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5.0 out of 5 stars The Magical Mysticism of Val Lewton Productions., 8 Nov. 2013
This review is from: I Walked With a Zombie & Body Snatcher [DVD] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC] (DVD)
I Walked with a Zombie (1943)

Beautiful and dreamy horror(ish) film.

Nurse Betsy arrives in the West Indies to care for Jessica, the wife of Paul Holland. Jessica was struck down with a fever that has rendered her in a permanent state of mental paralysis. As Betsy starts to fall for Holland, she resolves to cure Jessica and get to the bottom of just what is going on in this mysterious place.

Producer Val Lewton firmly carved out a reputation for having a keen eye with a number of literary horror adaptations in the 1940s, there is certainly a case for I Walked With A Zombie being one of the best of the bunch. Tho tagged as a horror film, and boasting a title to further that inkling, I Walked With A Zombie is more in keeping with the dreamy and atmospheric romanticism of Jane Eyre. Sure the voodoo core of the film is chilling in its intent, but to really sell this as an outright horror film would do it a big disservice.

Lewton's ideals are more focused on suggestion in a psychological way, the scares more cloaked in a shadowy unease, director Jacques Tourneur perfectly in tune with his producer to unhinge the audience by way of an approaching dread we can't see. Some of Tourneur's work here is wonderful, hauntingly elegiac sequences linger long in the memory, rustling wind blows as characters are appearing to float thru sugar cane fields, the distant rumble of ceremonial drums luring them forward with mystical powers. A voodoo zombie shuffling on a mission to fetch poor Jessica from the plantation home is not horrifying, its damn near gorgeous, soft and near silent in its execution, the whole film is simply full of memorable moments.

Written by Curt Siodmak, the concept for the piece came about by way of a number of newspaper articles that were telling of voodoo and witchcraft in Haiti, the scope for a screamathon horror movie was obviously there, but thankfully in this viewers humble opinion, we get a classy and chilling film that is dripping with ethereal beauty from first reel to last. 8/10

The Body Snatcher (1945)

Grave robbing is one thing, but murder is quite another.
Dr. MacFarlane and John Gray share a murky past, but just what is this hold that the lurching Gray has over the eminent Doctor? Based on a Robert Louis Stevenson short story, The Body Snatcher contains tight direction from Mr Versatile, Robert Wise-all the classy Gothicism one comes to expect from producer Val Lewton-and a stunningly effective performance from Boris Karloff. The piece neatly puts itself out as a kind of sequel to the infamous story of Burke & Hare, where here our main protagonists are clouded over by a link to the dastardly duo who purloined cadavers for cash in the 1820s.

What stands out with this picture is it's wonderful pacing, nothing is rushed to try and jolt fear into the viewer, it's sedate and framed in a marvellous Gothic texture by the makers. Its core story line is of course one of great distaste, but its a medical quandary in the name of research that makes for a very interesting piece indeed. We are put into a position very early on where we so want to see a young girl cured of her ills, this axis of the film is neatly surrounded by the horror unfolding. Great writing from Stevenson, Lewton & MacDonald.

Boris Karloff is Gray, a large shuffling man who is the body snatcher of the title, a smirking and well spoken Gent, it really shouldn't be scary, but Karloff manages to chill the blood in every scene that he is in. Henry Daniell is MacFarlane, a very emotive performance as the character is twisted by his pursuit of medical achievement whilst having Gray's looming presence constantly hovering over him. Rounding out the cast with effect is Russell Wade as protégé in waiting, Donald Fettes, Bela Lugosi {a classic horror fans dream comes real in one great sequence with Karloff} as Joseph, and Edith Atwater as loyal love interest Meg Camden.

However, they all play second fiddle to the makers work here. Gloomy cobbled streets come shining to the fore, Gray's hovel like abode cloaked in dark shadows with the odd flicker of fire light, and stone surrounds that come across as monolithic structures. Some great sequences as well, one particular one uses the characters shadows to tell the story under the watchful gaze of Gray's cat, and then the final reel, which is moodily excellent and perfectly puts closure on this fine piece of work.

Highly recommended. 8/10
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Location: Birmingham, England.

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