Spookoween 2015 is winding down and it looks like I made it through. Roger Corman and Dracula both return, but not together. So many draculas! No Vincent Price this time, but there is a brief appearance by Vampire Prosecutor. And there’s a grieving mother trying to raise her two sons in mysterious circumstances among men that try to take advantage of her in various ways and another grieving mother who fights off a monster to save herself and her son. Another doctor prescribes Insulin Shock Treatment for Lady Troubles. Kurt Siodmak writes two movies. Plus, lasers, frankensteins, more draculas, a mummy, more lasers, and John Carradine and his amazing voice!
You can read Spookoween 2015: 31 Days of Horror, Part I if you’d like. That post includes: Black Sunday (1960); Nightmare Castle (1965); Magic Mike (2012); Frailty (2010); A Tale Of Two Sisters (2003); When Animals Dream (2015); Lost River (2014); The Creature From The Black Lagoon (1954); The Creature Walks Among Us (1956); and The Midnight Swim (2015) as well as episodes of the television shows Sleepy Hollow and Boris Karloff’s Thriller.
Part II includes: Purani Haveli (1989); A Bucket Of Blood (1959); American Psycho (2000); Abbott & Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde (1953); Abbott and Costello Meet The Killer (1994); Shout Factory TV’s “Kaiju Marathon: Gamera’s Revenge” hosted by August Ragone (Gamera vs. Gyaos (1967), Gamera vs. Viras (1968), Gamera vs. Guiron (1969), Gamera vs. Jiger (1970) and Gamera vs. Zigra (1971)); Hisss (2010); Shock (1946); Meshes Of The Afternoon (1943); The Cat O’ Nine Tails (1971); Black Death (2010); Rites Of Spring (2015); episodes of Night Gallery, Sleepy Hollow, Dark Shadows, Suspense and one frightening episode of Project Runway.
Oct. 22 was a Drive-In Mob night and DiM participated in Back To The Future Crossover with Bond Age and Trash Tuesdays. Our contribution was a double feature of Back To The Future III and Roger Corman’s Frankenstein Unbound (1990). Aside from the hellish experience Jennifer endured having her memory wiped, changing appearance and being abandoned on a porch during a dystopian alternate 1985, it’s hard to write about Back To The Future as horror, but Frankenstein Unbound is the strangest episode of Doctor Who I’ve ever seen. I suppose as A Bucket of Blood gave me a glimpse of Roger Corman’s Thriller or Roger Corman’s Night Gallery, Frankenstein Unbound gives us all a vision of a possible Roger Corman’s Doctor Who.
Dr. John Buchanan creates a super weapon that he believes will solve problems by erasing them–with no collateral damage. Except it creates a rift in time that sucks him into Switzerland, where he meets Mary Shelley (Bridget Leigh), Lord Byron (Michael Hutchence), Percy Bysshe Shelley (Jason Patric) and Dr. Victor Frankenstein (Raúl Juliá) and Frankenstein’s angry creation (Nick Brimble) and shows them his sweet ass future car and Mary Shelley the manuscript of, Frankenstein; Or, The Modern Prometheus.
Victor and Frankenstein, Jr. are busy betraying and tormenting each other, with murder and assholisheness. Victor wants to use Buchanan’s science and his sweet ass future car to help him create a mate for Frankenstein, Jr. theoretically so Frankenstein Jr. will stop murdering, but mostly because he just really wants to make another person he can neglect–even or especially if its his dead fiance, Elizabeth (Catherine Rabett). Buchanan uses this as an opportunity to turn his car into a laser battery to seal the time rift while seeming to help Victor. Then Buchanan and Frankenstein, Jr. are hurled through time and space and fight in a secret base filled with lasers that respond to Buchanan’s claps and motions until Frankenstein becomes… Unbound. Anyway, I would watch a few more episodes of Roger Corman’s Doctor Who.
