I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE. (1943)
BASED ON A STORY BY INEZ WALLACE. DIRECTED BY JACQUES TOURNEUR. PRODUCED BY VAL LEWTON. STARRING FRANCES DEE, TOM CONWAY, JAMES ELLISON, EDITH BARRETT, CHRISTINE GORDON, JAMES BELL, THERESA HARRIS, DARBY JONES AND CALYPSO SINGER SIR LANCELOT.
REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©
This is a strange, eerie and mysterious little classic horror film that’s positively oozing with atmosphere. It’s the story of a young attractive nurse called Betsy Connell (by whom the story is being told), who is brought from the cold and snow of a wintry Canada to the island of San Sebastian in the West Indies to take up a new job.
She is to look after the invalid wife of posh Britisher Paul Holland, who assures her on the boat over that San Sebastian is a place of misery and decay, and not at all the lovely island paradise it appears to be. What a downer! Anyone would think he was trying to put her off.
The boat on which they travel to the island is worthy of mention because it’s a proper old-fashioned sailing ship complete with the big sails and everything, just like on MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY and in all the old swashbuckling pirate movies. It makes the film seem even older and more atmospheric than it already is.
When Betsy gets to the island, she discovers first of all that it is populated by black people who were brought to the island as slaves by the Holland family. Even now, now that slavery has been abolished, they still work as servants or other employees to the Hollands.
We can infer from that, I think, that the island has been a silent witness to many years of suffering and bondage on the part of the slaves and former slaves. The history here is bound to have left its mark on the island, in the same way that pain and misery suffered within its walls can leave its mark on a bricks-and-mortar building. Can leave it haunted, even, at times, with the restless spirits who once lived there and the unhappy souls who now consider that they have unfinished business here on Earth.
Betsy is introduced to the handsome Wesley Rand, the half-brother of Paul Holland. Wesley is an American guy who was born to their mother and her second husband, while Paul was the progeny of Mrs. Rand and her first husband, who is now deceased.
Betsy, by the way, is immediately attracted to her employer, Paul Holland, even though he’s the stiff-upper-lip type, he’s married and he’s much less approachable than his boozy brother Wesley. Let’s see if her inappropriate attachment gets her anywhere, eh?
Paul and Wesley don’t like each other much. That much is clear. There’s a bad history there, some bad mojo as they say. Mrs. Rand, the boys’ mother, is a kindly doctor who tries to bring good medical practices and standards to the islanders, but this is difficult enough to achieve as the islanders are steeped in superstition and the centuries-old practice of voodoo.
Speaking of which, Betsy is shocked to discover that her patient is in fact what she terms a ‘mental case.’ The scene in which she encounters the beautiful catatonic Jessica Holland, a tall elegant blonde in a white flowing gown, wandering around silently like a ghost in the Tower is one of the two best- and spookiest- scenes in the film.
Can Jessica be cured of her trance-like state, brought on by a fever that destroyed part of her spinal cord and left her unable to speak, hear or feel? She can still walk, though, funnily enough. Mrs. Rand and Paul Holland are both adamant that she’s incurable. She’s a zombie for life, one of the living dead.
But not according to Alma, a maid in the Holland-Rand household. Alma, a native islander, tells Betsy that there are voodoo priests on the island who can cure Jessica of her terrible affliction. Betsy now loves Paul Holland so much that she wants to give his wife back to him, cured. That’s some funny kind of love, isn’t it? I’m pretty sure that I’d never be able to love that unselfishly myself.
Betsy, however, is well up for it. She’s obviously made of sterner stuff than me. She and an insensible Jessica make their way to the place known as the houmfort by night, where the voodoo priests meet and the magic happens.
The scene where they have to pass through the silent fields guarded by the zombie Carre-Four in the dead of night, with the tall grasses blowing in the breeze and the sky filled with frightening shadows, is the second of the two best and most memorable scenes in the film. Such haunting images! I know I won’t forget them.
So, does voodoo cure Mrs. Holland or has Betsy just twisted the lid off of a big old can of worms? You know perfectly well that she has, lol. But if you want to find out what happens next, you’ll have to watch this fabulous old film, which incidentally celebrates its seventy-fifth anniversary this year. It shouldn’t be any hardship. It’s a genuine old masterpiece.
AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.
Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger, poet and book-and-movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens’ fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:
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