White Zombie (1932): Review
White Zombie was released in 1932 and is often described as being the first ever zombie film.
In the first scenes of the movie a young couple, Neil and Madeleine, are travelling through Haiti in a horse-drawn coach on their way to the house of a casual acquaintance called Charles Beaumont who, on hearing they intend to marry, has persuaded them to have the ceremony on his plantation. Neil and Madeleine are travelling at night, en-route to Beaumont’s plantation, but have to stop twice. First for a funeral ceremony, where the deceased is being buried in the middle of the road, and then again for the driver to ask directions from a man in black that is standing by the side of the road. Unfortunately the man he asks turns out to be none other than the evil Voodoo master, and creator of zombies, Murder Legendre (Bela Lugosi). The driver remains blissfully unaware of this fact, but then he spots a gang of zombies out for an evening stroll on the hillside and decides not to hang around any longer. “Zombies!” he cries and gets his coach the hell out of there.
Unfortunately for the soon to be happy couple Beaumont has an ulterior motive to his invitation. He wants to have the lovely Madeleine for himself. But Madeleine loves Neil very much and when Beaumont realizes that he doesn’t stand a chance in hell with the young lady he enlists the help of Murder Legrande who is rather adept in the ancient skill of candle carving. Legrande whittles up a waxy effigy of Madeline and holds it above a burning flame. Within seconds the poor girl is dead. Or so it would seem.
While a distraught Neil drowns his sorrows in a local tavern and is haunted by hallucinations of his lost love, Beaumont, Legrand and a zombie work gang go to Madeleine’s tomb and steal her body.
Once the body snatchers have got the sleeping beauty to Legrand’s mountain-top fortress the master of magic and all things candle revives her as a zombie. Things don’t turn out as Beaumont had hoped though, because, robbed of her soul, Madeleine is quite a different person to the one he loved. Matters are complicated further by the fact that Legrand has decided that he wants to keep Madeleine for himself.
Bela Lugosi has a slightly different look from normal in White Zombie and sports a rather satanic-looking beard and moustache that gives an added look of evil to his face. At times though, Lugosi’s facial expression, combined with their hairy adornments, manage to look more comical that demonic. Whatever you do, or do not, think of Lugosi’s on screen persona in White Zombie , however, it remains, regardless, one of the true classic horrors of the black and white era.
Director: Victor Halperin
Bela Lugosi … ‘Murder’ Legendre
Madge Bellamy … Madeleine Short Parker
Joseph Cawthorn … Dr. Bruner
Robert Frazer … Charles Beaumont
John Harron … Neil Parker
Brandon Hurst … Silver (the butler)
George Burr Macannan … Von Gelder (zombie)
Frederick Peters … Chauvin (zombie)
Annette Stone … Maid
John Printz … Ledot the witch doctor zombie
Dan Crimmins … Pierre the witch doctor
Claude Morgan … Zombie
John Fergusson … Zombie
Velma Gresham … Maid
Hans Joby … Chauvin (zombie) (as John S. Peters)
Clarence Muse … Coach driver