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Monday, April 29, 2019

Another Lewton Snatched From The Pit

The Body Snatcher Back For a 1952 Reissue with I Walked With A Zombie

The Body Snatcher Is Its 1945 Self Again

The Body Snatcher is out recently on Blu-Ray. I overuse the phrase, but this really is like seeing it for the first time. They went to the camera negative for a new transfer, and results look it. There is detail that I guess has gone missing since 1945. To how many does The Body Snatcher matter so much? My own history with it is long, a first late show view in summer 1964, commercials and bleary eyes attendant, repeats after on stations that barely registered. About the only benefit you got from these encounters was dialogue, The Body Snatcher rich in that, being, most agree, Boris Karloff’s best film performance. Visuals were a forfeit as with all the Val Lewtons, as how could you see them other than on television or 16mm? A seminal book I had was Carlos Clarens’ An Illustrated History Of The Horror Film, referred to before and will be again, being the nature of seminal books. By dint of his title, Clarens had stills to put across points, three of them highlighting “eerie, elusive moods of the Val Lewton films.” I’d stare at that page and imagine what the movies once looked like, the images nothing like pea soup served on NC midnights. Here was realizing how impact of time could diminish films.




Note the Quality Difference: Rich B/W Tones for the 1945 Release, Washed-Out and Dupey by 1952's Reissue 


Even publicity stills were vulnerable. RKO revived The Body Snatcher for 1952 bookings beside I Walked With A Zombie. In fact, most of the Lewtons, being “exploitation” titles as defined by RKO sales, were 50’s encored. The Body Snatcher had performed well in 1945, less so in 1952. Key dates stalled, most limited to a split-week, Variety grading results as “modest” or “N.S.G.” (not so good). There were new accessories for the reissue, a one-sheet duo-toned rather than full color as the 1945 original had been. 8X10 photos were contrasty and looked to be generations away from rich imagery used to promote The Body Snatcher’s initial release. So who cared where fast play-off with crumbs to count was expected outcome? TV release in 1956 was further insult, 16mm prints so dark at times you had to guess from the soundtrack what was going on. What non-theatrical supplied was no better, Films Inc. giving The Body Snatcher “two stars’ for price purpose, $25 where the audience was less than 100, $30 when 101-250 showed up, and so on. An only advantage here was seeing The Body Snatcher on a screen (or wall) rather than fed through the tube at home, 16mm the degraded format in either case.


Here Is a Record Of The Many Years One Midwest TV Station Used The Body Snatcher


I had two 16mm prints over years of collecting. The second one came from a Midwest TV outlet that had bought a large RKO package early on and kept index card record of dates they ran The Body Snatcher. The cards came with films I bought, each an education as to how stations made maximum use of movies they leased. A first broadcast date was 12-30-58, the last on 1-6-98. Nearly forty years, the print intact, pretty good condition in fact, but muddy as all of them were. This extended to video cassettes that came in the early 80's, Nostalgia Merchant's release from 16mm, so no improvement there. Turner channel broadcasts were an uptick, not a significant one. DVD release as part of a Lewton box got barely beyond what was tendered before, major overhaul an only option for quality demands of a digital age. Lewton got part-way there when Cat People and Curse Of The Cat People began streaming in HD, that deal sealed with Blu-Ray. As follow-up to The Body Snatcher, Screen Factory has announced The Leopard Man for Blu release. We might safely hope for the rest of Val Lewton in months to come.

9 Comments:

Blogger MikeD said...

Back in 1964 TVs had knobs for brightness and contrast. So even if a pristine print of The Body Snatcher had been broadcast, I'm sure the settings on our TV at home would have made it look like it was public domain.

8:20 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Those cheap re-issue ad campaigns sold the pictures as yeteterday's news. No wonder the films did not perform at the box office. Carlos Clarens' ILLUSTRATED HISTORY OF HORROR FILMS was a light burning in the darkness. Even though some excellent books have come along it is still the best book out there.

Thanks for letting me know this is now on Blu-ray. As I have said before, we are living in a golden age for film restoration. These titles having come out on VHS, video disk and DVD something new has to be added to the mix to get us to buy. Good thing.

9:26 AM  
Blogger brickadoodle said...

Still waiting for my copy of AN ILLUSTRATED HISTORY OF THE HORROR FILM to arrive in the mail from Calvin T. Beck that I ordered and PAID FOR in 1968. I can barely wait a minute longer.

5:17 PM  
Blogger Marc J. Hampton said...

Bring on THE SEVENTH VICTIM....the best of the bunch for me. It just finally showed up on iTunes recently...tho in SD.

5:31 PM  
Blogger Rick said...

Three days of the week I vote for BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN as the greatest of all horror films, the other four days, it's THE BODY SNATCHER. It's such a great thing to have this great movie treated and presented so well.

5:51 PM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

While it's not really a horror movie, Lewton's "The Ghost Ship" is underrated for its eerie atmosphere. And as always, Richard Dix delivers the goods.

7:00 AM  
Blogger Dave K said...

Heh, heh! Another Greenbriar affirmation moment, as in 'Boy, am I on the right blog! The guy is talking about Carlos Clarens and how much Films Inc. charged for a specific film 50 years ago!'

As to the former, AN ILLUSTRATED HISTORY OF THE HORROR FILM was a 16th birthday present and sits, to this day, on a bookshelf exactly one arm's length from my keyboard. And as to the latter... well, give me a few minutes and I might conjure up the names of most my elected representatives but for an instantaneous answer, quiz me on how much it cost to rent, and where one found any given horror film in 16mm circa late 60's-early 70's. Had super focus on such trivia during the years booking for teen center programs and college coffee house movie nights (never rented THE BODY SNATCHER, but CAT PEOPLE and THE LEOPARD MAN were favorites!)

Great that this one is available looking great again! Oh,and those index cards! They are little treasures... love stuff like that!

10:03 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Dear John:

"Heh, heh! Another Greenbriar affirmation moment, as in 'Boy, am I on the right blog! The guy is talking about Carlos Clarens and how much Films Inc. charged for a specific film 50 years ago!'"

Another completely accurate observation by Dave K. Absolutely on-target!

Regards,
-- Griff

6:31 PM  
Blogger Lionel Braithwaite said...

@Marc J. Hampton, shame on you; you ought to know that a classic like The Seventh Victim should be bought (and seen) on Blu-Ray.

12:56 AM  

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