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I Walked with a Zombie

USA 1943
produced by
Val Lewton for RKO
directed by Jacques Tourneur
starring James Ellison, Frances Dee, Tom Conway, Edith Barrett, James Bell, Christine Gordon, Theresa Harris, Sir Lancelot, Darby Jones, Jeni Le Gon, Richard Abrams, Vivian Dandridge, Doris Ake, Rita Christiani, Alan Edmiston, Kathleen Hartsfield, Norman Mayes, Jieno Moxzer, Arthur Walker, Martin Wilkins, Clinton Rosemond
written by Curt Siodmak, Ardel Wray, based on the story by Inez Wallace, music by Roy Webb

review by
Mike Haberfelner

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With her next job, nurse Betsy (Frances Dee) seems to have hit the jackpot, as it finally affords her with a chance to leave cold Ottawa for the island paradise of San Sebastian to look after ailing Jessica Holland (James Bell) - but of course, nobody has told what Mrs Holland is ailing on as she's in a state of complete apathy, as if she had no emotions and no will of her own ... so of course it's an easy enough job, but she's eerie to be around as she seems to be of the living dead, or as they're called in this part of the world, a zombie. Betsy however is well cared for by Jessica's husband Paul (Tom Conway), a distinguished gentleman if there ever was one, Paul's borderline alcoholic half brother Wesley (James Ellison), and Wesley's mother Mrs Rand (Edith Barrett), who runs the local clinic with Dr. Maxwell (James Bell). Still, the island, beautiful as it is, is creepy, as one seems to be reminded that its predominantly black populace was brought here as slaves back when, and these locals practise voodoo - which eerie as it might seem isn't essentially a bad thing.

Before long, Betsy falls in love with Paul, but seeing that Paul belongs to Jessica, Betsy does everything in her power to restore her to her former state, even suggests a possible cure to Dr. Maxwell - which is promising but fails to show results. Out of options when it comes to Western medicine, Betsy asks maid Alma (Theresa Harris) to take her to a voodoo ritual to see if voodoo magic - which is often medicine in disguise - can do the trick for Jessica. At the ritual, Betsy learns to her greatest surprise that Mrs Rand is actually posing as voodoo God Damballa behind the scenes - a benevolent deceipt really as she just tries to get the locals on the right path in regards to medicine, hygenie and the like, using their religion (which in hindsight is ethically questionable of course, but the intentions were good). Mrs Rand tells them there is no cure for Jessica. Unfortunately, the locals have now found out that Jessica's a zombie and now want to claim her as theirs, using their drums to lure her. That, paired with a drought, soon has the island in unrest, also witnessed when a zombie (Darby Jones) enters Betsy's room.

In the finale, Mrs Rand confesses to have zombified Jessica when Jessica wanted to elope with Wesley, which would have torn the family apart. Then Jessica follows the lures of the drums again, but Wesley's also put under their spell and eventually stabs Jessica, killing her for good, then goes into the water with her as a suicide out of love ...

 

I Walked with a Zombie is not a movie of spectacle - quite the contrary, despite its rather sensationalist title this is a mood piece that moves along deliberately slow and derives its creepiness from what's not said/can be read between the lines rather than spoonfeeding its story to the audience. Plus, despite the film being shot at the RKO studios, it really does a great job to transmit the feel of the island in question (not in a realist but a metaphorical manner of speaking), with all macabre implications. And restrained performances from all the involved only add to the atmosphere, ultimately making this a well-deserving genre classic.

 

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review © by Mike Haberfelner

 

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Robots and rats,
demons and potholes,
cuddly toys and
shopping mall Santas,
love and death and everything in between,
Tales to Chill
Your Bones to

is all of that.

 

Tales to Chill
Your Bones to
-
a collection of short stories and mini-plays
ranging from the horrific to the darkly humourous,
from the post-apocalyptic
to the weirdly romantic,
tales that will give you a chill and maybe a chuckle, all thought up by
the twisted mind of
screenwriter and film reviewer
Michael Haberfelner.

 

Tales to Chill
Your Bones to

the new anthology by
Michael Haberfelner

 

Out now from
Amazon!!!

 

 

 

On the same day
a Burglar wants to kill you
and your Ex wants
to make up ...
... and for the life of it,
you can't decide
WHICH IS WORSE!!!

 

A Killer Conversation

produced by and starring
Melanie Denholme
directed by
David V.G. Davies
written by
Michael Haberfelner
starring
Ryan Hunter and
Rudy Barrow

out now on DVD