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I Walked With a Zombie (1943) May 16th, 2020

This has been a long time coming. According to The List, we should’ve watched I Walked With a Zombie before Calling Dr. Death on April 19th but that wasn’t possible. I had to borrow the DVD from our local library because for some reason the only Blu-Ray copy in existence was released in Japan. In order to watch I had to either buy a mystery Japanese Blu-Ray, rent it on Amazon Prime or wait for the library to come through. If you hadn’t noticed, our economy is about to put us in breadlines so I went for the publicly funded option and pulled the necessary and appreciated strings to get a copy from the Library.

I Walked With a Zombie is firmly cemented in the voodoo zombie genre you’d see in films like White Zombie. If you’re unfamiliar, these aren’t the mindlessly lurching brain and flesh eaters you’d find in Night of the Living Dead or The Walking Dead instead the undead in I Walked With a Zombie are more akin to the term’s Haitian etymological origins. Don’t blow off this distinction if you’re unfamiliar with the zombie variations as the differences are more than skin deep.

Zombies are a rich storytelling metaphor. They’re the perfect foil if you’d like to criticize the mindless hordes of people rotting in their unfulfilled potential by ravenously absorbing pounds and pounds of worthless possessions in the rat race of consumer capitalism. They work just as well as an inditement of slavery if you illustrate them as mindless laborers endlessly toiling in cane fields to put money in the soft hands of the masters in the big house. Unfortunately, neither of those examples are really where I Walked With a Zombie treads.

While it’s firmly set in the Caribbean with all the trappings of the voodoo zombies, the story itself is more centered on the lives of the rich plantation owners and their petty infidelities. I trust that there’s been many writings on how significant I Walked With a Zombie is for addressing some themes but I have to say the biggest one it seems to ignore is the one I couldn’t: generationally systemic servitude.

The protagonists in this film are all white and the servants are all descended from Caribbean slaves. The coach driver even says as much in a scene early in the film. While there is a sub-theme of revenge by the servants on behalf of themselves and their ancestors, it seemed the film’s main focus was on the anglo landowners and their bickering. I want to watch a voodoo zombie film about laborers reaping magically violent revenge on the descendants of slavers. If that movie already exists, let me know.

While I Walked With a Zombie has some beautiful cinematography and chilling visuals, I couldn’t get invested as much as I did in Val Lewton’s classic Cat People. Maybe it’s just a movie the doesn’t stand the test of time. Maybe it was amazing in it’s day but I found it difficult to keep my attention on the film. Great movies don’t have that problem, hell even some terribly bad movies don’t have that problem but I Walked With a Zombie did.

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