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A young couple travel to Haiti to get married at the estate of a
friend. The friend, however, wants the bride for himself. He travels to
the sugar mill of Murder Legendre, a voodoo master, seeking his help.
Legendre "kills" the bride then steals her body, turning her into a
zombie. Her husband tries to get her back, aided by the local
While the major film studios were releasing horror films such as "Dracula" during the early 1930s, the smaller studios, realizing that the public's interest in horror films was not going to wane, created their own films. Using their imagination to compensate for lack of a proper budget, these films became known as "poverty row horrors". "White Zombie" is perhaps the most well known of these low-budget genre flicks.
"White Zombie", to its credit, is a better film than "Dracula". The photography is excellent, portraying Haiti as a dreamlike locale, with burials taking place on the road (literally, I might add) to avoid being resurrected for use as slaves; an eerily silent cemetery where Lugosi does his one-stop shopping for bodies to zombify; an old crumbling castle where Lugosi lives, with massive structural damage that would turn deadly later on. The film doesn't start with the credits but jumps right into a scene, with the American couple arriving at a roadside burial then later encountering Lugosi, the voodoo master stealing the bride's scarf when the carriage driver panics upon seeing a group of zombies & recklessly drives the carriage away.
While the technical aspects are stellar, the film's main problem is the peripheral acting. Madge Bellamy is not the world's greatest actress, in fact she is quite bad, uttering her first lines ("In the road?") with a grating delivery. She is marginally better as a zombie, walking around with a blank expressiveness that shows her acting talent (or lack thereof). As her husband, John Harron is too cocky for his own good, while Joseph Cawthorn, who plays the missionary, tries to be the comic-relief as well as the film's Van Helsing-style hero, not quite succeeding at either role. But Bela Lugosi, starring as Murder Legendre, carries the film single-handedly.
After his breakthrough role as Count Dracula in Universal's adaptation the year before, Lugosi has learned a few lessons after that film, his performance as the vampire being lousy. Here he has a field day, enjoying himself & creating a character that would become the template for hundreds of film villains over the course of the century & beyond. He relishes every single syllable while delivering his lines with malevolence. Lugosi gives some immortal dialogue; after being touched by the half-zombified Robert Frazer, he goes: "You refused to shake hands once, I remember Well, well, we understand each other better, now "
Bela Lugosi (as Murder Legendre) dabbles in odd things; for example, he
has created a crew of zombies to work sugar mills in Haiti. The island
is a center of voodoo and mysticism, which makes it the perfect
operational center for the hypnotic Mr. Lugosi. One evening, while
walking around the local graveyard with some of his dead friends,
Lugosi happens upon a coach carrying John Harron (as Neil Parker) and
Madge Bellamy (as Madeline Short). Mr. Harron and Ms. Bellamy are in
Haiti to visit cruise acquaintance Robert Frazer (as Charles Beaumont),
and get married.
Harron and Bellamy don't (seem to) know it, but Mr. Frazer has fallen in love with Bellamy. So, Frazer visits Lugosi, who considers turning the fair young Bellamy into a zombie. Actually, Lugosi seems to have planned the transformation from (at least) the opening scenes (note when he snatches her spell enhancing scarf). Newlywed Harron is, of course, displeased with the whole affair. After drowning his sorrows, Harron begins to investigate the unfolding sinister events, enlisting the help of missionary Joseph Cawthorn (as Dr. Bruner).
Naturally, Lugosi contributes to some eerie visuals. Harron is strongest when suffering; a nice scene has him getting drunk, with some shadowy figures closing in. Bellamy is strongest whilst spellbound; a nice scene has her walking through a rock-like opening that matches the design on her dress. "White Zombie" is an entirely too stiff thriller, partially redeemed by some creepy atmosphere. The story might be improved by combining elements of the "Beaumont" character into the roles played by Lugosi and Harron (just for starters). You may wonder about Lugosi taking what he calls a "fancy" to Frazer; especially, when you consider the general gender of his staff.
And, get ready to say, "Hi-ho Silver, away!" when Brandon Hurst's butler makes his big splash.
***** White Zombie (8/4/32) Victor Halperin ~ Bela Lugosi, John Harron, Madge Bellamy
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"White Zombie" was an independently made follow up to Bela Lugosi's
highly successful portrayal of "Dracula" (1931). It emulates the
earlier film somewhat except that the vampires have been replaced by
zombies and Bela is an evil voodoo master living in Haiti rather than a
vampire in Transylvania. Bela's hypnotic stare has been retained and
the camera frequently shows closeups of those evil eyes. Having said
that, this film is quite good. It has atmospheric sets, high ceilings
and a castle on a cliff (courtesy of some excellent matte paintings).
Director Victor Halperin manages to keep Lugosi from overplaying his
part and keep the story moving.
