I really, REALLY promise that this week, I will review a movie out in the theatres. But Turner Classic Movies is showing some delicious classic horror movies for Halloween, and I simply cannot resist mentioning one of them.
I Walked with a Zombie was one of several low-budget, high-quality horror movies produced by Val Lewton during the 1940’s. Although the title might indicate otherwise, the plot of this film is well-conceived, even thoughtful. A nurse (Frances Dee) accepts a job caring for a zombie-like encephalitis patient on a tropical island. The patient’s husband, a sugar plantation owner, is also the descendant of people who brought slaves to the island. The descendants of the slaves make up the majority population. The sorrowful history of the islanders is symbolized by an ancient slave-ship figurehead which stands in the courtyard of the plantation owner’s house.
During her stay on the island, the nurse encounters family secrets, as well as the consequences of the plantation family’s tense relationship with the rest of the islanders. All of this is referenced in songs performed by a calypso singer (Sir Lancelot), who turns up during key points in the plot.
Look for a sequence involving the nurse walking the patient to a voodoo healing ritual. The scene is about 10 minutes long and is performed without any dialog. All you hear are the sounds of intricate native drumming cadences which accompany the women to their destination. The sequence is sinister and poetic at the same time.
So if you’re into movie history, and would like to see an excellent example of what a talented producer and director can do with a small budget, please see this movie. It’s worth your time.
Pluses: Solid plot, evocative cinematography. Love Sir Lancelot!
Minus: Low production values. Acting not bad, but not Academy-caliber
Cast: James Ellison, Frances Dee, Tom Conway, Edith Barrett, Sir Lancelot
Director: Jacques Tourneur
Black and White
This film will be shown on Turner Classic Movies on October 31, 2016, 8:30am. You can also find it on amazon.com Prime or Instant Video. In addition, amazon.com offers a $9.99 DVD including this film and other classic Val Lewton productions: Cat People, The Curse of the Cat People, and The Body Snatcher. The title of the DVD is TCM Greatest Classic Films: Val Lewton. My personal favorite is The Body Snatcher (1945), based on Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel. It stars Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, and the wonderful character actor Henry Daniell.