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Though not directed by an auteurist-approved figure (Mark Robson has never attracted any cult to my knowledge), this is the greatest of producer Val Lewton's justly celebrated low-budget chillers—a beautifully wrought story about the discovery of devil worshippers in Greenwich Village that fully lives up to the morbid John Donne quote framing the action. Intricately plotted over its 71 minutes by screenwriters Charles O'Neal, De Witt Bodeen, and an uncredited Lewton so that what begins rationally winds up as something far weirder than a thriller plot, this 1943 tale of a young woman (Kim Hunter in her first screen role) searching for her troubled sister (Jean Brooks) exudes a distilled poetry of doom that extends to all the characters as well as to the noirish bohemian atmosphere. (As a fascinating intertextual detail, the horny psychiatrist clawed to death by an offscreen feline in Lewton's previous Cat People—played by Tom Conway, George Sanders's brother—is resurrected here.)

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