I Walked with a Zombie (1943) 1 brain1 brain1 brain

I Walked with a Zombie was made back when zombies were still mostly the product of voodoo, not chemicals or radioactivity. The film is atmospheric and free of gore, along the same lines as White Zombie. Jacques Tourneur directed, of Cat People fame (the original, not the remake with Nastassja Kinski and Malcolm McDowell). The story is of a young nurse, Betsy (Frances Dee), who is hired to care for the mindless wife of a plantation owner (Tom Conway) in San Sebastian. The plantation owner falls for Betsy, as does his lush of a half-brother (James Ellison).

As Betsy cares for the mindless wife, she becomes aware of the discord between the two brothers, and also begins to learn about the local religion, voodoo. The drums of the voodoo ceremony are often in the background, accentuating the difference of the world Betsy is now in. The details that the movie provides about voodoo and life in San Sebastian are a little pedantic at times, but they add to the color and reality of the story.

Betsy develops feelings for the plantation owner as well, but altruistically, her greatest wish is to return his wife to him, so that he will be happy. After modern medicine fails to bring the wife back to herself, Betsy begins to wonder if voodoo might have the answer.

The interplay between the two brothers is nicely balanced by Betsy's increasing exposure to the voodoo culture. Jacques Tourneur also knows how to make a tense thriller with acting and camera work, instead of relying on gore and jack-in-the-box monsters. One of the best zombie movies of its day.