Thursday, August 25, 2016

Movie Review: White Zombie (1932)

White Zombie (1932)
A Halperin Production, USA, 1932.
White Zombie title
From the Mill Creek Horror Classics 50 Movie Pack.

Inspired by the book "The Magic Island" by William B. Seabrook.

Young couple Madeline Short (Madge Bellamy) and Neil Harker (John Harron) visit Haiti and plan to get married. They were invited by plantation owner Charles Beaumont (Robert Frazer) who secretly wants to marry Madeline. On the road to Beaumont's mansion the voodoo master 'Murder' Legendre (Bela Lugosi) nabs Madeline's scarf. The couple were invited to Haiti by plantation owner Charles Beaumont (Robert Frazer) who secretly wants to marry Madeline. Missionary Dr Bruner smells a fish and suggests that Madeline and Neil should leave the place as soon as their wedding is over. 
John Harron and Madge Bellamy
Neil Harker and Madeline Short
Bela Lugosi
'Murder' Legendre
Joseph Cawthorn
Dr Bruner
On 'Murder' Legendre's sugar mill the workers look like sleepwalkers. One worker falls into the grinder while the rest just continue working as nothing happened. Beaumont makes a deal with Legendre. Using voodoo powder they will turn Madeline into a zombie. So after the wedding Madeline drinks poisoned wine and dies. Neil goes to drink heavily. Beaumont, Legendre and the zombies dig up Madeline and Neil stumbles into the scene to see that the tomb has been raided. Dr. Bruner has a theory that Madeline may be alive but a victim of voodoo magic. 
Robert Frazer
Frederick Peters as zombie Chauvin
Madeline wanders in the castle
Although not scary by modern standards, it has quite creepy atmosphere in some scenes and has couple of scenes that seem to have tested the limits of the Hays' code. However the full potential of zombies is quite underused, they mostly go around doing tasks their master orders and manage to kill only one victim. Bela Lugosi's character is properly devilish. Zombie Chauvin (Frederick Peters) is an impressing looking undead henchman. Also some scenes have a nice silent movie style playing with shadows and dim lighting. Although the black zombies are used as slaves for the benefit of a white colonist don't expect much of Romero-style social commentary though.

The story has so many similarities to "Dracula" (1931) and even the character names are similar so it can be considered some kind of a rip-off. The protagonists (Neil Parker/John Harker) are invited to desolate dwelling, there is a young lady (Madeline Short/Mina Seward) who is controlled by evil master (Legendre/Dracula), evil master's ally (Beaumont/Renfield) is slowly destroyed by his master and a priestlike specialist (Dr Bruner/Van Helsing) helps the hero. 

What makes this movie interesting is its historical value and later impact and the introduction of a new monster type. For cultural impact it was more important film than it was initially acknowledged. This was quite possibly the first movie with zombies and voodoo. The zombies here represent the ones from the Haitian folklore being drugged slaves without cannibalistic tendencies. It was inspirational for later film makers (at least Tobe Hooper and Tim Burton, and also Angus Scrimm of "Phantasm" movies was a fan) and it has become a cult film. Rob Zombie took the name of this movie for his band. Who knows if Roger Corman's surprisingly similar shot of the castle in "The Terror" took some inspiration from this and both films have also ominous bird of prey flying around. 
The castles in "White Zombie" and "The Terror"
Rating: Good 

Starring: Bela Lugosi, Madge Bellamy, Joseph Cawthorn, Robert Frazer, John Harron, Brandon Hurst, George Burr Macannan, Frederick Peters, Annette Stone, John Printz, Dan Crimmins, Claude Morgan, John Fergusson, Velma Gresham, Clarence Muse 
Director: Victor Halperin


  1. Toimi hyvin edelleenkin.

    Myös samanniminen bändikin.

    1. Kuin oikein muistelen niin tämä ja "Night of the Living Dead" olivat ensimmäiset näkemäni aidot zombiefilmit. Tulivat aikoinaan maratonina joltain kaapelikanavalta joka ei ollut varsinainen elokuvakanava (BBC tms) ja olivat parhaat esimerkit perinteisestä voodoo-zombieista ja moderneimmista zombieista.


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