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White Zombie movie photo: White Zombie whitezombieen2lk7.jpg

            When Victor Halperin’s indie Horror film WHITE ZOMBIE was released in August of 1932 it was a great success.  Considered the first feature-length zombie movie, WHTIE ZOMBIE cast a shadow over virtually every zombie film to come after.  Indeed, no film did more to set our conventions on what a zombie should be until NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD came along.  One would think that given this, WHITE ZOMBIE would be a cherished part of our cinematic cultural legacy.  Yet a few years later, it just sort of vanished.  Re-releases ceased and memory of the film faded.  It was considered a lost film for decades until a copy was discovered in 1960, but for some reason, the owners of the copyright refused access to the original print.  Consequently, modern viewers have to watch WHITE ZOMBIE with scenes cut in the middle, missing lines of dialogue, and a dull, grainy picture.  It is certainly unfair to judge it on the basis of the copies we are currently subjected to.  Yet somehow, this movie overcomes its many disadvantages and ends up being a satisfying experience of the macabre.

More below the jump!


             The primary asset of WHITE ZOMBIE is, of course, the great Bela Lugosi - who turns in a typically creepy, yet nuanced performance.  Another notable actor is Joseph Cawthorn, who delivers a comic-relief performance that succeeds in being both funny and important to the story.  The other actors don’t fare quite as well.  In order to save money, the rest of the main cast were silent-film veterans who had seen their fame diminish with the advent of sound.  Unsurprisingly, the acting suffers overall in WHITE ZOMBIE.  Contemporary critics, who were used to showy acting on film, almost unanimously cited the acting as the weakest aspect of the movie.     

    While WHITE ZOMBIE is indeed a clunky, messy film, there are a lot of things that it does right.  Victor Halperin sets a nice eerie mood.  He wisely rented space at Universal Studios and re-dressed the still-standing sets from previous Universal Horror films.  The great hall from DRACULA, the corridors from FRANKENSTEIN and the balcony from THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME all make appearances here, and it lends an air of legitimacy to the film it might not have otherwise enjoyed.  Another great aspect of WHITE ZOMBIE is its creative and effective use of sound.  Ritual chanting, chirping frogs, and squawking birds unsettle the viewer at all the right moments.  Even the relentless droning of a sugar mill is used to amazing affect in our introduction to Murder Legendre’s zombie empire.

White Zombie photo: White Zombie WhiteZombiePoster.jpg

    Is WHITE ZOMBIE a great film?  It is one of those rare films where it is easy to agree with the films detractors and supporters both.  Rock star and film director Rob Zombie is a fan and named his Metal band after the film.  He said about it; “It amazes me that a film that is so readily available can be so lost.”  He has a good point.  At a running time of only 65 minutes, there really is no good reason for any Horror aficionado or general film buff to not give WHTIE ZOMBIE a spin.

White Zombie photo: White Zombie whzombie.gif

WHITE ZOMBIE fun facts - Bela Lugosi was paid an obscenely little amount for his work.  Most reports put his salary at $800, while his co-star Madge Bellamy was reported to have been paid $5,000.

Shot in only 11 days.

The make-up for Murder Legendre was created by Jack Pierce; the artist behind the iconic Universal monsters.

White Zombie photo: White Zombie (1932) WhiteZombie1932.jpg

Murder Legendre - “It is unfortunate you are no longer able to speak.  I should be interested to hear you describe your symptoms.  You see, you are the first man to know what is happening.  None of the others did…“

Murder Legendre - “Not in a month, not even a year, monsieur.  I have looked into her eyes.  She is deep in love - but not with you.”
Charles Beaumont - “They’re to be married within an hour.  There must be a way!”
Murder Legendre - “There… IS a way”

Dr. Bruner - (Recurring line) “Have you got a match?”


Greatest of the Universal Horror actors...

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| 33 votes | Vote | Results

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Comment Preferences

  •  Old school vs. new school zombies (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    cmcolin, niemann, Avila, quarkstomper, duhban

    Old school:
    undead slaves of sorcerers or voodoo queens.
    No motivation of their own, just mindless slaves  
    They don't seem to have appetites
    Slow shuffle, sometimes coupled with extraordinary strength
    Can be laid to rest when sorcerer/ess is killed, but guns and other weapons aren't much use
    Not contagious
    Not really evil, but the tool of evil sorcerer/ess
    Side note: Somehow I remember that in one or more old-school zombie flick that the sorcerer is ultimately killed by his rebellious slaves.  

    New school
    Virus/alien waves/?? causes dead to rise
    Nobody's in control
    Insatiable appetite for human flesh - brains are a delicacy
    Appetite is only motivator
    Can move very fast
    Contagious - zombie bite -> you're gonna turn into one of them
    Can only be laid to rest when head is destroyed
    Not really evil

    It would be interesting to see a hybrid of these two schools of thought on zombies, perhaps with a mad scientist creating an undead army to take over the world, perhaps starting with noble motivations and all spiraling out of control.

    We do not forgive. We do not forget. The whole world is watching.

    by Tracker on Mon Oct 21, 2013 at 08:24:12 AM PDT

  •  Link to Day 20... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Avila, duhban know where...

    Day 20 - SHAUN OF THE DEAD

  •  Impossible to vote in your poll (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    cmcolin, niemann, Avila, duhban

    too many options.  I'll just pick one of my faves who doesn't have much support.

    I should give White Zombie another spin.  It was just about the only pre-code horror film I've seen that I didn't like.  The long slow-moving stretches with no dialog seemed to last forever.  Given that I frequently criticize modern films for being too 'eventful' it seems that White Zombie must be really really slow.  But maybe it was just my mood.  I will definitely watch it again at some point.

    "To see both sides of a quarrel, is to judge without hate or alarm" - Richard Thompson

    by matching mole on Mon Oct 21, 2013 at 11:18:17 AM PDT

  •  I love White Zombie. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Avila, cmcolin, duhban

    It was with this one that I really started to appreciate Bela Lugosi apart from Dracula -- watching him making acting choices completely different from those he did in the earlier film -- including adding some really droll humor.

    We shouldn't forget the other zombie classic, though -- Val Lewton's brilliant 1942 I Walked With A Zombie.  To me that may be Lewton's masterpiece with it's atmosphere and photography -- and that's saying something, given the high quality of all his films.

    I just watched another strange RKO film which surprised me in being a kind of bizarre comedy companion to I Walked With A Zombie -- 1945's Zombies On Broadway, with Bela Lugosi.  It takes place on the same island, has some of the same sets, the same calypso singer singing the same song ... and the same creepy zombie (the large sinewy black man with googly eyes).

    •  "I Walked with a Zombie" is absolutely a candidate (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      niemann, duhban

      for masterpiece status. I was amazed when I saw it on TV as a kid. Not at all what I expected. It fully expresses the poetic sensibility at the heart of so many of Lewton's projects. Definitely top rank Lewton.

      The calypso singer was Sir Lancelot, who made a number of movies in Hollywood in forties. He was an international star who influenced other performers such as Harry Belafonte and the UK Ska band Madness.

      The zombie Carre-Four was played by Darby Jones.

      Nothing human is alien to me.

      by WB Reeves on Mon Oct 21, 2013 at 01:35:34 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  White Zombie (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    niemann, duhban

    deserves to be considered on a par with Dracula and Murders in the Rue Morgue. I consider it to be a better film than Dracula.

    Nothing human is alien to me.

    by WB Reeves on Mon Oct 21, 2013 at 01:41:11 PM PDT

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