I Walked With a Zombie was a 1943 movie directed by Jacques Tourneur and produced by Val Lewton. A common thing about Lewton's films were that he had a title and had to make a story around that title. This was one of them. The movie is about a Canadian nurse, Betsy Connell (played by Frances Dee) who gets hired to watch over an ill woman named Jessica Holland (Christine Gordon), wife of Paul Holland, a sugar plantation owner in the Caribbean island of St. Sebastian. In the first night she meets Paul (Tom Conway) who warns her that the beauty she sees in this island is really misery and death, his brother Wes, Alma the maid, and Jessica who walks zombie-like to the protagonist at the dead of night frightening her and beginning the problem of the story. Betsy is told that a tropical fever had caused the strange case of Jessica's condition but underneath it may in fact be a supernatural cause to this. After a few nights of Jessica's condition not improving, Betsy becomes desperate and searches other means: finding a houngan, the local Vodou priest to help her recover. When she reaches the village, a mob of Vodou practitioners approach Jessica, stabs her with a sword and sees that she doesn't bleed, thus revealing her state as a zombie. This then leads to many other complications as the film goes on with Jessica's condition and a Vodou priest getting involved in trying to recover Jessica for whatever reasons.
Now I will say that although not much happens in this movie, I had a delightful time watching it. It could be my bias as to my recent interest in the religion of Vodou, but I was intrigued into this film since the beginning till the end. The atmosphere and mood of everything was very chilling and engrossing. The characters all stood out very well, even if they weren't main characters. I especially loved the depiction of the black characters in the movie. For a film done in 1943, I was expecting some random offensive depictions, for example the maid and Vodou practitioners, but I was surprised to see them depicted quite well.
A few aspects had caught me by surprise, though, that got me intrigued. One being the scene when Betsy travels with Jessica through a mysterious field to reach a Vodou ritual. As they move deeper and deeper, the scene gets creepier and creepier and very tense until we meet Carre-Four, an actual zombie who appears throughout the film in very creepy fashion. The scene caught me entirely off guard and would scare the living hell out of me if I were in her shoes. But the thing that got me was that Carre-Four was explained to be a guardian of the crossroads and that you wouldn't be able to pass through him without a Vodou badge, which Betsy had lost on her way there. Carre-four just walks away, letting them pass. After that, we see Carre-Four being controlled by a Vodou priest to retrieve Jessica. Now what got me questioning this was that ever since hearing "Carre-four" was in this movie, I was expecting to see "Kalfu" which was pronounced the same. Kalfu in the Haitian Vodou religion is a god and not someone to mess with, the Lord of crossroads and known as the grand daddy of sorcery and black magic while he allows bad luck and destruction. There was no way in hell Kalfu would allow a Vodou priest to control him as a zombie. It was until I did a bit of research of the movie and saw the name was used mostly as a nod to him. I will say, though, Carre-Four was creepy as all types of hell in this movie. Especially when he creeps towards us, arms wide-open... sheesh!
Another scene I especially loved was when Betsy found the village and the locals were singing in actual Haitian dialect. That made me proud, oh yes, especially hearing that the film-makers did a big bunch of research, even hiring actual Vodou practitioners and Vodou musicians. But something did get me later... the use of a Vodou doll. So I'm guessing it was this film that gave Vodou dolls a bad name, huh? The Vodou priest begins to use a Vodou doll to control Jessica and later causes things to happen while in control of her. Now, from what I understand, Vodou dolls have nothing to really do with Haitian Vodou but with Louisiana Vodou and is actually used to bless and protect people, not control or do harm. Thanks, Hollywood. Heh.
So yes, throughout the movie, there is a constant sense of questioning where all this is going to go. You're not too sure which characters will do what or how they'll act out through the movie. There's simply a sense of not knowing anything, who's to blame, who's the villain, etc. That definitely gives the movie a big plus from me with the ambiguity as questions are left unanswered in some way despite there being... well, let me stop before I spoil something. But overall, definitely watch this movie. I especially loved the depiction of zombies- not the cannibalistic superhuman monsters we're used to now, but the monsters that are easily controlled and aren't too frightening, but you sure as hell don't wish it to happen upon you. Although Carre-Four is scary as fudge. Watch this for Carre-Four!
edit: Oh yes, I also read that the Saw creators are planning on remaking this movie... WHY?!? PLEASE DON'T!!! NO!!!!