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Isle of the Dead

Screening on Film
Directed by Mark Robson.
With Boris Karloff, Ellen Drew, Marc Cramer.
US, 1945, 35mm, black & white, 72 min.
Print source: Warner Bros.

RKO pushed Boris Karloff on Lewton as penance for straying from the horror genre with Youth Runs Wild and Mademoiselle Fifi, but the producer went against the grain in casting the Frankenstein icon in a naturalistic role as a world-weary general in the Greek War of 1912. When a plague breaks out on a small island populated by expatriates and superstitious locals, the unnamed military man commits himself to enforcing a quarantine order to the point of madness. Lewton was disappointed that the film’s spiritual essence – “an acceptance of death as being good” – was lost in what he described a “hodge-podge of horror,” but a series of tracking shots through corpse-strewn battlefields modeled on Goya’s The Disasters of the War powerfully evokes the specter of catastrophe hanging over all of the producer’s RKO films.

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The Glitter of Putrescence. Val Lewton at RKO

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