‘I walked with a zombie. It does seem an odd thing to say…’
The word ‘zombie’ and its connotations changed forever upon the release of George A. Romero’s classic The Night of the Living Dead in 1968. Until the release of that film, the zombie was almost always linked with voodoo in some far-flung land (often Haiti). The zombies themselves were never the villain but rather whoever had turned them into one of the army of the undead in the first place served as the antagonist. In terms of modern cinema, think the mindless workers in the mines of The Temple of Doom rather than rotting corpses obsessed with consuming human flesh. White Zombie is the most famous proponent of the voodoo zombie and that would turn out to be pretty much all she wrote in terms of zombie movies until I Walked with a Zombie almost a decade later. Having watched this film, it’s clear why the concept wasn’t explored more…
Betsy Connell (Frances Dee) is a well-meaning but naive nurse who is sent to the fictional Caribbean island of Saint Sebastian to care for the wife of Paul Holland (Tom Conway) – a wealthy plantation owner. The wife is a zombie, of course. But in this case, that means that she is in a zombified state rather than that she is shuffling around murmuring about brains.
The problem with I Walked with a Zombie is that it isn’t really a horror film, it isn’t really a romance, instead, it’s an uneasy hybrid of both that never really knows the kind of film it wants to be. The performances are fine, if a little wooden, but director Jacques Tourneur never convinced me to care about the characters and the result is a film that is quite frankly dull for long stretches despite clocking in at just 69 minutes.
I Walked with a Zombie is a historical landmark in the history of the zombie subgenre but that is its only relevance today. It has little in terms of cinematic merit to recommend it (although it does manage to conjure up a creepy atmosphere from time to time with the constant use of shadows and the unerring beat of tribal drums constantly playing in the background). Skip it.