(Previous Somebody Asked Me To Be An Expert In Something were part of a Film Noir and then Neo Noir series that I was asked to help program and host. Starting with this entry, I am now the sole programmer, and the films will no longer be just crime films. Once again this is written for speech so I apologize for any irregularities of cadence)
Of all the films I’ve had the opportunity to show in this series, I Walked With A Zombie is the one I’m most excited about.
Out Of The Past, which was also directed by Jacques Tourneur was actually the first film I screened for this series, almost a year ago now. And as much as I truly love that film, I couldn’t help but be just a little sorry that I wasn’t showing this one.
This movie is a product not just of Jacques Tourneur but of Val Lewton, who in the forties produced a series of horror films which are among the finest ever made. Tourneur only made two films with Lewton. Though the two were lifelong friends and knew each other from years before when both worked for the legendary producer David O. Selznick. Saying the two influenced each other doesn’t’ seem quite strong enough. The other film the pair made was Cat People. Of the two Cat People remains the more well known, popular, and certainly more influential of the two.
But I would argue I Walked With A Zombie is the better film.
I Walked With A Zombie contains many elements usually found in Lewton. The literary allusions, with much of the film culled from Jane Eyre. His central female characters. What has been called his figure of beautiful sorrow. His level neutral view of the occult. The kind of darkness that led him to snap at one studio executive who claimed that his films had to many messages, “I Only have one message. And that is Death Is Good.”
But even among Lewton’s films I Walked With A Zombie stands apart.
Saying a movie is one of a kind is usually a trap. No matter how odd a movie may appear chances are there’s something that is at least a bit like it somewhere. But I can honestly say I don’t believe anything quite like this movie has been ever made before.
There is a rhythm and flux to this film that is unlike any I have ever seen. The possible exception being Night Of The Hunter. Calling a movie dream like is usually an easy out, but I Walked With A Zombie carries with it all the dread and poeticism of a real dream.
I don’t want to delve too deeply into the plot or individual scenes, incase this would turn out to be your first experience with the film. I will only say of Lewton in general, that Horror is usually derived from a source of physical revulsion, while Terror comes from a source of mental revulsion. As someone suggests in Martin Scorsese’s superlative documentary on Lewton, From The Shadows. All of Lewton’s films are terror films.
Which is why I think Lewton’s films have held up so well. While so many older horror movies, say the films produced by Lewton’s rivals at Universal at the time, are watched today as camp or at the very least through a heavy filter of nostalgia, Lewton’s remain as cutting as the day they were released.
So please sit back and enjoy I Walked With A Zombie. I don’t think you’ve ever seen anything quite like it.
POST SCRIPT So, I'll be showing I Walked With A Zombie later this afternoon. Then racing down to LA to go see The Aero Theater's Fifth Annual Dusk Til Dawn Horrorthon. Which has for five years, proven to be the best night of horror filmgoing LA has to offer. As well as my personal favorite night of movie going of the year. Aside from the great programming and wonderful prints, The Aero creates a found Footage montage between each film that will drive men to madness and have you screaming "THE POSSIBILITY OF ME WORKING IS REMOTE!!!" At the top of your lungs. At four AM.
I wouldn't miss it For The World.
So if you're an LA Reader and you're not going to The Aero, well what the fuck is wrong with you? And if you're an LA reader and you are going to The Aero, please say hello. I'll be the one wearing the "Camp Crystal Lake Counselor" T-shirt, Pea Coat, and mainlining as many stimulants outside the theater on breaks as possible.
As I will be spending Halloween afternoon and possibly night with some LA friends, I hope you'll forgive me if Halloween's post goes up a bit later then normal.
If some disaster does strike though, let me take a moment to thank you for reading through 31 Days and wish you a Happy Halloween. There's some great stuff coming up this November. Including a few more horror films that I couldn't quite fit into 31 Days but couldn't stand the idea of not writing about. As well as a some great new stuff I'm really excited about.
So stay sick, stay scared. And Don't go trick or treating without your boomstick!