Oct. 23: Time for an episode of Vampire Prosecutor 2. Junior Prosecutor Yoo goes undercover in a model elimination competition reality show. Unsurprisingly, Prosecutor Yoo turns out to be amazingly beautiful after her makeover by fashion diva, Gabriel. We ignore the fact that Prosecutor Yoo was always pretty. It is very amusing to see her go all girly as opposed to her more business-like and blunt affect. Then it goes all diamond heist!
Meanwhile, Vampire Prosecutor Min is haunted by his recent encounter with a vampire who was not a prosecutor. Which is pretty mind-blowing because in season 1 of Vampire Prosecutor, Prosecutor Min is a vampire and a prosecutor who prosecutes a vampire prosecutor. And in season 2 there is a strong implication that there is at least one other prosecutor who is or was a vampire and who might have prosecuted vampires, too. So, yes, since you are probably asking, a vampire prosecutor is a vampire prosecutor who prosecutes vampire prosecutors (as well as regular non-vampire prosecutor people).
Then I watched The Gift (2000). Annie is a woman living on the border between the living and the dead, both figuratively and literally. She sees the ghost of her grandmother. She has a dream about a dead woman. She’s a widow with an angry son and a sad son. Her husband died the year before in an accident. She has been making ends meet for her sons and herself by doing readings for women in her community. She doesn’t use tarot cards or playing cards, instead she uses psychic testing cards. The ones with a star or a wavy line or a circle. And most of what she does is what psychics and tarot card readers often do for low income women–they talk about their lives, give advice and mostly listen.
Annie keeps warning her friend Valerie (Hilary Swank) to leave her abusive asshole husband, Donnie Barksdale, (Keanu Reeves). Valerie won’t. She’s too afraid of being alone, but she also keeps coming to Annie asking for another reading, looking for hope. Every time Annie relents telling Valerie to listen this time and get away from Donnie. Though she provides a kind of therapy for her clients, Annie rejects the advice of her sons’ school principal to have her son talk to someone about his anger around his father’s death. Annie tells Mr. Collins (Greg Kinnear), “He can talk to me.” Collins seems like he’s going to offer more, but his fiance Jessica King (Katie Holmes) shows up and is unimpressed by Annie. Maybe jealous, too, because Collins sure seems like he likes Annie. And Annie might like him, too, but I think it would surprise her that she does.
She’s pretty lost in her grief and she’s being terrorized by Donnie, who calls her a Satanist, a whore and a witch. He breaks into her house and spells cruddy things out with her cards. He threatens her sons. But the police are pretty sure he’s an okay guy, really. He goes hunting with them sometimes. When she tells the local prosecutor (played by Gary Cole), “He threatened my kids.” He tells her, “I heard you threatened him right back. Told his wife to leave him.” As if they are somehow they same. Then he asks if she were sleeping with Barksdale, “Donnie was quite a ladies man.” The movie has a lot about masculinity going on and a nice script by Billy Bob Thornton and Tom Epperson.
Then Jessica disappears and Jessica’s father approaches Annie to help them find her. Hassled by the annoyed Sheriff Pearl Johnson (J.K. Simmons), Annie tells them she can’t help, she’s not getting anything. And she’s probably relieved because I don’t think Annie really wants to see much of anything anymore. But she has a dream and she sees Jessica’s drowned body.
Sam Raimi has such a talent for cinematography and composition. Most of the time it’s easy not to notice because he’s using it for more comedic horror or for more straightforward action, but it’s fascinating to see him use it in a quiet horror thriller about a woman trying to support her two young sons after the death of her husband in a plant accident the year before. It’s easy to think that Raimi is not present in the film, because he often has a very clear, almost editorial presence in movies like Army of Darkness (1992), Drag Me To Hell (2009) and even with the Evil Peter Parker of Spider-Man III (2007). You can always tell when Raimi believes one of his characters is a schmuck.
But the care for composition is there in The Gift and it’s shot with tremendous sympathy for Annie. The sense of absence in her life is in so many frames as she is on one side and emptiness is on the other. What I really like about this movie is that it is about Annie, a woman who is drifting too far into the world of the dead. Both literally and figuratively. It’s a really nice character study of a mother dealing with grief and trying to pull her life together. And Keanu Reeves plays a scary-ass mofo in it.
