Young couple Madeleine and Neil are coaxed by acquaintance Monsieur Beaumont to get married on his Haitian plantation. Beaumont's motives are purely selfish as he makes every attempt to convince the beautiful young girl to run away with him. For help Beaumont turns to the devious Legendre, a man who runs his mill by mind controlling people he has turned into zombies. After Beaumont uses Legendre's zombie potion on Madeleine, he is dissatisfied with her emotionless being and wants her to be changed back. Legendre has no intention of doing this and he drugs Beaumont as well to add to his zombie collection. Meanwhile, grieving 'widower' Neil is convinced by a local priest that Madeleine may still be alive and he seeks her out. Written by
Gary Jackson <firstname.lastname@example.org>
A diabolical voodoo master plots to turn a beautiful young American into a WHITE ZOMBIE, a slave of his perverted passions...
Here is one of the great unheralded horror classics of the 1930's. Almost forgotten today, it is an excellent example of what can be accomplished by an obscure film company (in this case Halperin Productions) working with a tiny budget, but using enormous flair & imagination. Some of the visuals - the opening scene of the burial on the road, the sugar mill worked by zombies - remain in the imagination for an uncomfortable amount of time, one sure sign of true success for a horror film. Certain of the settings - the hillside graveyard, the villain's towering fortress - are as good as you'll find anywhere. Additionally, the moody music of Xavier Cugat & the make-up wizardry of Jack Pierce help tremendously.
But it's the performance of Bela Lugosi, looking utterly satanic, which is truly memorable. Released the year following his celebrated Dracula, WHITE ZOMBIE gives him another character which, in measures of pure menace, is easily the equal of the Count. With his mesmeric eyes, expressive, spider-like hands & wonderfully eerie voice, Lugosi radiates absolute evil. This talented Austro-Hungarian actor (born Béla Ferenc Dezsõ Blaskó, 1882-1956) would fritter away much of his career in low-budget dregs, but here he must have realized he was in competent hands and he is obviously having a wonderful time. To see his imposing, cloaked figure stalk about the screen, closely followed by his Living Dead slaves, is to enjoy one of cinema's most deliciously spooky moments.
Madge Bellamy & John Harron are both impressive as Lugosi's victims. Robert Frazer is very good indeed as the plantation owner whose obsession for Miss Bellamy throws him right into Lugosi's clutches. Elderly Joseph Cawthorn scores as the aged missionary who may be the only person wise enough to thwart the zombie master. Movie mavens will recognize an uncredited Clarence Muse as the frightened coach driver in the opening sequence.
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