|Are the screams behind the door a |
childish ploy or a frightening reality?
Some critics have complained that The Leopard Man lacks the psychological complexity of Val Lewton's other RKO thrillers, such as The Cat People and The Seventh Victim. There may be some truth to that, but it makes up for any thematic deficiencies with an intriguing structure and three visually chilling sequences.
|Clo-Clo cloaked in shadows.|
The end result of the film's unusual narrative is that it keeps the viewer in a state of unease by casting aside expectations. Director Jacques Tourneur plays with viewer expectations in other ways as well. In one scene, we follow Clo-Clo down a darkened street. We expect something bad to happen, but then she reaches the safety of her home. Tourneur gives the viewer a few seconds to exhale a sigh of relief before Clo-Clo realizes she dropped something valuable on the street and goes back out into the threatening shadows.
In addition to the almost constant state of unease, Tourneur tosses in the three chilling sequences mentioned earlier. The first--and the one mentioned by Friedkin--involves a girl sent by her irritated mother to buy flour. To say more would be spoil the impact...although the scene has been copied to the point that it may not be as disturbing to new viewers as it once was.
The final scene, during the climax, isn't really suspenseful. It is, though, visually unhinging with a contingent of hooded figures leading a column of men with candles as they march against a gray textured sky (again, amazingly, on the RKO backlot).
Everytime I watch Val Lewton's horror films, I seem have a new favorite. Last year, after watching The Seventh Victim, it moved into my top spot...replacing The Cat People. That said, the one that keeps coming back to haunt me is The Leopard Man. It's a unique, one-of-a-kind thriller and it does indeed feature one of the greatest horror sequences ever filmed. Plus, I just watched it.