I Walked With A Zombie

Written by Joe D on December 8th, 2010

I went, I watched, I walked with I Walked With A Zombie. It was incredible! Really the best way to see this film is in a big theater with 35mm projection! There is no substitute, you pick up so many more nuances, the atmosphere becomes all pervasive, your psyche is opened up to the incredible images and fantasy pours in through your eyes and ears to your very soul! This is how the makers designed the film to work, they didn’t think about TV or video. To say the least it was a moving experience and it clocked in at a rocket fast 70 minutes!

This film is crammed with ideas, Lewton and his team did exhaustive research and it shows, the music, the dancing, the Afro Caribbean culture give Zombie a rock hard foundation on which to build a castle of fantasy and terror. But terror in a Fairy Tale like way, sort of innocent yet savage, ruthless as Nature and as pure. This film is a textbook of studio filmmaking at a peak of artistry. The B&W photography,the lighting, the production design, the process photography, amazingly executed.


The Great RKO Artisans of Storytelling-P.S. Check out the legal disclaimer at the bottom of the frame for a joke.

We start in Canada, in a Victorian office, snow falls furiously outside the window. Our Heroine (Francis Dee) is ta nurse being offered a job in the Caribbean, one stock shot of a big sailing schooner later we’re on board (thanks to process photography) with the boss of the plantation and his men, who sing a strange island song in the background. The scene here between Francis Dee and Tom Conway is a brilliantly written piece, it expertly sets the mood for the rest of the film. “It’s so beautiful” Dee thinks to herself only to be interrupted a second later by Conway telling her “It isn’t beautiful” Dee answers “You read my mind” , Conway replies, “You see those flying fish, they’re jumping in terror to escape being eaten, that phosphorescence in the water? The putrescent bodies of dead organisms, This is a place of death.” He sets a tone of unease, he unsettles Dee by reading her mind(supernatural), he belittles her naivety, he fascinates her with his honesty. That sets up their complicated relationship for the rest of the film. All in a couple of minutes.

Then theirs a scene in the town of San Sebastian, probably the RKO backlot dressed up by D’Agostino and Keller. They filmed here maybe a day or two at most, it’s used a couple of times in the film but sparingly, you really get the impression that everything was planned out and organized with maximum efficiency, the budget was $134,000! A scene in a buggy (process) as an old black islander drives Dee to the plantation is also illuminating. The driver tells her how the slaves were brought to the island in chains on a ship, the figurehead of which is now prominently displayed at the plantation. “It’s so beautiful here” “He replies “If you say so miss, if you say so” She naively ignores the whole slavery aspect, the inherent inhumanity, brutality, focusing on the lush scenery. Lewton’s comment on Western insensitivity.


Figurehead of St. Sebastian, a representation of the slave based history of the island

The story continues and some of the high points are, the first night at the plantation, Dee is awakened by a woman crying, she goes out to investigate and enters the Tower where the wife of Ellison is kept. It’s pretty creepy, the tower set is particularly effective consisting of a stone stairway slashing across a black frame. Dee climbs the stairs and is confronted by the wraithlike zombie wife of Conway, Jessica Holland. The zombie advances upon her and I swear they applied a skull like make up to her face, it’s shot in a long shot so you can’t see her too clearly but I want to watch it again and check.


The next great set piece and my favorite scene of the film is when Dee brings Mrs. Holland to a Voodoo ritual, she leads the entranced blonde through a swamp, all artfully created on soundstages, the native drums beat ominously, they come across several talismans , a cow skull, a hanging goat, a human skull and finally a huge zombie guard, he reminds me of Gort from Day The Earth Stood Still.





But due to their protective amulets , pinned to them by the maid at the plantation, they pass unmolested. The ceremony is great, excellent music by real voodoo drummers and authentic dancing that must have blown peoples minds back in 1943. Here’s another aspect of this film that added to it’s tabu appeal, the underlying hint of interracial sex, the way the maid wakes Dee up by tickling her foot, the fascination of the voodoo priests for the tall beautiful white zombie. The confession by Conway’s mother that she participated in zombie rituals and was possessed by a voodoo god! This is 1943! Lewton so skillfully implies all this and gets away with it! Genius! Also he employed a lot of black actors, including Sir Lancelot, the calypso singer who Lewton also used in Curse Of The Cat People and Theresa Harris who is wonderful as the maid Alma. She is funny and sexy and appears in Out Of The Past and many other classic films.


The beautiful Theresa Harris-she is the crying woman that awakened Francis Dee on her first night on the Island. She was crying because her sister had a baby. The Islanders cry at a birth and rejoice at a death. The only freedom from their slavery.

