White Zombie (1932)

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  • directed by Victor Halperin
  • starring Bela Lugosi, Madge Bellamy, Joseph Cawthorn, John Harron, Robert Frazer, Brandon Hurst
  • A man turns to a witch doctor to lure the woman he loves away from her fiancé, but instead turns her into a zombie slave.

“Before we get through with this thing we may uncover sins that even the devil would be ashamed of.”

Fortunately after spending a couple weeks in this era and genre, I now know what to expect out of these types of “horror” movies. I admit it probably took me too long to realize that I shouldn’t expect to be frightened in the least, but thanks to this film I now see that their importance lies in not just their influence over time, but the atmosphere created and disturbing imagery that lingers around in the head long after they end.

And so it was with White Zombie, a film that provided a great template for future iterations that deal with the terrifying sort of zombies instead of what they were here, which were basically slaves that do the bidding of Bela Lugosi’s Murder Legendre (great character name alert). These are not the zombies of George Romero or the brain-hungry ones from any other modern day depiction, instead Legendre’s got them all blue-collar style working at a sugar factory for a lot of the film and they don’t really pose a threat unless he tells them to. There’s a lot of voodoo at work so I just assumed he could instruct them to be Madeline’s innocent bridesmaids and they’d do that just the same. It’s not until Madeline joins his troop that we’re actually invested in his evil brand of magic.

But by the end of the film, I was completely swept up in the eerie Caribbean plantation setting and the haunting images that Halperin captured of Madge Bellamy as the zoned out zombie bride. There was also a great sequence after the failed wedding in which a tortured Neil drowns his sorrows at a shadow-laden bar and then tramples through a cemetery in quest of his lost bride. Add all that up with a solid Lugosi performance and an exciting climax, which was rare in that I wasn’t able to predict exactly where they were going with it, and White Zombie may actually edge out some of the by-the-numbers Universal horror titles of the time.

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About classixquest
all the things I should have seen

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