White Zombie (1932) – Plot Summary & Review
White Zombie was released in 1932 and is often said to be the first zombie movie ever made and should appeal to all fans of Bela Lugosi.
During the first scenes of the movie a young couple, Neil and Madeleine, are travelling through Haiti in a horse-drawn coach. They are on their way to the house of a casual acquaintance called Charles Beaumont, who has heard they intend to marry and has persuaded them to have the ceremony on his plantation.
Neil and Madeleine are heading for the plantation. They travelling at night and have to stop twice.
First of all, they have to pause their journey for a funeral ceremony where the deceased is being buried in the middle of the road. The next time they stop is when the driver has to ask directions from a man in black who is standing by the side of the road. Unfortunately the man the driver speaks to turns out to be an evil Voodoo master and creator of zombies. His name is Murder Legendre (Bela Lugosi).
The driver remains blissfully unaware of the , but Legendre’s identity but get a fright when he spots a gang of zombies out for an evening stroll on the hillside. Decides not to hang around any longer, he cries. “Zombies!” and gets his coach moving as fast as possible.
Unfortunately for Neil and Madeline, Beaumont’s invitation to his plantation is not the nice gesture it appears to be. He wants the lovely Madeleine for himself, but she only has eyes for Neil.
When Beaumont realizes he doesn’t have a chance in hell of gaining Madeleine’s affection, he enlists the help of Murder Legrande, who is rather adept in the ancient skill of candle carving. Legrande whittles a wax 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 force 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 dark Voodoo magic revives her as a zombie.
Things don’t turn out as Beaumont had hoped. Robbed of her soul, Madeleine is a very 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. Making a break from the norm, he’s sporting a somewhat satanic-looking beard and mustache that adds a look of extra evil to his face.
However, at certain points of the movie, Lugosi’s facial expression, combined with their hairy adornments, manage to appear more comical that demonic. Regardless of how you feel about Lugosi’s on screen persona in White Zombie, the movie remains a true horror classic 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