The Time Out Best 100 List countdown continues with Jacques Tourneur’s 1943 film I Walked With A Zombie.
A nurse named Betsy (Frances Dee) travels abroad to care for Jessica Holland (Christine Gordon), the catatonic wife of a rich businessman (Tom Conway). Once there, she finds that Jessica’s illness may have a more supernatural cause. Delving into the voodoo culture of the island inhabitants, she seeks to set things right.
This is a solid film. After viewing all these old Universal pictures over the last few years, the thing that has struck me the most is how they evolved over time. Starting with the monster movie character pieces of the thirties, they morphed into more ensemble-based efforts like this one, and later my personal favourite, The Thing From Another World in 1951. I like the rhythm of I Walked With A Zombie and how naturally the exposition is conveyed via dialogue.
It was also interesting to see what pre-Romero zombies were like. Before flesh-eating ghouls invaded Pittsburgh, zombies were just mindless slaves, usually controlled by voodoo or black magic. Or as Dr. Maxwell (James Bell) explains in one scene.
“(A zombie is) a ghost, a living dead. And it’s also a drink.”
That made me think of some Nicotero zombies sittin’ around a pool drinking Bloody Marys.
I liked the look of this film, as well. The scene with Betsy and Jessica walking though the cane fields in genuinely creepy, and well, I don’t think I need to say how striking Carrefour (Darby Jones) was in this film. It likely took no work on the part of the cinematographer to make Jones look eight feet tall. It’s a rare talent for an actor to look menacing by doing barely anything at all.
So, I Walked With A Zombie is another winner, succeeding with straightforward narrative and stark visuals. That’s no easy task with a colourful title like that.