In Vengeance of the Mummy / La Vengenza de la Momia (1973), Paul Naschy plays the vicious Pharaoh Amenhotep. Which Amenhotep, there are a lot of them? you might ask. It doesn’t matter, I will answer, because this is a Paul Naschy movie. Maybe he’s supposed to be Akhenaten, Akhenaten was an Amenhotep before he abolished the worship of Amen and moved the capital to Amarna. Paul Naschy, I will say. You get to see Paul Naschy in eyeliner and the crown of Upper and Lower Egypt. You get to see him dressed up as a mummy. So it really doesn’t matter which Pharaoh he really was, because he’s only Pharaoh long enough to demonstrate the crappy things the narrator tells us he does to justify being cursed with eternal life and exclusion from the the land of the dead.
Amenhotep kills a lot of people and drinks their blood in an elixir of life with his wife. But a priest has had enough and poisons the mixture, paralyzing Amenhotep so that he is aware while his is wrapped and put into a sarcaphagus for all eternity, but cannot move. His wife Amarna (Rina Ottolina) is killed outright, but her body is not preserved so that she will be denied eternity as well. Fortunately for both of them, their descendents are very filial and power-hungry. When Amenhotep’s mummy is discovered, Dr. Assad Bey and his ambivalently evil colleague Sanofed (Helga Line) travel from Cairo to the Landsbury Foundation in London ostensibly to study the find, as well as a papyrus fragment related to the worship of Bubastis. “It is paradoxical that we Egyptian archaeologists must travel the world to study our own civilization.”
Dr. Bey might be up to no good, but he’s right. Dr. Bey touches forbidden artifacts with his bare hands (gasp) and resurrects Amenhotep right in the museum.
Bey is promised worldly power as long as he restores Amenhotep with ladies’ blood and finds a body for his beloved Amarna. Amenhotep does his own looking for ladies and ends up fighting bobbies in the London sewer, which really is worth seeing. Unfortunately, Amenhotep is sad that none of the ladies are good enough and that he’s not invited to tea with Dr. Bey, Sanofed, Prof. Nathan Stern (Jack Taylor) and Helen (Rina Ottolina) who looks remarkably like Amarna. Spying gloomily at the tea, Amenhotep sees Sanofed’s new best friend and decides Helen will be the new Amarna. Sanofed is not comfortable with that. Especially since it seems like Sanofed is bi and they are “best friends” who “secretly meet in a lotus greenhouse.” Amenhotep smooches Helen and puts her in a trance, then prepares to mummify her by putting fascinating shoes on her. Amenhotep orders Bey to kill Sanofed. Then there is fighting and everything ends up on fire because everything always ends up on fire in 1890. Paul Naschy is the best.
Oct. 25: I went to the special theatrical screening of TCM Presents Dracula / Drácula (1931) introduced by Ben Mankiewicz. If you didn’t know, Universal made two versions of Dracula at exactly the same time. Tod Browning shot his version during the day. Then George Melford shot a Spanish language version at night using the same sets and characters. It’s neat to see Dracula in a theater and it’s especially neat to see the Spanish language version projected in the theater.
I’ve only seen the Spanish language Drácula before on VHS in a much crappier, less restored print. So it was fantastic seeing it projected. I think I still prefer Browning’s. And part of that I think is that the shorter run time makes it seem a bit more impressionistic and less linear. Always popular with me.
And I like the subtle differences between how Mina’s and Eva’s transformation into a creature of the night are handled. Mina becomes dangerous, while charming, effervescent Eva is endangered. I thought about this mostly because my friend Angela had just telling me how her husband and a male friend had told her that they always feel more stress in horror in which a woman is in danger. And I can see it playing out in the Spanish language Drácula. Ben Mankiewicz called Melford’s Drácula sexier, but I think what it had was more appeal for heterosexual men, with the longer hair on the ladies, the black lace negligeé instead of gold lamé and an effervescent sweetie pie staring at the stars instead of at her lover’s neck.
