A gothic romance that essentially repackages Jane Eyre on a tropical island, I Walked with a Zombie is the story of a series of overlapping love triangles â€“ the nurse, the ill woman and her husband; the ill woman, her husband and his brother; and, to a certain degree, the brother, the husband and the nurse. Itâ€™s the triangle between the ill woman, her husband and brother that results in her illness (actually, her zombiism, to be precise), but the weird, stilted affair between the nurse, the zombie woman and the husband is what drives the plot.
The zombies here â€“ there are two, a native zombie and the zombie woman at the center of the plot â€“ are old-school voodoo zombies. They donâ€™t eat people, nor even act particularly menacing unless ordered to by their masters â€“ except in one inexplicable case early on that implies the zombie woman sees the nurse as a threat. They just walk around with empty expressions, unresponsive to stimuli. Not terribly exciting for fans raised on Romeroâ€™s gore-splattered hungry dead, but probably quite creepy by the standards of their day. The movieâ€™s treatment of the native people and the voodoo religion and practices is surprisingly respectful, for its time.
The relationships at the core of this movie may be sudsy and melodramatic but they have a certain old-school charm. Despite not a whole lot happening, it moves along at a decent clip, the acting is excellent for the era (a little stagy by todayâ€™s standards, but still quite good) and itâ€™s beautifully shot. The direction creates a nice moody atmosphere and conveys the sense of doomed love well. Itâ€™s interesting to see how the standards of horror have changed â€“ only the atmosphere and sense of despair/doom remotely qualify this as a horror movie. The movie may be unbearably talky and slow by todayâ€™s standards, and it is certainly not what zombie fans typically look for in a zombie movie, but I Walked with a Zombie is a good, perhaps even great, movie.
I Walked with a Zombie/US/1943