I Walked With a Zombie (1943)

<strong class="MovieTitle">I Walked With a Zombie</strong> (1943)

(On Cable TV, July 2018) Our post-Romero definition of a zombie is significantly different from the classical old-voodoo-school zombie, so don’t be misled by I Walked With a Zombie’s title: This is about Caribbean drugs-and-maybe-magic zombies rather than the living dead. But it goes a little bit farther than that—sometimes described as “West Indian Jane Eyre”, the film turns out to be far more interested in family conflict than jump scares, with a nicely textured result that’s equally psychological horror and foreign xenophobia. The atmosphere of the film remains quite unusual, and it does have a notable dramatic engine underlying the horror component. There are also a few cute surprises in the opening segment: A script by noted SF&F writer Curt Siodmak; a disclaimer about persons “living, dead or possessed”; and an opening scene “set” in my native Ottawa, with snow falling outside the window to set the plot in motion as a Canadian nurse (Frances Dee, looking good) is sent to the Caribbean to take care of an invalid patient. The film has aged well except when it hasn’t—as you can suspect from the production year of the film and the Caribbean/voodoo premise, there’s quite a bit of racism in the way the black characters (some of them eating what looks suspiciously like fried chicken) are portrayed—although, by the same token, they are shown as having some agency and power, even if it’s scary-to-white-people power. Overall, though, even those issues make I Walked With a Zombie interesting in its own right. Director Jacques Tourneur keeps things moving and imbues the production with a quality that was not a given under producer Val Lewton’s supervision. It could have been much, much worse, as a look at most contemporary horror films would show.

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