Meet the original master of the horror movie

The most effective documentaries about filmmaking make you run to the video store (or the Netflix queue) to rent the movies you’ve just learned about. Martin Scorsese Presents: Val Lewton — The Man in the Shadows (produced and narrated by Scorsese and directed by Kent Jones) is one of those documentaries.

Lewton wasn’t a director; he was the head of the low-budget-horror unit at RKO in the 1940s. Like his mentor, David O. Selznick, Lewton believed the producer was a movie’s primary force, and so he dictated every detail of his movies to achieve his singular vision — horror that was never seen, but was implied by shadows, shapes, suspense, and sound. The results include the unsettling masterpieces Cat People and I Walked With a Zombie, movies that, according to Scorsese, “created a new type of cinematic beauty.”

Val Lewton — The Man in the Shadows is being released as part of a Lewton box set. But you can see the documentary (and a marathon of his movies the documentary makes you want to see) on TCM beginning January 14.

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Meet the original master of the horror movie