Plot Details: This opinion reveals minor details about the movie's plot.
Recommend this product?
As Halloween draws ever closer, I took advice from my brother as he suggested I give a shot to the artistic production of Val Lewton before the month is said and done. Sadly, I have never seen a Lewton film previously, and the only film by Jacques Tourneur I have seen is Out of the Past, so I decided to give one of their collaborations a viewing when it came on TCM the other night. Since I recorded a few, I decided to go with the one with the most interesting title (yep, really showing the movie expertise chops with a statement like that) and watched I Walked with a Zombie.
The film is told with the voiceover narration of the lead character Betsy Connell (played by Frances Dee), a nurse who is hired to travel to the West Indies to care for the wife of Paul Holland (played by Tom Conway). She meets Holland on the boat ride over, and while she is mildly disturbed by the introduction, she also finds herself mysteriously drawn to him. Once she reaches the island of St. Sebastian, she is driven to Fort Holland, where she meets Paul’s half brother Wesley (played by James Ellison), an alcoholic who shows more interest in liquor than his work.
That night, Betsy hears crying from the main house and heads over to see if it is Paul’s wife. As she roams the house, she finds Ms. Holland (played by Christine Gordon), who begins walking towards her with a blank stare on her face, bewildering Betsy. It isn’t till the next day that Betsy meets her patient in the light of day and realizes that she is a “zombie”, having been rendered catatonic by a jungle fever. Still, there seems to be more than meets the eye when voodoo becomes involved…
I should just start by saying wow right off the bat. For a film that was given to Lewton with a title in place before he knew what story he was going to make, he does an exceptional job of weaving an interesting tale of mystique and terror. While not the stereotypical horror film that one would expect from the title, there is plenty of suspense to go around, especially in the scene where Betsy is bringing Ms. Holland through the jungle to the locals for the voodoo ceremony. There is nothing jumping out, no obvious scare tactics used…just a slow, well-made build of mood and atmosphere that ramps up the tension.
What I liked most about the film is that there are no easy answers with the ending. Is there voodoo, zombies and the supernatural involved? Or is there just a tragic love triangle, illness and tragedy? We are given clues but no answers. It is left up to the viewer to make the determinations. Admittedly, you can make some assumptions, and there is evidence leaning one way, but I can definitely see it from both standpoints, and I like a film with that type of open ending.
The acting in the film was okay, but it wasn’t the highlight of the film. Everyone performed capably enough, though no one was outstanding. Conway is brooding and moody to a fault, Gordon was a “zombie” and did what she had to do, and Ellison was a drunk. Dee was the only one who had to act, but she didn’t show any real range. She did what was required, nothing more or less. The movie was all about the story and the mood, with the actors doing their part to stay out of the way and not mess things up too much.
Overall, I liked the film quite a bit. I thought the direction and production were top notch with an off-beat story that was great. I’d highly recommend the film to fans of the genre. 3.5 out of 4 stars.
This review is part of my 2011 Celebrate October Write-Off, as it is the perfect type of horror film to watch on Halloween.
Viewing Format: DVD
Video Occasion: Better than Watching TV
Suitability For Children: Suitable for Children Age 9 - 12