October 17, 2009

Zombies: When the Dead Walk (Review)

Zombies: When the Dead Walk is screening on October 29th @ The Royal Cinema in Toronto. Click HERE for more details.

Zombies: When the
Dead Walk (2008)

Director: Donna Zuckerbrot

4 / 5 zedheads

Zombies: When the Dead Walk is a briskly-paced and intriguing documentary by Donna Zuckerbrot that begins with a brief look at zombies in popular culture before spending the bulk of its running time exploring the origins of the zombie in Haitian spiritual beliefs. 

Zombies: When the Dead Walk is narrated by Colm Feore and produced by Reel Time Images in association with Vision TV for Vision TV's anthology series Enigma. This expertly edited documentary takes the audience on an intelligent and respectful journey into Haitian beliefs to examine the role the zombie plays in rural Haitian culture and society as a product of history, a magical world view, and -- perhaps -- even chemical science. 

Zombies: When the Dead Walk features a number of knowledgeable interviews with writers and academics. Writer and anthropologist Wade Davis (The Serpent and the Rainbow) shares his observations about Hatian beliefs and his experience searching for the scientific basis of the so-called "zombie powder." Professor Elizabeth McAlister discusses zombisim's role as a method of rural justice and the North American and European misrepresentation of Voodoo in horror films. Also, Professor McAlister joins Professor Patrick Bellegarde-Smith and Professor Leslie Desmangles to detail how the concept of the zombie fits into Haitian rural justice, political dynamics, and approaches to death.

I was familiar with most of the ideas and stories recounted in Zombies but even I learned something new. For example, I had never heard much about the zombie astral - a bodiless spirit that can be put to work by a voodoo bokor (sorcerer).

I would have liked to see more discussion of the current interest in the flesh-hungry zombies pioneered by George A. Romero. Unfortunately, because of the film's television-defined running time, the documentary does not have enough time to explore in any real detail how the Haitian voodoo zombie evolved into the cannibalistic creature of fiction. On the other hand, Zombies: When the Dead Walk remains a fascinating and intriguing look into the notion of the zombie and its hold on our imaginations.

The Zed Word recommends Zombies to hardcore and new zombie fans alike. 

If you live in Toronto, don't miss a special screening of Zombies: When the Dead Walk on October 29th as part of a Halloween double-feature at the Royal Cinema. Click here for all the details.