The story has a young couple, Madeleine Short (Madge Bellamy) and Neil Baker (John Harron) arriving at the palatial home of Charles Beaumont (Robert Frazer) to be married. The couple had met Beaumont earlier aboard ship and he has invited them to his estate. Beaumont has become enamored with Madeleine, wanting her for his own.
Beaumont goes to witch doctor Legendre (Lugosi) for help. However, Legendre too, has desires for the lovely Madeleine. Legendre has created zombies out of his enemies using a secret potion. He gives Beaumont the potion which he administers to Madeleine as she is about to be married. She appears to collapse and die. A mock funeral is held and she is interred in a crypt. Later, she is removed by Legendre and his zombies and taken to Beaumont's home.
Madeleine has turned into a mindless, expressionless zombie (the white zombie of the title). Parker distraught, takes to drink. Beaumont soon learns that possession of Madeleine in a zombie state is not what he wants and goes to Legendre to have her released from the spell.
However, Legendre has plans of his own and tricks Beaumont into drinking some of the zombie potion. Parker meanwhile, has gone to missionary Dr. Bruner (Joseph Cawthorn) for help. They go to the castle where..................................................
"White Zombie" has various running times anywhere from 61 to 86 minutes. The 67 minute version appears to be the one being issued on DVD. One noticeable omission seems to be the meeting of the young couple and Beaumont aboard a ship.
Lugosi emulates his Dracula portrayal to the point of wearing a long cape and staring with those hypnotic eyes. Madge Bellamy makes a fetching heroine and Frazer is good as the love lorn Beaumont.
One of Lugosi's better independent films.
Hola, this 1932 horror classic starring Bela Lugosi was interesting,
but not really very good. That is what makes a cult classic isn't it,
it shouldn't be good, but you enjoy it and think about it anyway. This
is the first known movie dealing with zombies. (Rob Zombie,a schlocky
film fanatic took the name of his band White Zombie from this film.)
Zombies hadn't quite developed their taste for brains yet, so they just
lumber around, doing the bidding of a witch doctor named Murder (Bela
Lugosi with some of the coolest eyebrows and crazy eyes ever). The
story is almost besides the point, a young couple is lured to a
plantation in Haiti because the owner has fallen for the women. He
drugs her, she's buried and then brought under his control by the witch
doctor. The grief-stricken husband runs around until he finds her and
fights off the villain to save the day. The couple is kind of lame,
Bela Lugosi rocks.
This movie is like cheez whiz. This shouldn't be good. Is there even any milk in there or is it just all chemicals. But the bright orange cheez (notice that it is never referred to as cheese) tastes great on celery and other things. A product of simpler times, before health and environment were important to most (in absolute terms they have always been important), this highly processed food is fun, think of those nifty aerosol bottles filled with it. 6/10.
This movie is really fun...until people start talking. Acting has
progressed much too far since 1932 to find the acting in this movie the
least bit plausible or, in my opinion, bearable. Bela Lugosi looks
great, but his accent is so thick that it makes most of his lines
unintelligible. The actors also love to add emphasis and "mood" with
pregnant pauses...some of which are so long that you can actually read
a magazine and balance your checkbook, then return and find that the
pause has just ended and the dialogue is about to begin again. Painful.
My suggestion to viewers is to turn the volume off and just watch it as a silent film. In essence, that is what this film is anyway. Because the directing is done so well, 90% of what the dialogue tries to explain the viewer can figure out through the visuals, so the sound really isn't that necessary.
I was truly surprised at how visually stunning this movie was, with some very eerie sets/locations, atmospheric shots, creepy close-ups, and some remarkably good matte paintings, considering it was only 1932.
I'm rating the film a 6 out of respect for the directing. For fun, watch the film twice...once with the sound on, then with the sound off, and decide for yourself if this doesn't actually make a better silent film than talkie.
I am so glad I was able to lay around and watch the Halloween fare
presented over the 4-5 day celebrations on some TV channels. I had
never seen White Zombie before and I think it was great.
The continuity goofs are what I love the most in some of these classic old movies. I am so happy to find like-souls who look for them as I do. They only add to the fun of watching.
I am always amazed at what I consider very good direction in the older horror films. The acting isn't always as good as the directing in my opinion but the story line and set decoration are very important to me. I enjoy just about anything in black/white. I find that the color, especially of horror films, detract from the spookiness.
White Zombie was made in 1932, a year after Bela Lugosi was made famous
as Dracula in 1931.
In this one, Bela is a mad man who controls zombies and uses them as slaves. He manages to brainwash a young woman and her fiancé keeps trying to rescue her. Everything turns out OK in the end though.
Despite its low budget, White Zombie is very creepy in parts, helped by the music score.
Joining Bela in the cast is Madge Bellamy as the woman he brainwashes.
Have a good fright with White Zombie.
Rating: 3 stars out of 5.
