At this crazy moment, when film history is caught in the grip of multiple clichés that grind on and on and on—puerile revenge + empowerment fantasies (pioneered by Quentin Tarantino), a lazy equation between the mass-marketed and the genuinely popular, an even lazier equation between audio-visual entertainment and technological progress—it might come as a shock to revisit Val Lewton’s nine-film horror cycle for RKO in the ’40s.
The question of possession looms over The Haunting (1963), with regards to both Hill House, the labyrinthine Victorian mansion in which most of the action takes place, and the film’s story, an adaptation of Shirley Jackson’s now-canonical 1959 Gothic The Haunting of Hill House that’s remarkably faithful in plot, if not in spirit.
A nurse leads a catatonic through an expanse of moonlit cane. They pass displays of sacrificed animals before encountering the towering, shirtless, dead-eyed Black man who grants them entry to a private outdoor religious ceremony…
Though it’s perhaps not as widely known as the other B-horror films that Val Lewton produced for RKO between 1942 and 1946, The Seventh Victim is the cycle’s poetic pinnacle.