I Walked with a Zombie is a deserved classic from yesteryear. It freaked me out when I was a kid but watching it a few years ago I realised that it was mostly a melodrama with a small bit towards the end where the heroine does indeed walk with a zombie. What I also didn’t realise was that someone remade it in 2002 and called it Ritual. Also this time round no one actually walks with a zombie. In fact I’m not sure you even see a zombie. So maybe thats why they had to change the name: there’s no zombie for anyone to walk with, although people do walk about in general, but calling it I Walked just seems a bit vague for a horror movie.
Jaques Tourneur’s 1943 classic was a great example of the director’s style. Tourneur was the king of using mood and suggestion to create an uneasy and frightful horror movie. He did that in that film but also in Cat People and, my personal favourite, Night of the Demon. However, modern film makers know better than he did, so the 2002 version jettisons all that and adds Jennifer Grey and Tim Curry instead. Hurrah!
Jennifer Grey plays a disgraced Doctor who can only get a job in Jamaica looking after Craig Sheffer’s brother Wesley, who thinks he’s a zombie but never acts like a zombie once. Maybe he does a bit of sleep walking occasionally but that hardly qualifies as zombiness. Once out there, Grey meets a host of characters including Tim Curry as a vet (I would not let him near any of my pets, he’d probably have sex with them) and a lot of borderline racist Jamaican stereotypes, all of whom carry machetes. I’m not joking either, even the kids have them. Grey asks about this machete obsession and it seems the only job available in Jamaica is to chop things down. In every scene there’s a Jamaican in the background chopping something. Its ridiculous. The backgrounds are lovely though. They’ve actually gone out and shot the film in Jamaica so it has a bit of authenticity in there. That’s the only bit though.
Blimey, the tone of Ritual is all over the place. There’s a lot of voodoo nonsense for sure, but also there’s free form jazz playing, people making jokes about breasts, Grey even does a bit of dirty dancing at one point. To be fair I think Jennifer Grey might be the best thing about this film. I don’t know too much about her range, I wasn’t entirely convinced that she was a doctor, but she does show off that natural charm she had in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and she seems to take the role seriously, but not that seriously and as a result is quite watchable.
Okay, there’s another reason she’s watchable and its not just her acting ability. The filmmakers have obviously decided that we need to see Grey’s nipples as much as possible. Every top she wears are all about emphasising her nips. If that looks like its not going to be enough she will suddenly have a sweaty nightmare so we can see them more prominently through her wet t-shirt. Its quite distracting. Admittedly its in Tim Curry’s character but he is openly gawking at them every time they share a scene. And so is everyone else, including me. I couldn’t help it, they followed me round the room. For example:
Anyway, I’m getting distracted again… what works well is the relationship Grey has with one of the servants at Sheffer’s place, played by Kristen Wilson. The two of them seem to genuinely become friends and they don’t just talk about men, it feels like a proper female friendship and is quite unusual for a film of this ilk. Actually, the dynamics of the various relationships on the island is also quite interesting, and that’s lucky because as a horror movie its kind of rubbish.
A lot of the horror scenes turn out to be nothing more than Grey’s dreams, which is fine the first time when she gets tied up and covered in spiders (crawling over her nipples obviously) but by the fifth time she wakes up screaming you’ll probably have lost interest. Also a number of characters have hallucinations about various voodoo things happening to them, all of which are quite silly. It might not be so bad but none of the nightmares and visions are very well executed, especially when some CG is required which looks cheap and unfinished. Plus most of the actors tend to over act as if they weren’t sure about what effect was going to be added in later so were overcompensating by giving it their all. Trouble is they make it look like they are in a comic sketch, so once more all tension and suspense evaporates.
Its a shame. I think there is potential for a really good remake of I Walked With A Zombie but this is not it. However, Ritual is fairly entertaining. I mean, its got Tim Curry, a lovely setting, Jennifer Grey and those nipples, how can it not be?