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A Movie A Day: THE LEOPARD MAN (1943)
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Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with the newest October special horror run of A Movie A Day! [For the entirety of October I will be showcasing one horror film each day. Every film is pulled from my DVD shelf, recorded on the home DVR or streamed via Instant Netflix and will be one I haven’t seen. Unlike my usual A Movie A Day or A Movie A Week columns there won’t necessarily be connectors between each film, but you’ll more than likely see patterns emerge day to day. At the end of each standard AMAD I’m going to include a recommendation of a genre film that is either one of my personal favorites or too good of a double feature with the AMAD title to pass up a mention.] You couldn’t make THE LEOPARD MAN today. Hell, from what I understand, producer Val Lewton almost couldn’t make it back in the ‘40s. I know the Val Lewton catalogue is owned and in some kind of remake queue and I hope they never get greenlit and here’s why: Any true reinterpretation that would get the point of Lewton’s films would never, ever get made in the studio system. Case in point, today’s movie. If they made THE LEOPARD MAN today not only would it be filled with CGI, graphically showing the mauling and corpses, but it’d also actually have a leopard man in it. On a certain level it is frustrating to have a movie with the title THE LEOPARD MAN and not actually have any kind of transforming creature, but if you’ve seen a Val Lewton film before you should expect that by now. Directed by frequent Lewton collaborator Jacques Tourneur (CAT PEOPLE and I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE) THE LEOPARD MAN fits very well in with Lewton’s work of extremely well executed and often cerebral horror thrillers. These films are class acts all the way. There’s a scene in THE LEOPARD MAN that still works as strongly today as it did back then, even for a guy who grew up on graphic hack ‘n slashers, where a young girl (Margaret Landry) is sent out by her fed-up mother to get some cornmeal. The whole thing is one long build up. A leopard walks the streets, having just escaped from a nightclub lounge act of all things, and this girl knows it, but her mom wants some damn tortillas so she shoos the terrified girl out the door as her asshole little brother taunts her with a pretty damn good shadow puppet.

Tourneur really puts the screws to us in the following few minutes as this poor girl walks the darkly shadowed, empty streets to the closest store. She finds it closed and the owner unwilling to reopen, so she has to walk even farther into the darkness, under train tracks… the whole works. The whole time you’re waiting for the leopard to pounce out of some impossibly black shadow or around a horrible corner. Tourneur holds you for minutes, letting the girl get her cornmeal and almost get home before the cat shows up. Strangely enough, it’s not the eventual killing that gets to you, but how it happens. The girl actually makes it home, but her mom won’t let her in right away, upset that it took her so long, no matter how much she pleads. In actuality the mother killed her little girl. The leopard is only a force of nature. It’s the mother’s apathy that killed the girl. That’s where the genius of Lewton and his stable of professionals comes into play, the key to their keen insight into horror. The suspense is fantastic, but the payoff is somehow more horrific than you expect. The girl was so close and could have been saved but for the unintentional cruelty of the one that is supposed to be her protector. That’s so fucked. Jean Brooks and Dennis O’Keefe are our protagonists and, in fact, the reason for the leopard being loose. She’s the showgirl that lost control of the leash and he’s the manager that made her use the beast in the first place. Their guilt keeps them in town, searching for the cat as the bodies start popping up. The search turns from leopard to man as O’Keefe suspects the cat might not be responsible for a couple of the bodies.

Brooks and O’Keefe are fine, but the real stars of the movie are Jacques Tourneur, his cinematographer, Robert De Grasse, and screenwriter Ardel Wray. The movie is a compact 66 minutes long, but in that time frame they pack in so much character and detail and do it in a unique way. The camera will pick up new characters and move away from our leads, but they’re all tied together in one way or another. It’s really interesting and keeps the movie from lingering too long in any one place. Final Thoughts: The Leopard Man might be a misleading title, but the film is great as long as you accept it on its own terms. There may not be a literal Leopard Man, but it’ll make sense when you get to the end. All you gotta do is sit back, enjoy the wonderful atmosphere, the gorgeous black and white photography and soak in the rich world that Tourneur and Co. crafted.

I actually had trouble coming up with a decent recommendation title. The best double feature is obviously Tourneur’s other feline collaboration with Val Lewton, 1942’s CAT PEOPLE, but I’ve already reviewed that film in my AMAD run. So, I whole-heartedly recommend that as the perfect double-feature for this movie, but my recommendation title will be a film I felt was vastly underrated upon its theatrical release. It’s also a movie that’ll scratch that killer cat itch you might have after watching the off-camera, 100% atmosphere horror of THE LEOPARD MAN.

It’s actually making me feel very old that THE GHOST AND THE DARKNESS came out 13 years ago. I have vivid memories of downloading the trailer for this movie via a dial-up connection. Remember those days? It took around 50 minutes and the video was blocky and the size of a postage stamp. And now I can just do a quick search, locate, copy & paste and voila!

