Just what is a zombie?
A ghost. The living dead. It’s also a drink.
One of those rare, pre-George A. Romero zombie films, I Walked With A Zombie (1943) depicts something like the original myth, and has been referenced in such diverse literature as Thomas Pynchon’s Inherent Vice and Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch. Although flawed (and baffling to fans of the contemporary zombie) it transcends its B-picture status, and holds up better than most other pre-1968 zombie films.
And so ends summer 2015.
Cast, Crew, and Other Info:
Directed by Jacques Tourneur
Written by Curt Siodmak, Ardel Wray
Inspired by Inez Wallace’s article on zombies and Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre
Frances Dee as Betsy Connell
James Ellison as Wesley Rand
Tom Conway as Paul Holland
Edith Barrett as Mrs. Rand
Christine Gordon as Jessica Holland
James Bell as Dr. Maxwell
Theresa Harris as Alma
Sir Lancelot as Calypso Singer
Darby Jones as Carrefour
A Canadian nurse finds a job taking care of a patient on a small island in the Caribbean. She quickly begins to question whether the patient’s problem may be supernatural in origin.
Betsy’s ramble through the night to the voodoo assembly makes an effective scene. I Walked With A Zombie has few real scares, but it does a good job of creating and sustaining its mood.
The overwrought narration adds little.
Originality: 3/6 The film, with its old mansion, family secrets, creeping shadows, distressed heroine, midnight doings, and eerie mood owes much to the traditional Gothic novel.
Effects: 4/6 Carrefour gets some compelling make-up. Mattes and painted flats used to suggest the Caribbean island look entirely unconvincing.
Acting: 5/6 The acting is decent, though with the stylizations expected at the time. Darby Jones’s creepy performance as Carrefour may be the definitive walking dead, before George A. Romero spliced the breed with ghouls to create the contemporary incarnation.
Story: 5/6 The plot of the film runs at a slow pace, but it features a couple of intriguing twists.
Emotional Response: 4/6
Overall: 4/6 Modern audiences will find the pacing slow, while fans of the present-day shambling, decaying zombies may be baffled entirely. The film, despite exotic elements and period attitudes, tries to examine the connection between the original zombie lore and slavery. Its anti-slavery themes become problematized, but at least the film tries to address a horrific history. Many viewers might like its ambiguity regarding the supernatural.
In total, I Walked With a Zombie receives 29/42