Six decades before "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies," there was this retelling of "Jane Eyre" featuring - you guessed it - zombies. Val Lewton was a shrewd producer who took lurid, sensational titles and turned them into often thoughtful films with great emotional depth, and this love story laced with voodoo is atmospheric and compelling.
Going through his filmography just reminds me of the number of great films that Jacques Tourneur made. Only Out of the Past outshines this classic horror thriller. The atmosphere and photography make everything eerie. A wonderful flim and my favorite produced by Val Lewton.
Tourneur's low-key, dream-like atmosphere is punctuated by suggestion and inference rather than gore, and whatever else you'd expect from a movie with the word "zombie" in the title. Creepy, distant noises accompany eerie settings in a film which is arguably much less about horror than it is about the difficulties of breaking the barriers between lovers and family. An eccentric approach, and the result is brilliant.
Despite its great beauty, I Walked With A zombie has little dramatic emotion. It's elegant in veneer: the photography captures a great sense of atmosphere, like in the sugar cane fields scene, and the dialogue is eloquent. Yet, it's only a dressed up melodrama that leaves you with nothing to think about. As for all its class in acting and mood, the central story feels trite and emotes only on a basic level.
The atmosphere achieved by Lewton and Tourneur on a small budget is so poetic you might think that Cocteau was sitting in on the planning meetings.
Edith Barrett was the first Mrs. Vincent Price, by the way. She gives a sensitive performance.
Grateful for this discovery. And perhaps the awareness it drew towards the idea of poetic horror. This being my second Tourneur, I instantly was won by his strange eloquence and atmospheric layering. The concepts he shapes could so easily fall into schlock and bore but instead have this sensational dignity to them. The images linger and the scenes are shrouded in enough mystery that you cannot completely escape.