Oct. 26: The Black Sleep (1956) was directed by a man with the amazing name, Reginald Le Borg. I hope it’s his real name. I’m not going to find out. I will only really be happy if 1) it is his real name; or 2) Reginald Le Borg is the new “Alan Smithee.” The Black Sleep is a peculiar film, continuing in a lot of ways the Gothic horror of Universal studio’s heyday in the 1930s and 1940s–featuring horror stars like: Bela Lugosi; Lon Chaney, Jr.; Basil Rathbone; John Carradine; and a part written for Peter Lorre that Lorre wisely did not take (“Udu The Gypsy”). Black Sleep also offers a through line to Hammer’s Gothic horror of the late 1950s and 1960s. And there’s just a little foreshadowing of Ed Wood, Jr. with not only Lugosi’s presence but Tor Johnson as a white-eyed victim of mad science.
Victorian Mad Surgeon Sir Joel Cadman (Basil Rathbone) uses an anesthetic, “Nind Andhera,” or the Black Sleep, he found in India to make advances in brain surgery and to fake the death of a colleague scheduled to be executed for a murder he did not commit. Like Victor Frankenstein before him, Cadman builds his theories on the work of discredited scientists to remarkable and tragic effect. He says as he guides the man through a secret passage behind the fire in his fireplace, “This might seem medieval to you, doctor. but I’m guarding my research. Some of my methods might seem a little unorthodox.”
(I’m also assuming The Black Sleep‘s name is a reference to a late Nineteenth Century/early Twentieth Century anesthesia used in obstetrics, “twilight sleep”).
He has the same weakness as most mad scientists, a deathly ill and comatose beloved. Cadman operates on the brains of healthy people in order to map the brain and figure out how to remove the tumor from his special lady’s brain. Most of his failures, he keeps in the dungeon of the abandoned abbey he works in. But some he uses to help him. His previous assistant, Dr. Monroe (Lon Chaney, Jr.), now called, “Mungo,” is his muscle and has taken a hostile attitude towards his own daughter, a nurse working for Cadman. The mute Casimir (Bela Lugosi) serves as his doorman and possibly valet, given the quality of Cadman’s toilette.
There is also, of course, a young romantic lead and defender of the true purpose of science and medicine, Dr. Gordon Ramsay (Herbert Rudley). Yes, Gordon Ramsay. Ramsay is initially excited by the possibilities for helping humankind, but gradually realizes that the patients that they operate on are–stasis caused by the black sleep aside–alive and, worse, healthy. Ramsay is as appalled as only Gordon Ramsay can be when he discovers patients he believed dead–including Mr. Curry (Tor Johnson), the man who he supposedly murdered–alive and weird in Cadman’s basement. The patients are led by Bohemund in an amazing performance by John Carradine. Bohemund believes he is a Crusader and that Cadman’s abbey is Jerusalem overrun by infidels. Really, that’s the best part of this movie.
Oct. 27: The Babadook (2014) is shot in the colors of depression. And those colors only get darker as the film progresses. I decided to watch for 31 Days of Horror because Angela wrote about it in her fantastic piece about the horror of motherhood for the Cultural Gutter, and because Kimberly Lindbergs passed along my name for a CBC radio interview about horror directed by women. I figured it would be good to have it fresh when I talked about it. Amelia and her son Samuel are struggling as Samuel’s birthday is coming up. He’s turning seven years old and his birthday is unfortunately also the anniversary of his father’s death. Samuel never knew his father and Amelia is overwhelmed by the loss and by caring for her son alone. Love the art for the creepy children’s book. And I appreciate that we see so little of the monster. And one of things I find most interesting about it is how Kent deals with the monster. Not just in deciding how it looks, or how often we see it, though I like how hidden it is. I appreciate Amelia’s solution. Amelia doesn’t need the Babadook dead. She needs it to stop. And whether it’s her depression, her grief, her anger, her son or herself, it’s a part of her that never goes away and that she needs to learn to live with.