There’s a transitional device used in this film that’s very subtle. I first noticed this technique in Cat People which was edited by the same person, Mark Robson. It’s a sort of a wipe, but it’s as if a black shape passed in front of the lens, in Cat People it feels like a black panther crossed very close to the camera, it creates a subconscious sense of unease, you’re not really aware of what happened, it seems like a quick fade out fade in but it isn’t. Watch Cat People and Zombie carefully and try to catch it. In Zombie it occurs late in the film, a transition between Dee talking to Conway at night at the plantation and Mrs. Holland trying to leave. Somewhere around there. A very subtle masterful stroke that I’ve never heard anyone speak of. The end of the film is a brilliant study in visual poetry, economy of storytelling, and the power of an ending. The drunk half brother kills Mrs. Holland with an arrow from the figurehead in the garden, just as the voodoo priest pierces the doll of Mrs. Holland with a pin.

The half brother(James Ellison) carries Mrs. Hollands body away pursued by the giant zombie guardian. He walks into the ocean to escape the zombie only to be swallowed up by pounding waves.
Dissolve to native fisherman spearfishing in the shallows ( a tank on a sound stage artfully lit and decorated) as they fish and sing they discover Mrs. Holland’s body,


Studio Artifice

dissolve to them carrying her in a funeral procession back to the plantation where Dee and Conway wait. The END! No dialog explaining what happened, no happy ending with Dee and Holland rushing off to get married, we don’t know what they’re going to do, it’s ambiguous and it’s great! As a matter of fact there is no dialog at all in the last 10 minutes of the film! Pure visual poetry accompanied by music! Try that today. All I can say is thank you LACMA for showing this film in a theater, with 35mm projection! And every film lover out there should see it this way, it’s a blessing!


Joi Lansing Web Of Love

Written by Joe D on April 5th, 2010

Jerry’s Video Store- The Grabs

Written by Joe D on February 16th, 2010

Wow! I just got an email from Mary, wife of Jerry, proprietor of Jerry’s Videos! Attached was an amazing song tribute to a bygone video store: Jerry’s ! I wrote about it when it closed here. Jerry’s Video’s closing left a big hole in our community and I’m so glad somebody did something to mourn it’s passing, namely Eleni Mandell and her band The Grabs. This song rocks ! It kicks ass! Check it out! Here is the link to the Grabs website. VHS!


I think this is the album with Jerry’s Video Store on it


Eleni Mandell-an incredible singer, songwriter

Santo and Johnny-Sleep Walk

Written by Joe D on February 14th, 2010

For your dreaming and listening pleasure, the great Santo and Johnny perform their hit Sleep Walk.

Django Reinhardt

Written by Joe D on February 5th, 2010

Check out this film of the great Django Rinehardt, the incredible thing besides his amazing musicianship is that his pinky and ring finger on his left hand were paralyzed in an accident and he still played like a genius! Inspirational.

Primal Sky- Caballero Del Mar

Written by Joe D on February 1st, 2010

I got a great album from a guy by the name of Tim Smith that I’d like to turn you on to. It’s called Caballero Del Mar by the band Primal Sky. There’s a lot going on in this mix of Surf, Latin, Jazz, Acid , Mancini, Morricone Music. The first track starts with a slightly laid back killer groove, with flute and sax calling and responding, acoustic guitar crashing like waves on the beach and then an amazing chorus of voices comes in like a 60’s Italian Spy Movie. The music just keeps on getting up, it never gets repetitive there’s do much going on, constantly evolving. All the tunes are great and very different. The 2nd track Rota La Ola has a really cool Spanish recitative vocal that grabs you and doesn’t let go and a cool almost New Orleans drummer working out underneath, a banda type accordion solo comes in, you just don’t know what to expect and that makes the album a lot of fun to listen to. It would make a great soundtrack for a cool beach party or it’s great to listen to while working on something, I’ve been playing it while I write lately.


Mr. Smith Goes To Huntington!

Tim Smith wrote and produced almost all of the tunes and he plays guitar on them as well, all the musicians are top notch, there’s a kick ass violin solo on Eres Hermosa, like I said you just don’t know what is going to turn up next! There’s a heavy surf connection to this album. I guess they are all beach living surfers that can jam, it comes across especially on Hijo Del Mar a kind of Caribbean Herb Alpert Groove. And Flamenco Beach rocks out like a Spaghetti Western soundtrack, hipped up and narrated by a demented Matador. Check it out. This is a great album, get your hands on a copy, apply liberally to your ears, you won’t regret it.


Extra Added Bonus- Tim with The Great Jack Palance!

R.I.P. Kitty White

Written by Joe D on September 3rd, 2009

The great L.A. born vocalist Kitty White has moved on to the next dimension, she’s singing up among the stars now, harmonizing with the music of the spheres or more likely soloing over it. She sang a duet with the King (Elvis Presley) in King Creole, dubbed the vocal of the lounge singer (Mady Comfort) in Kiss Me Deadly and sang the Farmhouse Lullaby in Night Of The Hunter. You can’t pick three more influential 50’s films to be involved with, from a super-coolness perspective! Fare Thee Well beautiful voiced Kitty, we’ll all hear you again in the Promised Land. I thought she had dubbed the little girl’s voice in the boat as they float down the river but I was mistaken, thanks to Preston Neal Jones author of the fabulous book Heaven And Earth To Play With, The Filming Of Night Of The Hunter for pointing this out.

