Val Lewton is arguably the best B-movie producer in the history of shoddily constructed sets, celluloid-conserving directors, and double feature-ready schlock plots. Working at RKO, with future auteurist revelations like Robert Wise and Jacques Tourneur, he churned out the most literary, affecting horror cheapies of the 40s. (Among the few critics who appreciated him in his own time was James Agee, who knew what he was talking about.) Before his death of a heart attack at the age of 46, he produced the classic Cat People (Tourneur), the stellar shoestring Stevenson adaptation The Body Snatcher (Wise, with Boris Karloff), and a dozen or so others.
And now he’s the subject of a documentary profile by the critic Kent Jones (who’s busy lately), which screens tonight at the Walter Reade Theater, followed by a talk from Jones, and, in perfect 40s B-movie style, a second feature. Specifically, one of Lewton’s most renowned features Jacques Tourneur’s 70-minute, awesomely titled I Walked with a Zombie.