Oct. 28: I was trying to find Black Magic 2 starring Lo Lieh when I came across The Magic Curse (1975) directed by Lu Chin-Ku and To Man-Po. It appeared to be a snake lady movie from the Seventies and I am down with snake lady movies. The transfer was pretty awful, but I realized that the worst fight scenes in Hong Kong movies are about par with pretty good fight scenes in American television and that made it pretty watchable.
Man Ying (Jason Pai Piao), an adventurous man in a safari outfit travels to Borneo where he meets the Snake People, who do not dress in any of the traditional outfits of the various people of Borneo, but rather in fur bikinis like people do in caveman and barbarian pictures. They also have an amazing array of wigs from Shaw Bros. “Sifu and Tribal Person Wig Department.” The Snake People are caught between two powers. The more beneficent is the high priestess of the Snake Goddess Filona (Filipina actress Pinky de Leon). She unfortunately does not have snake hair. Instead, she spends all her time with all the other women on Borneo bathing and frolicking and living in what appears to be a cool treehouse. Then there is the malevolent Abdullah the sorceror. As Filona says, she has a higher rank, but Abdullah’s black magic is powerful and he is just a plain jerk.
Abdullah spends much of his time alone in a cave with his skull headed staff doing things like making a woman bite her lover’s penis off–while a man watching in the bushes bites a banana. Which is just a fucking amazing cut away. Man Ying is looking for his uncle who has disappeared after a plane crash and so when the Snake People men warn him off, Man Ying fights them all. He is injured and taken in by the Snake People ladies and healed. Abdullah is pissed off by the presence of the foreigner and demands he leave. But Man Ying and Filona are already falling in love. When Man Ying is healed up and ready to return to his home, he promises to return for Filona. He even says that he won’t sleep with anyone else, but that’s going to be a problem because Filona bites his lip and puts a curse on him. Any woman he has sex with will die horribly.
Man Ying is all, “It’s cool, baby. It’s cool. I’d never do you wrong.” But he’s a sharp-suited Seventies man and as soon as he gets home, he goes to a night club, gets drunk, gets in a big fight involving motorcycles and gets it on with a lady. She’s attacked by snakes in the bathroom and dies horribly afterwards. In a bit of a funk, he confides in a friend his worry that the woman died from his curse. His friend reassures him that people are attacked by snakes in the bathroom every day. Man Ying’s friend tells him that he’ll organize a party to cheer Man Ying up. His mind relieved, Man Ying goes to the party, meets a nice lady, gets it on and she dies horribly, apparently pushed down the stairs by snakes.
This time, the police believe Man Ying murdered the woman. He finally comes clean with the homicide detective, telling him, “If you come with me to Borneo I’ll prove it to you.”
“You want me to come with you to Borneo?” the detective says incredulously.
“Yes, it’s the only way I can prove I’m innocent.”
And they do. Man Ying has decided he’s going to marry the Snake Priestess and will take her and her little brother away from their life of being hassled by Abdullah. But first, of course, there is a big fight with Abdullah. And a lot of excellent evil laughter. Really, Shaw Brothers had the best stable of actors with evil laughs, but whatever Taiwanese company produced The Magic Curse did a great job hiring their Abdullah. The Magic Curse is only an okay movie, but I’m amazed that Man Ying would actually turn back right around and sleep with another woman right after bathroom snake attack and then, after that curse, decide that Filona the Snake Priestess really is the woman for him after all.
Oct. 29: It was time for my annual listening to BBC Radio 4’s “Sherlock Holmes vs. Dracula” adapted from the book, Sherlock Holmes vs. Dracula by Dr. John Watson as edited by Loren D. Estleman.
And it was another Drive-In Mob night. Our first feature was Son of Dracula (1943) directed by film noir icon, Robert Siodmak (Criss-Cross (1949); The Killers (1946)), and written by his brother, Curt Siodmak (Black Friday (1940); The Wolf Man (1941); I Walked With A Zombie (1943)).
