I Walked With a Zombie (1943)

I Walked With a Zombie.jpg

‘There’s no beauty here – only death and decay. Everything dies here – even the stars.’ RKO were on the skids with the commercial failure of Orson Welles’ films so producer Val Lewton was entrusted with churning out low budgeters ($150,000 limit) with audience appeal. One of these famous cult productions is this Jane Eyre adaptation by Curt Siodmak and Ardel Wray from a magazine article by Inez Wallace, set in Haiti or an island very like it, with Frances Dee as a nurse hired to care for Christine Gordon who has a mysterious illness. Dee falls for the husband, sugar plantation owner Tom Conway and begins to get drawn into the island’s strange colonial past and the voodoo culture… Zombies, colonial guilt, voodoo ceremonies, calypso, sibling rivalry, supernatural ambiguity and the ineffable blend beautifully in a film that positively drips with atmosphere and scares under the careful direction of Jacques Tourneur, all on the studio lot. Better experienced than read about.

Advertisements

French Quarter (1978)

French Quarter 1978 movie poster.jpg

We love N’Oleans, cher. And we love odd films. So this curiosity from the late 70s drive-in circuit is just the ticket. Directed by Dennis Kane from his screenplay with Barney Cohen. Bereaved drifter Alisha Fontaine (a newcomer of 17 going on 35 who had done a biker flick and a drugs movie some years earlier…) turns up on the Greyhound bus and doesn’t like life as a stripper. By some voodoo trick she winds up in the same bed 100 years earlier, in a brothel. Pretty Baby X French Lieutenant’s Woman, as one wag has it, this has okay production values, narrative stretch (with a VO to keep us in the loop) and some serious strangeness. Bizarrely, the soundtrack is composed by the great Dick Hyman and there are tracks by Jelly Roll Morton (who shows up 100 years ago!!!) Virginia Mayo’s late career appearance is a welcome addition. And there’s Barry Sullivan too!  (And spot a Playboy Bunny). Was it all just an especially piquant dream?

The Vault of Horror (1973)

Vault of Horror poster.jpg

Amicus (Milton Subotsky and Max Rosenberg) was the only other production company attempting to give Hammer a run for their money in the 60s and early 70s and this was another in their series of portmanteau films, adapted from stories by William Gaines. Five men are trapped in the basement of an office building and share their recurring nightmares. My favourite is the one with Terry-Thomas and Glynis Johns and their fabulous bungalow filled with vinyl wallpaper, anglepoise lamps and a mod kitchen. There’s also fun to be had in seeing Robin Nedwell (from TV’s Doctor in the House) and Arthur Mullard – and then finding out who’s really top dog at the end. Not really terrifying, more of a mood piece about male anxiety.