I think I love this movie so much because it has such a JAWS feeling. It’s a character-driven movie where our leads are hunting a real life monster. There’s a grisly, cantankerous badass hunter leading the pursuit (in this case Michael Douglas instead of Robert Shaw), a nervous everyman (Val Kilmer instead of Roy Scheider) along for the ride, his worried wife at home with the kids (Emily Mortimer instead of Lorraine Gary) and a crooked businessman authority figure (Tom Wilkinson instead of Murray Hamilton). Now, comparing this movie to JAWS has some dangers. It’s not as good, but then again in my eyes nothing is as good as JAWS. But so much came together to make this movie work. One, you have a tight, fun script by master screenwriter William Goldman. Two, you have an amazing score from Jerry Goldsmith. Three, you have some gorgeous photography from the legend Vilmos Zsigmond. Four, you have some great looking animatronic lions from Stan Winston Studios. I could keep counting, but that’s getting tiring for me… I can’t imagine it’s any better for you. THE GHOST AND THE DARKNESS refers to the two lions that terrorized the builders of a bridge in Africa in the late 1800s. The African and Indian workers are killed nightly by these two lions to the point where their legend is almost scarier than they are. They become more than big cats to the indigenous people, more the representation of supernatural evil. While this movie is based on a true story I’m sure there was some cinematic tinkering, but the idea of lions that hunt for the thrill of it kind of scares the hell out of me. When these two lions attack it gets bloody and visceral. These aren’t passive monsters, but skilled and thoughtful… dangerous. A bit like how Spielberg presented the raptors in Jurassic Park. The movie is classy, with real deal Academy Award winning talent at every department and that shows through. We get these kind of “better than they should be” movies from the studios every once in a while. The big budget, epic period scope of the movie is a brilliant backdrop and you can’t go wrong with Michael Douglas chewing scenery like it’s a tough, but delicious steak.

Here are the next week’s worth of AMAD titles: Friday, October 16th: WOLFEN (1981)

Saturday, October 17th: MADHOUSE (1981)

Sunday, October 18th: THE HOUSE WITH THE LAUGHING WINDOWS (1976)

Monday, October 19th: THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE (1945)

Tuesday, October 20th: DEMON SEED (1977)

Wednesday, October 21th: STAGEFRIGHT (1987)

Thursday, October 22th: DEAD OF NIGHT (1977)

Tomorrow I move from killer cats to killer dogs with WOLFEN! See you folks then! -Quint Follow Me On Twitter

AMAD Halloween Spectacular 2009: October 1st: Nothing But The Night (& The Wicker Man)
October 2nd: Beware! Children At Play (& The Devil Times Five)
October 3rd: Cameron’s Closet (& Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood)
October 4th: Afraid of the Dark (& The Lady In White)
October 5th: The Pit (& The Gate)
October 6th: Brain Damage (& Basket Case)
October 7th: Brain Dead (& Braindead, aka Dead Alive)
October 8th: Visiting Hours (& Dressed To Kill)
October 9th: Macabre (& The Beyond)
October 10th: Private Parts (& Eating Raoul)
October 11th: Road Games (& Duel)
October 12th: Dead End Drive-In (& Repo Man)
October 13th: Psychic Killer (& Alone In The Dark)
October 14th: The Body Snatcher (& Son of Frankenstein)
Click here for the full 215 movie run of A Movie A Day!

Readers Talkback
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  • Oct. 16, 2009, 4:40 a.m. CST

    El Hombre Leopardo

    by GettingBannedIsFun

    Love the sound of it.

  • Oct. 16, 2009, 5 a.m. CST

    The ghost and the darkness looks interesting

    by ominus

    i will check it

  • Oct. 16, 2009, 5:05 a.m. CST

    oh wait i have seen it

    by ominus

    its not that great,but its still goood.

  • Oct. 16, 2009, 5:37 a.m. CST

    I think the first 3d movie

    by lonniebeale

    BWANA DEVIL was based upon the same real life indent as THE GHOST AND THE DARKNESS.

  • Oct. 16, 2009, 6:11 a.m. CST

    The ghost and the darkness!

    by The_Crimson_King

    nice to see that movie get mentioned on here, I remember watching that with parents as a kid and being creeped out by the idea of lions killing for the hell of it

  • Oct. 16, 2009, 6:43 a.m. CST

    First Kill

    by MediaNerd

    That first kill that Quint describes really is amazing. The suspense of the overpass, the girl's flirting, everything is perfect. And then the end at the I rewatched that scene a few times just to study how they built it up...perfection. The rest of the film, while good, just can't compete.

  • Oct. 16, 2009, 6:50 a.m. CST

    Ghost And The Darkness!

    by dancetothebeatofthelivingdead

    Wow, what an underappreciated move. The two lions are stuffed and on display at the Field Museum in Chicago. Unfortunately, they're a lot smaller due to repair work that had to be done because after the lions were killed everyone was cutting off pieces of their felt for keepsakes.