You know, this is really a movie about a businessman, Bela Lugosi, who
somehow has figured out how to use voodoo to do what he needs to do. He
has the dream work staff. They are all dead, but quite skilled at what
they do, even though they get ground up in the machines once in a
while. The whole area is full of zombies. I'm surprised there is no
Wal-mart, stocked by these inexpensive employees. The carriage driver
knows there are zombies, but apparently, no one really pays much
attention to them.
These characters aside, this is about a man who obsesses over a beautiful young bride and would rather have her dead than not have her at all. Her being a zombie does affect the relationship, however. Lugosi helps the guy out and then he gets upset when his wife can play a sonata with her hands but nothing is going on upstairs. The husband whose bride has "died" is beside himself and can't accept her death. So he is on a mission to find out what is going on. Meanwhile, Lugosi is turning the sad plantation owner into a zombie by feeding him some rare substance that does this or at least sets this up. Voodoo dolls are made and people's lives change. Nevertheless, love will out.
In it's defense, it's fun to watch Lugosi at about the time he did "Dracula" with that wonderful voice and those glowing eyes. The sets are great. The eerie castle. The plantation. The black Haitians along the road burying their dead and chanting. I was actually taken with it as long as I didn't think too much. Night of the Living Dead and all its ilk are descendants of movies like this. See it.
The picture is set in Haiti and deals upon a wizard called Murder (Bega
Lugosi) who wants to abduct a charming girl(Magde Bellamy) from her
recent husband by means of Voodoo. The sorcerer rules an army of
Zombies who execute every its eerie wishes.The film is based on the
novel with title ¨The magic island¨.
Today is considered a cult movie in spite of being a little ridiculous,outdated and slow moving .However along with ¨Dracula¨(Tod Browing), is deemed the best film of the Austro-Hungarian actor making a creepy interpretation with his mesmerizing eyes and gestures .The movie is shot during thirteen days with low budget and short runtime(seventy minutes)and was a authentic ¨sleeper¨ but the producers didn't wait the success.The picture has sinister scenarios and spooky images what are adding fascination into of gloomy and lugubrious atmosphere. Besides appears as make up artist Jack Pierce ,he's famous by ¨Frankestein¨and his wide career in the ¨Universal¨.The film had influence in others as ¨Plague of Zombies¨(John Gilling) and ¨Night of living dead¨(Romero)¨. It's the better film directed by Victor Halperin.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
If you call yourself a classic horror movie fan, then you've either
seen "White Zombie", or it better be on your must see list. The opening
of the film is itself a visual and auditory treat, replete with voodoo
drums and chanting, punctuating stylized graphics that spell out the
title. As expected, the film is set in Haiti, smack in the middle of
voodoo and zombie territory. The atmosphere is heavy with foreboding
right from the start, as a stage driver carrying an engaged couple
navigates his way past walking corpses and the mysterious Murder
Legendre (Bela Lugosi). Lugosi's signature eye stare captivates the
pretty Madeleine Parker (Madge Bellamy), and he lays hostage to her
scarf as the stage pulls away. He'll use it later to taunt plantation
owner Charles Beaumont (Robert Frazer), whose been in love with
Madeleine since an earlier encounter. Beaumont begs Legendre for his
help in stealing Madeleine away from her fiancé Neil Parker (John
Harron) only an hour away from their wedding. Legendre's response:
"There....is....a....way....", in that signature Lugosi tone.
In a scene designed to induce nightmares, Legendre slowly carves a candle and twists it in a flame to mesmerize Madeleine and seemingly cause her death. The event causes Neil to drink himself into a stupor as he tries to come to grips with his fate. His lone ally is missionary Dr. Gruber (Joseph Cawthorn), who after thirty years on the island is about to concede that something strange may indeed be happening here. When Neil discovers that her coffin is empty, Gruber opines that Madeleine may either have had her body stolen, or else she's not dead.
For his part, the sinister Lugosi gets a lot of mileage out of the full frame closeup of his eyes, and the ritual handclasp that he uses to give inaudible commands to his victims, whether they be alive or dead. His countenance is so fearful that even his eyebrows have eyebrows. It's with rather unnerving glee that he begins to transform Beaumont himself into a zombie, after he appeals to Legendre to bring Madeleine back to life - what a revolting thought! As the film nears it's end, Legendre's Dead Crew make their appearance for one more time to dispatch Silver, up till now the loyal butler. But finally, it's Dr. Bruner to the rescue as he gets the drop on Lugosi, who follows his minions over the cliff of his mountaintop castle. As the smile on Madeleine's face begins to return, we realize that Legendre's grip on the island is now over.
"White Zombie" followed Bela Lugosi's signature film "Dracula" by only one year, with five other movies in between, a rather prolific schedule. It's got just about all you would want in a 1930's "B" horror flick - great sets, dark and moody atmosphere, and tension that builds from creepy to creepier to creepiest. The only thing that intrigues me after repeated viewings of this film is the name of Bela Lugosi's character - Murder Legendre. I have not been able to locate it's actual use in the film, so if any knowledgeable fan reading this post can help, it would be greatly appreciated.
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