbara films were at their zenith.  Kurosawa’s The Throne of Blood had come out a year earlier in 1957 and The Hidden Fortess would come out the same year as Black Cat Mansion.

So, what’s the film about?

Doctor Tetsuichiro Kuzumi (Toshio Kuzumi) returns to an ancestral mansion in a rural town with his sick wife Yoriko (Yuriko Ejima), who is suffering from tuberculosis. The opening scenes are noirish, set in shadows, with Kuzumi telling the story in flash back.  Act I of the film has a strange (deliberate?) bluish tint and I’m not sure what Nakagawa was getting at. The color reminds me a bit of modern digital photography filters used for various iPhone applications (e.g. Tiffen Photo fx “Cyanotype”).  Some of the camerawork in the early stages of this film are just stunning.  Look for the spectacular dolly shot moving through estate grounds. 

We learn that the mansion is haunted and Yoriko encounters a scary vision of an old gray-haired witch-like entity.  Doctor Kuzumi and his brother-in-law Kenichi (Hiroaki Kurahashi) visit a priest, who tells the story about the house and former occupants.

Act II is filmed in muted Eastman color. This is the chanbara portion of the film and involves a vile Samurai war-lord, murder, rape,deceipt, sword-play and other plot devices typical of the genre.  We learn about the curse bestowed upon Yoriko.

Some of the color sequences are startling, almost psychodelic (this is 1958!) and likely inspired film makers such as Quentin Tarantino.  Parts of this film look like Kill Bill.

Here’s a scene of the “Cat Woman”.  How does she figure into the story?

I picked up a DVD of Black Cat Mansion for $5 (bootleg?) from a vender at Monster Bash, and was pleasantly surprised. However, the film is not for all tastes.  Samurai and ghost story fans will probably like it.   The film is sub-titled and offers an excellent score by Michiaki Watanabe (composer of over 100 soundtracks). Visually this movie is eye candy and fans of unusual camerawork will not be disappointed.   I particularly like the creepy grandmother who moves around in shadows and sneaks up on young Yoriko.  Now that’s scary.

http://eiga.wikia.com/wiki/Black_Cat_Mansion

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0034587/