“Blood On His Lips… Doom In His Eyes… An Accursed Vampire.”–the tagline refer’s to Lon Chaney, Jr.’s Count Alucard, but really it should be about the film’s excellent femme fatale, Katherine (Louise Allbritton). She has perfect bangs, and probably goes to the same hairdresser as Jacqueline in Jacques Tourneur’s The Seventh Victim. Kate refuses to play the sap for her boyfriend Frank or Dracula. The Count marries her, looking to use her estate and inheritance to plow the fertile and “virile” ground of a young country. But Kate’s looking out for herself. Married, her family can’t commit her. And she gets to live forever and have a great ‘do. So after marrying the Count, she convinces her old boyfriend, Frank (Robert Paige), to kill Dracula, oops, I mean, “Alucard” telling him, “Isn’t eternity better than a few years together?”
And Frank goes for it, because saps like Frank always do for dames like that. And I don’t even mind that he’s writing his own obituary, because Frank was also a jerk to her, with his own plans and a total disinterest in her desires.
The Mob’s second feature, House of Dracula (1945), was directed by the much less noted Earle C. Kenton, though Kenton did direct The Island of Lost Souls, a 1932 adaptation of The Island of Dr. Moreau. Dracula, played by a top-hatted John Carradine, comes to Dr. Edelmann (Onslow Stevens) seeking help. He is tired of being a dracula and Dr. Edelmann begins a series of transfusions because it’s always transfusions in treating draculism. Dr. Edelmann is also approached by Larry Talbot who wants Edelmann to cure his lycanthropy. At first, Edelmann doesn’t believe Talbot is a werewolf. Talbot gets himself thrown in jail in his attempts to get people to listen to him. And the police and Dr. Edelmann watch in astonishment when Talbot transforms right in his cell. I assume they were so astonished that they forgot to provide any enrichment features for the werewolf in his cell.
Once Edelmann believes him, Talbot is very impatient with his treatment taking more than the next day and tries to kill himself by throwing himself off a cliff. He ends up transforming in a sea cave and the doctor goes in after him, discovering a lycanthropy-curing mold growing there–and a frozen Frankenstein. Edelmann successfully operates on Talbot, but the doctor’s treatments for Dracula don’t go as well. The good doctor develops a taste for transfusions himself and soon starts mainlining drac. And that’s just mad science gateway drug that leads to him reanimating the Frankenstein. Meanwhile, Dracula starts pursuing his daughter–leading her so far astray that she starts playing Gershwin inflected jazz and things generally in a minor key.
Oct. 30: I watched a terrible transfer of a film I just really fond of, Michael Mann’s The Keep (1983). The Keep is so very Michael Mann, with its synth soundtrack and it’s style and its smokiness obscuring everything but lights and lasers.
During WWII, German soldiers led by Captain Wörmann (Jürgen Prochnow, yay!) move into a Rumanian keep. But there’s something in the keep and the soldiers keep picking at the protections that have trapped it. The thing in the keep starts killing them. SS commander Kämpffer (Gabriel Byrne), arrives to find the killers–by means of mass executions. Wörmann finally convinces Kämpffer that it’s a monster when it leaves them a warning in a language no one can read. On the advice of a local priest, Father Fonescu (Robert Prosky), Kämpffer retrieves Dr. Theodore Cuza (Ian McKellen) and his daughter, Eva (Alberta Watson), from a concentration camp to translate the warning and stop the monster. Cuza translates the warning and promises to research more.