  • Oct. 16, 2009, 7:34 a.m. CST

    true medianerd

    by ominus

    modern horror directors should take lessons from it

  • Oct. 16, 2009, 8:40 a.m. CST

    Ghost and the Darkness is underrated

    by The Mighty Molecule

    Very good choice. I remember Wolfen being pretty lame though. Haven't seen it in years... you should do Neil Jordan's werewolf film "the company of wolves" as the double feature. That's a great thinking man's horror movie. Kinda almost arthouse in parts. Very underated.

  • Oct. 16, 2009, 9:20 a.m. CST

    I remember when Ghost and the Darkness came out...

    by Ronald Raygun

    I went to the theater and had a choice between this and A Very Brady Sequel. I choose The Brady Bunch. Guess I made the wrong choice. Up until now, I completely forgot this movie existed.

  • Oct. 16, 2009, 9:45 a.m. CST

    Seriously, that "Demon Seed" poster is GORGEOUS!

    by blakindigo

    How about giving that away as a prize? Please?

  • Oct. 16, 2009, 11:18 a.m. CST

    G&D _is_ pretty awesome. Thought experiment:

    by JasonPratt

    If G&D had been made with late 70s tech and then Jaws had been made in 90s, would we think Jaws is better? Discuss!

  • Oct. 16, 2009, 11:23 a.m. CST

    Also, cameo by Henry Cele (awesomeness incarnate!)

    by JasonPratt

    Cele played the lead role in the Shaka Zulu miniseries from back in the 80s. Anyone who has seen that should recall just how much he reeks of awesome. So when he shows up early in the film as a native lion hunter with a badass reputation... {gggg!} The lions kill him off about five minutes after he shows up in the plot. While he's sleeping in a tent. He panics and is dragged off screaming like a little girl. It's like having the lions kill off "Machete" at the beginning to show off how great they are. {lol!}

  • Oct. 16, 2009, 2:18 p.m. CST

    Ghost & Darkness=awesome!

    by SoylentMean

    I've said it before and I'll say it again, but Michael Douglas should have at least gotten an Academy Award nomination for best supporting actor. His role in the movie is exactly the type of roles that Oscar was designed for.

  • Oct. 16, 2009, 3:53 p.m. CST

    No, Wolfen is also thinking-man's horror, and arty.

    by JasonPratt

    Not quite the same kind as Company of Wolves (agreed they make a good double-feature). And the book is definitely better because Streiber gets into the thoughts of the wolves themselves, showing them doing some dang creepy things (even though they aren't evil, and in fact the father-wolf ends up being quite heroic in his own way.) Since the movie couldn't do that, or really show them to be advanced mutant wolves, it picks up some latent terrorism themes from the book and plays those up strongly. The main problem with the film is that they _can't_ do as much with the wolves as the plot really requires, so they end up overcompensating in some ways to make the wolves seem more supernaturally threatening. (A wolf decapitates someone with an attack; animated goofy lights on the wolves when they're revealed; that kind of thing.)

  • Oct. 16, 2009, 6:25 p.m. CST

    MediaNerd, I disagree

    by Continentalop

    The death of Kiki was fucking awesome. How she gets home, then realizes she lost the money so she has to go back. Logical and suspenseful.

  • Oct. 16, 2009, 6:26 p.m. CST

    Quimt, question

    by Continentalop

    Have you ever seen THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL?

  • Oct. 17, 2009, 1:09 a.m. CST

    That scene you described with the little girl is CLASSIC

    by sonnyfern

    It's right up there with the shower scene in Psycho.

  • Oct. 17, 2009, 2:42 a.m. CST

    JasonPratt: I kinda agree with Jaws vs G&D

    by onezeroone

    I'd say it is more for the fact that JAWS came before G&D. My cousin happened to see G&D before Jaws and felt G&D to be much more awesome. Something to do with fact that both movies provide similar visceral sensation which has stronger impact when you feel it for first time.

  • Oct. 17, 2009, 6:32 p.m. CST

    Always had a soft spot for The Ghost in the Darkness.

    by Neosamurai85

    For some reason I always revisit it like it's a guilty pleasure movie, but as you say, it's better than it should be. My only grip is that it suffers from 90s editing slightly - that sense that the movie has been shortened for TV, when it hasn't. That was the experience I found the last time I saw it, though that was two years ago. Perhaps I'll be due for a revisit soon, though it's always felt like a great summer horror movie. Anyway, for the couple people who haven't seen it but expressed interest, I would highly recommend it. Very essential (for fans of) Micheal Douglas badassery. If Ghost was an AMAD in itself, I'd double feature it with The Edge. As for Leopard Man, that's simply one of my all time favorite horror movies, everything I love about Argento in his prime (Deep Red through Inferno) seems to be pioneered and perfected by this little gem.