Horror 365, Movie 104: The 7th Victim

Yesterday I wrote about The 10th Victim, so it’s only fair that today I focus on The 7th Victim. Right. So. Long before Katharine Isabelle was Mary Mason, Uma Thurman was Mia Wallace, Carolyn Jones was Morticia, and Maila Nurmi was Vampira, Jean Brooks was Jacqueline Gibson.

For a little convoluted background, The 7th Victim is a 1943 horror/noir (horroir? hoirror? noirror? I dunno). “The 7th Victim” is also the name of a 1953 short story by Robert Sheckley. The movie adaptation of said story became The 10th Victim. Still with me? Good. Anyway, none of this is integral to what follows, but it’s important to me that you know.

Our story begins with Mary Gibson (Kim Hunter) being called into the headmistress’s office at Highcliffe Academy. Her tuition has not been paid in six months, and nobody can get in touch with her sister Jacqueline (a name forever destroyed for me by Key & Peele). Mary goes in search of her semi-missing sister and stumbles right into a cult of devil worshippers operating in Greenwich Village.

As one does.

Oh, and there’s Hugh Beaumont.

It turns out that Jacqueline has a disconcerting fascination with death and suicide and was lured into said nest of Palladists (which may or may not have been an actual historical thing in the late 1800s–again, not integral). She reveals their existence to her therapist, and in retaliation the Palladists demand her death. Except they’re too chickenshit to do it themselves, so they abduct her, sit her in a big comfy chair (“Cardinal Fang! Fetch…the comfy chair”), and stand around staring at her while commanding her to drink poison, adding that, hell, she wanted to die anyway, so what’s the big deal? How thoughtful.

Inexplicably (ahem) she refuses, saying she is only willing to die on her own terms. Fair. Naturally out of a sense of self-preservation and their own best interest, they let her go–wait, what? Yeah. [cue Australian accent] “Roight wull. Gave it ah bes’ shot Jax, no’armdone offyapopg’day.” However, they send a switchblade wielding assassin after her. Apparently their distaste for violence isn’t all that pervasive.

Sadly, the devil worship angle is merely incidental and doesn’t constitute enough of a horror element to warrant calling this horror/noir, certainly not along the lines of, say, Hereditary, Starry Eyes, Race With The Devil, or even Rosemary’s Baby. There is of course plenty of the character awfulness you’d expect from a decent noir, but these people would be despicable no matter what they worshipped.

There’s also a cringey love triangle (or rhombus I suppose) involving Hugh Beaumont, Jacqueline, Mary, and Jason (some inconsequential poet who mainly serves as means of plot resolution near the end). And that’s as far as I wanna delve into the plot.

I don’t love The 7th Victim but I like it just fine. It’s odd. It’s moody. It’s all atmospheric and shit. Plus I’m a big Val Lewton junkie. Still, if you’re looking for scares, carnage, and dread, you’re in for a big disappointment (although there is a shower scene that, in another form, will make quite an impression nearly 20 years later). On the other hand, if you want some bleak, nihilistic storytelling with just a touch of smug self-righteousness from the good guys, this is right up your alley. Either way, well worth seeing.

BODIES- 1 onscreen, 1 offscreen
For rent on Apple TV+, Prime, Vudu

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