Often, older horror movies from the first Golden Age of Hollywood start slowly, with lots of static, talky exposition, before building to an exciting climax. The Seventh Victim, from the great producer Val Lewton and director Mark Robson, does the opposite: it starts with an immediately engaging mystery clouded in menace and becomes less interesting as it limply peters out to its impossibly weak conclusion.
Kim Hunter (from Bad Ronald and A Matter of Life and Death) stars as Mary, a young woman who is informed by her boarding school that her older sister, Jacqueline, has stopped paying her tuition and can no longer be reached. Mary leaves school to search for her missing sibling, and learns that this supposedly striking high society beauty is such a melodramatically depressed twit she keeps a special apartment on hold solely for the purpose of committing suicide, should the whim ever striker her. Before long, it becomes clear that an almost sinister conspiracy is attempting to thwart Mary's investigation — a cult of effete "Satanists" whose sinister plan is to lay down some serious guilt trips.
I've been a fan of several of Lewton's horror movies that he produced for RKO in the early 1940s, including I Walked with a Zombie, Cat People and Curse of the Cat People, and The Seventh Victim starts so strongly, with the usual effective atmosphere, that it seemed to not only fall perfectly in line with the others, but possibly even surpass them. However, as Mary and all the men who cling to her and her sister unravel the flaccid mystery, exposing the soft underbelly of evil surrounding Jacqueline's whereabouts, the movie loses all its potency with a series of increasingly unremarkable revelations. I also like Hunter; she has a solid and appealing girl-next-door presence, but the script gives her nothing to do after the first half hour, and everyone else — Tom Conway, Jean Brooks, Isabel Jewell — just goes through the motions.
It's tough to think of another horror movie with such disappointing (and aimless) villains — the kind that hatch no plans but rather hang their heads in defeat when confronted with a smug recitation of the Lord's Prayer. One can only assume the decently grim final moment is more a reflection of embarrassment from having had any association with these tools than it is a testament to the dark power of their collective scorn.