Friday, October 8, 2010

Horrorthon 2: Day Seven: I Walked with a Zombie (Jacques Tourneur, 1943) -- A-

The most underrated director of the 1940's is unquestionably Parisian born Jacques Tourneur - a virtuoso socio-expressionist whose best films (Cat People, The Leopard Man, Out of the Past) remain undervalued as pioneering works in both horror and film noir. I Walked with a Zombie belongs somewhere near those masterworks, especially because of its astute balance of visual semiotics and cross-cultural discourse. Gravitating towards Venetian blinds and deconstructing exoticist inclinations, Tourneur's duality is apropos, channeling poetic realist sensibilities via a narrative of geographical and religious displacement.

Based loosely upon Jane Eyre, Betsy (Frances Dee) is sent to the West Indies to care for the sick wife of a plantation owner (Paul Holland). Reticent of leaving snowy Canadian modernity, Betsy is persuaded by the notion of "palm trees," a fetishization of her privileged, ethnocentric projections. Once there, her culture shock resonates through a confrontation with the voodoo practices of the locals, conjoined with the hegemonic deceit of colonialist whites. I Walked with a Zombie is an astonishingly concise (68 minutes) explication of horror iconography, social unrest, and religious discord, deeply complex in its conjunction of various discursive elements.

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