Catching The Lewton Bus
As much as I love all the Horror films that feature lots of creative special FX, there are others that I’ve come to admire which don’t need a barrage of splatter to effect the senses. One of these is Jacques Tourneur’s 1942 gothic noir chiller, Cat People. The film stars the beautiful Simone Simon as a young Serbian woman who transforms into a large ferocious feline when sexually aroused. A pretty enticing premise isn’t it? The film was produced by the legendary Val Lewton, who had a run of films in the 40s that have become very important benchmarks in the history of horror/thriller cinema. His movies relied almost entirely on psychological scares instead of the usual FX found in most horror. The main idea behind Lewton’s movies was that what is not seen could be just as terrifying, maybe even moreso, than being shown an image of a violent act or a monster etc. These were the kinds of thrills that crept up on us or were imagined by the viewer which often can be even more impactful.
In the clip above Alice (Jane Randolph) is walking home in the dark and Irena (Simon) begins to follow her. The way the suspenseful sequence is shot creates a state of paranoia of what’s lurking around her. I consider this to be one of the most brilliantly set up shocks in movie history. Let’s not forget this was a B-film made in 1942. It’s makes you realize that usually all the FX in the world can’t get you what a brilliant bit of camerawork, pacing and editing (pure cinema) can achieve.
The tense build up/scare technique used in this scene was a first of its kind and was later given the name “Lewton Bus“. It’s been replicated in horror films many times over the years since.