A nurse goes to the island of St. Sebastian to tend to a comatose woman. Pretty soon, Ms. Nursey figures out that the broad’s condition isn’t a medical one; she’s been a victim of voodoo. This gal doesn’t need a doctor; she needs a witch doctor. Our nurse also kinda falls in love with Zombie Lady’s husband and instead of using the opportunity to put the moves on him; she instead seeks out to cure her of the voodoo-induced curse.
Part of what makes I Walked with a Zombie work is that you just couldn’t make a movie like this in this day and age. The fact that when they tried to remake this movie as Tales from the Crypt Presents Ritual, it sat on the shelf for several years only proves my point. And if you did happen to remake the movie again, you would have to call it I RAN with a Zombie since fast-moving zombies are all the rage nowadays.
What is impressive about I Walked with a Zombie is that it doesn’t resort to shock tactics. Instead it relies heavily on mood and atmosphere to rattle us. Most filmmakers of today don’t bother with that shit anymore; which is a shame. The producing/directing team of Val Lewton and Jacques Tourneur had a good run of delivering fright flicks on a budget where what we didn’t see was scarier than they could’ve shown us and this is one of their best efforts. (Many consider this to be Lewton’s best film, although I have to say that distinction goes to The Body Snatcher.)
I’m not going to lie and say this is a perfect movie. Not by a long shot. The love triangle soap opera shit really isn’t my cup of tea and that fucking musician jackass that warns people of danger through the use of calypso music got on my damn nerves but good. Seriously… as eerie harbingers of doom go, calypso players rank just below an incontinent poodle and right above a half-melted Tupperware jar.
Luckily, the flick only runs a scant 68 minutes, so it never wears out its welcome and it gets down to business rather quickly. Once the nurse heads out into the plantation and does some zombie-walking; the film starts to kick major ass. Tourneur moves the camera masterfully during these scenes. The tracking shots of the nurse leading the zombie through the fields are damned eerie; especially when they encounter eviscerated animals and a bug-eyed zombie (or as I like to call him, BEZ). There’s this one shot where the BEZ just STANDS there that’s fucking creepy as all get out. These shots work so well that when the film threatens to bog down at the end (more soap opera revelations), Tourneur just shows an extreme close-up of BEZ’s bulging Robin Harris-style eyeballs and the film regains some tension.
I Walked with a Zombie’s script; as previously mentioned revolves around a lot of lame love triangle (actually rectangle) bull honkey. The thing is that screenwriter Curt Siodmak does a good job at building up the mystique of the zombies. As he proved with his script for The Wolf Man, he builds a mythology around the title creature that leaves an unforgettable impression.
I Walked with a Zombie is on The Video Vacuum Top Ten Films of 1943 at the Number 2 spot, which places it right in between Frankenstein Meets Wolf Man and Shadow of a Doubt.