We all know film zombies. They are the gentlemen and ladies who shuffle along in the direction of the nearest warm body (especially if it’s one of the main characters in the film) slowly decomposing, asking for brains, making others like themselves and generally being antisocial. We should probably blame the seventies for this image.
But zombies are a little more complex than that. They’ve even found a certain amount of street-cred among intellectuals due to the fact that they are said to embody the fears and anxieties of consumerism – the mindless pursuit of a given objective – and the atomic era. This viewpoint has caused them to be accepted by certain areas of academia and there are even articles in serious newspapers and even academia dealing with the phenomenon. Seen this way, as a symbol and a metaphor, they become socially acceptable.
I personally believe that the whole “metaphor” thing was planted by George Romero in an attempt to boost their popularity. They’re friggin’ zombies for crissakes – if you over-think them, you’re doing it wrong.
Which brings us neatly to the next installment in our review series about the 1001 films to see before you die (hit the 1001 movies tag for the rest of them). Today’s subject is the 1943 horror vehicle I Walked With a Zombie.
What makes this one interesting isn’t only that the lack of symbolism is appealing (in 1943 the atomic age hadn’t started, and the discussion of the angst of consumerism by postmodernists was still awaiting a time when psychedelic drugs were more widely available), but also that it uses the actual zombie mythology from Haiti.
We generally try to avoid spoilers when we do these reviews, but in this one, there’s not that much to spoil. Generic character A discovers that Generic character B has a strange disease (a probable source for the virus-zombies of later years? Discuss in comments), and the villagers, driven by their Voodoo belief believe that B is a zombie, and as such needs to be put out of her misery. Tension ensues.
What makes it worth tracking down is not the story itself, but the fact that it tells the tale of a zombie as it would have been told before we all “knew” what zombies were. It’s a story of witchcraft and curses and spiritism, all washed down with rum (and the first performance of a Calypso song in an American movie). Also, like the movie Cat People by the same director, it leaves the audience with the question of whether anything supernatural is actually happening – or whether it’s all just an unfortunate misunderstanding.
As modern horror, it’s not all that compelling – or even frightening for that matter – but if you know what’s under the hood, it does become interesting!
And, if you ever get dragged into a Zombie Walk (seriously, you should get new friends or a new boy/girlfriend)… at least you’ll be the single person who knows what real zombies are about!
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