"I walked with a zombie" is a title that we have always liked a lot.
Because it opens to an infinite imaginary, which brings a lot of
questions about who, when, how and why, someone has walked with a
It must be said that the vision of this film of 1943, softens in a
certain sense the expectations of horror fans, because we are very far
from the icon of the rotting zombie we know. In any case, this is a
masterpiece, which is a part of more psychological zombie movie with
little horror, more thriller and with a bit of melodrama.
So the zombies, which are still present (one or two, depending on how
you want to see things), are not the strong point of this film. What
drives "The Walked With A Zombie" to success is a perfect realization,
very elegant, with some exceptional directorial ideas, like the zombie
in the field under the moon, and with a script that keeps the tension
high and with dialogues always incisive.
The latter, the dialogues, bring the viewer right from the start in an
atmosphere of mystery and part of decay. The nurse who is the
protagonist of the story is asked, as the last question of a job
interview, if she believes in witchcraft. Then when she is traveling to
the West Indies, dreaming on a ship between fish jumping and moon
reflecting on the sea, her future employer breaks down the romantic
scene telling her that everything is cloaked by death. A nice way to
start a job and phrases that are part of the decalogue of "things not
to say to a woman", but that make it clear where "The Walked with a
Zombie" is headed.
This climate of psychological destruction and the aura of tragedy are
the carpet on which this work of Jacques Tourneur moves,
characteristics to which must be added a war, which has neither winners
nor losers, between beliefs (the vodoo of course) and scientific logic.
A dualism also represented in words between those of the doctor, who
defines the patient a zombie, alive, without will and able to respond
only to simple commands and all the magical rituals of the inhabitants
of the island.
The producer Val Lewton, whom we will talk about later and the director
Tourneur to tell the truth catch a lot of ideas and stylistic choices
from their previous work, "Cat People", a b-movie that became a
fundamental film in the history of cinema. They change the location and
a little 'concept, but in the same way, they leave the viewer between
the imagination and reality, the trying to scare the audience.
The nurse who is asked if she believes in witchcraft, is called Betsy
Connell and from the cold Canada moves to the island of San Sebastian
in the West Indies to care for Jessica the wife of the rich landowner
Paul Holland, who after a violent fever, is in a catatonic state. An
easy job, if you do not find out that maybe the woman is a zombie
(maybe, must be reiterate) and that probably she is(always probably) in
that state for a strange love plot involving Paul and his half-brother
Wesley, whose mother is, among other things, the island doctor.
Betsy to please Paul, who falls in love, tries to heal Jessica in every way, both with medicine and with the voodoo.
The Russian naturalized American Val Lewton (born Vladimir Leventon) is
one of the two cornerstones of this film. Learned producer, writer, he
was hired by the legendary "RKO" in 1942 to produce low-budget films.
The first is "Cat People" and the second is this one. And it can be
said that it was not a bad start at all. "I walked with a zombie", was
commissioned with the title and story set, taken from a newspaper
article. The title is ok, but Lewton doesn't like the story. He then
asks screenwriters Curt Siodmak and Ardel Wray to rewrite it, based on
the novel "Jane Eyre" by Charlotte Bronte.
The director is Jacques Tourneur, French-American director who for the
"RKO" directs low-budget horror under the production of Lewton, the
success of these films, then enter Tourneur in the leading directors of
the production company, that entrusts him with several other jobs.
Later he became a "freelance" director, Tourneur closes his career in
the sixties by shooting a few episodes for television series.
Here he works with a series of actors who perform their duties well.
All the characters of "I walked with a zombie" are very successful,
credible and everyone brings their own depth into the story. Frances
Dee is the nurse Betsy, a charming actress who has come to success
after the classic ranks between extras and the even more classic thing
to be noticed by a director. A career made up of numerous films, but
very short over time. Frances Dee acted until the mid-fifties and then
devoted herself to her family and returned to video at the beginning of
this century with a small with a small part. With her Tom Conway, who
plays the sad philosophical Paul Holland. English actor, for the "RKO"
he has made famous horror films and has had a rather important career
as a radio actor. James Ellison instead who is the young and exuberant
Rand was a famous actor more for the many westerns.
"I walked For a Zombie", was not very popular at its release, also has
a series of curiosities that cannot miss in cult movies. Edith Barrett
who plays the mother of the two brothers was actually three years older
than James Ellison and two years younger than Tom Comway. But the most
interesting thing is related to the song in the film. "Shame &
Scandal". A passage that tells the story of the film, based on
"calypso" song by Sir. Lancelot, well-known musician of the time. This
piece is the inspiration for the song "Wau Wau" by Lord Melody another
Caribbean artist, who in the sixties takes up the melody and the
scandalistic concept of text, veering towards humour. It is no
coincidence that "Wau Wau" is known worldwide with the title "Shame
& Scandal" A great success that was then repeated over the years by
an endless series of musicians.