Robson did a superb job channeling Lewton’s vision (closely supervised, of course, by Lewton himself). Although he went on to direct an additional 32 films, including four more for Lewton, The Seventh Victim remains the high point of Robson’s career. The Seventh Victim shares a number of virtues with its predecessors: the subtle acting, the shadowy mise-en-scène, a sensitive female protagonist played in this instance by Kim Hunter (A Streetcar Named Desire) making her screen debut and, most importantly, a treatment of horror that is suggestive rather than overt – Lewton’s trademark.
Where The Seventh Victim differs significantly from the Lewton/Tourneur collaborations is in its utter absence of the supernatural or anything suggestive of a spiritual reality behind physical appearances. This is most apparent in the film’s treatment of its villains, a Satanic cult, presented as a group of pathetically deluded tea drinkers, rather than an organization with genuine mystical powers. The Seventh Victim‘s cultists are capable of hiring thugs to carry out their dirty work when needed, and they can force a member to kill him or herself. But convincing a member to commit suicide is accomplished through psychological means – mainly peer pressure – rather than incantations or magical spells. (The sudden appearance of a cult member behind a shower curtain as Ms. Hunter is taking a shower prefigures Hitchcock’s Psycho.)
The Seventh Victim is an unusually morbid film, far more preoccupied with death than Cat People, et al. Indeed, it opens with the following quotation from John Donne: “I runne to death, and death meets me as fast, and all my pleasures are like yesterday.” When someone dies in The Seventh Victim, it is presented as something final – there is no implication that the deceased has moved on to a better (or worse) world. Another aspect of The Seventh Victim that distinguishes it from the rest of the Lewton cycle is its recurring lesbian overtones. Cat People had one memorable quasi-lesbian moment where an oddly dressed woman with a foreign accent approaches Simone Simon and addresses her as “My sister.” The Seventh Victim is filled with comparable moments, which many have suggested are accounted for by Lewton’s having grown up with a flamboyantly lesbian aunt, actress Alla Nazimova.
Lewton, like horror writer H.P. Lovecraft, had the conflicted heart of one who was obsessed with the supernatural, but could not accept it on any rational level. It’s amazing to realize this dark, almost nihilistic film – one of the first and most definitive of film noirs – was released in the middle of World War II, when most of Hollywood was churning out support-our-troops, keep-the-homefires-burning type entertainments. It remains Val Lewton’s most personal work.