Night Of The Hunter- Kitty’s vocals come in at 1 min. 42 secs.

Here is her voice in Kiss Me Deadly at 7 mins 39 secs. in from the top

Michael Jackson-DEAD

Written by Joe D on June 25th, 2009

Jack Nitzsche told me he really dug Michael Jackson’s song Ben the theme from the movie about a rat. I think this song says a lot about what it was like to be Michael Jackson. Here ’tis.

Franco De Gemini- Once Upon A Time In The West

Written by Joe D on February 5th, 2009

Here’s an interview with Franco De Gemini, he played the harmonica on the soundtrack of Sergio Leone’s masterpiece Once Upon A Time In The West. It’s in italian but even if you don’t speak Italian you’ll get a lot out of it. What an incredible movie and what a magnificent score. I went to a screening of a restored version of this film last year, my friends at Triage Motion Picture Services did the restoration and it was beautiful. You can really see the attention to detail Leone put into making this film when you watch it on a big screen. But check out Franco and dig his playing of two notes that clash and how he bends notes and how he gave a voice to The Man With The Harmonica.

The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane

Written by Joe D on November 17th, 2008

TCM has done it again, screened a somewhat obscure film I’ve never seen. The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane is a stylish thriller (sort of), a psychological fairy tale chess game, the board pieces consisting of a precocious blonde angel, sexy, innocent brilliant, deadly, an evil Prince, sadistic, pederast, coward, bully, with pretensions of refined debauchery, a teen aged limping magician, complete with top hat and cape, accomplice, lover, confidant, defender of his lady’s virtue, a large village policeman, slow, good natured, (later to write Jacques Brel is alive and living in Paris) and a racist Queen of a landlady, driving in her Bentley like the wicked witch.
Beautifully directed and photographed TLGWLDTL feels like a EuroHorror film, not quite a giallo ( no black gloved killers) but definitely closer to the Italian style of filmmaking than the American. Complete with a glimpse of a nude 13 year old Jodie Foster ( really her older sister Connie, body doubling her) that was cut out of the American release. Martin Sheen is excellent as the pervert neighbor who covets Jodie’s nubile body, but Jodie is amazing, a captivating, mesmerizing performance that dispels the incredulity this tale could easily raise. It’s worth watching sheerly for her genius. She has a magnetic, feral/angelic quality that makes it hard to take your eyes off her. The camera loves her would be one way to express it but it seems to me that some people can project their thoughts through the Cinema Eye (the camera lens) much more powerfully than others. Is that Acting? I think it’s more a psychic phenomena than a learned craft. The director,Nicolas Gessner, a Hungarian, does an excellent job. A true Euro director. He understands Film and manipulates it beautifully. One of the things I look for in a great filmmaker is a memorable image for the last shot of a film. True Cinema creators always have this, and this movie has a beaut.
The score is interesting, Chopin concerto played as source from a record, and wah wah guitar funk, so 70’s, another aspect that draws comparison with the Italian thrillers of that era. This film also serves as an example of how to make an excellent film with basically one location and only a few actors, it’s a great lesson in restrained resource filmmaking. It was based on a novel and the author(Laird Koenig) wrote the screenplay, so there was a lot of thought put into the story before the cameras rolled, you can tell. It won a Sci Fi award but I think Jodie should have gotten an Oscar for her work.

Italia A Mano Armata, Franco Micalizzi,

Written by Joe D on December 20th, 2007

This is a killer clip of an orchestra in Italy playing the theme from Italia A Mano Armata (A Special Cop In Action, USA) an incredible piece of music by Franco Micalizzi. I have a story about this particular tune. I was working as an editor on Kill Bill. One day Quentin tells me that two great Poliziotto’s are playing at The American Cinematheque that night. So we go and see them, they were great. Italia A Mano Armata and Roma A Mano Armata. Cut to a few months ago. I’m working on Death Proof, QT cuts in a piece of music in the big car chase, it’s Italia A Mano Armata! He tells me he’s been wanting to use that music ever since we saw the films at The Cinematheque during Kill Bill! Enjoy! Have a glass of Nebbiolo!

Fetish Quartet Video, Daniele Luppi

Written by Joe D on December 19th, 2007

I just found this video on YouTube. I directed, shot, and edited it for my pal Daniele Luppi. It’s a music video set to his tune Fetish Quartet from his album An Italian Story. Daniele did the score for my film One Night With You and his album features performances by a few of the same legendary musicians he employed on the soundtrack, mainly Alessandro Alessandroni and Antonello Vannucchi. It’s a great album, check it out. By the way Daniele has been busy working with Gnarls Barkley on some amazing tracks. Keep your ears open for their next collaboration.