Her father is afflicted by scleraderma, and so Eva Cuza braves the soldiers’ mess to get them food and is attacked. And if Dracula can appear as a mist, Molasar (Michael Carter), the thing in the keep can appear as Tangerine Dream-scented fluffy love clouds that save Eva Cuza from Nazis. Molasar has been building a body by killing Nazis. Slowly transitioning from a fluffy cloud to a visible demon, with muscles visible in red and blue, to a blackened, block-headed muscle man with glowing red eyes and mouth. Molasar heals Dr. Cuza so that the doctor might remove the talisman that traps Molasar in the keep. In return, Molasar promises to kill all Nazis. Except for Captain Wörmann, who is anti-fascist, but afraid. Wörmann is ultimately killed by Kämpffer after delivering a speech denouncing the Reich even Maximillian Schell could be proud of. Meanwhile, Eva has moved to an inn outside of the keep and meets Glaeken (Scott Glenn), an angel with no reflection or a dracula in a fuzzy sweater. They make nubbly, sweatered love so Glaeken might “touch as mortal man touches” before going to kill Molasar for good.
And it’s love that makes Dr. Cuza realize he’s become corrupted and demand that Molasar prove he’s not evil. Then Glaeken hits Molasar with a whole tube of purple rain and there are lasers everywhere. I love the effects in The Keep. They just make me happy. So much smoke and so many lasers. The Keep kinda feels like late 70s and 80s horror movies served with a bit of ill-fated and weird romance like Dracula (1979) and The Hunger (1983).
Oct. 31: My last film of this year’s 31 Days of Halloween was I Walked With A Zombie (1943) directed by Jacques Tourneur and written by Curt Siodmak. Though I love Jacques Tourneur and all the movies produced by Val Lewton, somehow I’ve never seen I Walked With A Zombie before. It was out at the video store. It wasn’t available on the website when I was looking to watch it. So this year, it was my Halloween viewing because I happened to run across it online while deciding what to watch. And it’s possible that my own ambivalence about the portrayal of Black people and voodoo put me off a little bit.But I Walked With A Zombie is a remarkably faithful portrayal of Vodun for a movie that plays on white fears of Blackness, the Savage Other and the Terrible Drums. And it has a remarkable number of roles for African-American actors. Not as good as films made by and for Black communities, but still, pretty good.
Canadian nurse and all around good girl Betsy Connell (Frances Dee) goes to work on the island of San Sebastian for sugar plantation owner Paul Holland (Tom Conway.) In the courtyard, Holland keeps the figurehead from the ship his family used to bring slaves to work his family plantations. It’s a statue of Saint Sebastian, pierced with arrows. The descendants of the slaves still work for his family and call the statue, “Ti-Misery.” “Little Misery.” Paul’s wife, Jessica (Christine Gordon) is largely unresponsive after a terrible fever. Like Marie’s mother in When Animals Dream, Jessica walks when guided or coaxed. She eats. But she expresses no desire. She is, as the Holland’s housemaid Alma (Theresa Harris) says, “mindless.”
Betsy falls in love with Paul, despite him saying things like, “All good things die here. Even the stars”; despite his admission that he’d been cruel to his wife; and despite a song sung by calypso artist Sir Lancelot about how Jessica wanted to run away with Paul’s half-brother Wesley (James Ellison) and Paul would not let her go–and then Jessica fell ill. And because her love is all pure, Betsy decides to return Paul’s wife to him–with insulin shock treatment. And when that fails and Alma tells her of the local houngan’s success with another woman who had been zombified, Betsy decides to take Jessica to the local houngan. She follows the drums and the signs to the houmfort, the voodoo temple, but instead of meeting the priest, she meets Dr. Rand, the mother of both Paul and Wesley. It turns out Dr. Rand has acted as a priestess in order to get people to boil water and other civilized things. And that she cursed Jessica while she was possessed. Everyone decides this is nonsense, except Wesley who wants to put Jessica out of her misery. But the people at the ceremony have seen Jessica. They see that she is unresponsive and feels no pain and they are concerned that she is a zombi. So they call Jessica back. It involves a lot of fine dancing by a Sabreur and an incredibly creepy presence from Darby Jones as Carre-Four. I Walked With A Zombie is a lovely film, as all of Tourneur’s films are. And I wish I had seen it sooner, but I’m glad I watched it on Halloween.
…or, is it?