White Zombie (1932) Poster


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Voodoo & Zombies & Lugosi, Too
Ron Oliver23 June 2001
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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It's all about the atmosphere in this one!
Boba_Fett113829 July 2005
Zombie movies from the '30's and '40's are quite different from the zombie movies most people know from the '70's till present time. In the '30's and '40's, zombies and voodoo kind of rituals always walked hand in hand. As a result of this zombie movies from the '30's and '40's have a certain creepy atmosphere and scary voodoo sound effects.

"White Zombie" is the very first (still excising) zombie movie ever made. The zombies look extremely good and creepy thanks to the charismatic actors that perform them. Don't underestimate this people, acting with just your body and mostly face is also a form of tough acting. I think that it is thanks to the fine casting of the zombies that most of the scene's with them in it, work really well.

Bela Lugosi is totally fantastic as sort of witch doctor and 'king of the zombies'. He plays one scary monsieur. I even tend to say that this is his best villain role he has ever portrayed, yes even better as Count Dracula. Lugosi was always at his best in roles like these and just like in "Dracula" he is once more acting very well with also both his hands and face, especially his typical horror-like-eyes make him one legendary villain. For the Lugosi fans this is an absolute must see!

The story is very intriguing and sad and its told in a beautiful way. Especially the ending was fantastic and actually also quite tense.

Unfortunately time has not been kind on this movie. The movie had been lost for many years until the '60's after acquiring the rights to distribute the movie, the quality was already beyond restoration, so now days we can never watch this movie in its full glory. The movie has the grainy and visual look of movies from the 1920's and at times small chunks of sound and music are missing.

The cinematography is absolutely fantastic and the experimental editing provides some unique and extremely well looking sequences. It reminded me of some of Brian De Palma's early work. There is one unique and brilliant scene that I can't even describe. It features a split screen but the scene is constructed more complex than I make it sound. Really something you have to see for yourself.

OK maybe the beginning of the movie isn't that good and memorable and quite standard and typical for the horror genre in the '30's but the last half hour or so is really unique, excellent, tense and just a shear delight to watch, mainly thanks to Bela Lugosi's his character 'Murder' Legendre (what a brilliant name by the way) and the story in which once more love conquers all.

By the way this is the movie Ed Wood and Bela Lugosi were watching together in the movie "Ed Wood". Most people think that it was a Dracula movie with Lugosi but it in fact is this movie they're watching.

A really unique little forgotten horror masterpiece, that's worth seeing already alone for its movie historical value and Lugosi's fantastic, passioned villain role.


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Classic Zombie movie
stevebob9921 July 2004
You have to change your way of looking at movies to really enjoy old horror movies like this one. Don't be in a rush to see action, violence and don't expect to see any bloodshed at all. Most of the grisly part is implied and you have to fill in the details. Instead, watch it for the scenery, the acting and the plot.

I prefer the older horror films to the newer, slash-fest movies because they allow me to think and they generally have a good, moral theme. You never have a good guy as a demon or a fiend, for instance.

White Zombie has the older, traditional zombie characters that are not evil in themselves. Instead, they are mindless and controlled by a shaman, who is generally evil and must be destroyed to set the zombies, who are victims, free. In the newer Zombie movies like Night of the Living Dead, the Zombies are either not controlled or are evil themselves and must be destroyed.

I think the acting by the zombies is very good and so is their make-up (i.e. they have very frightening faces.) Their master, played by Bela Lugosi, is also played masterfully. The missionary is also good, but most of the rest of the cast is only average.

It's a fun movie to watch and I gave it a score of 7 out of 10. If you love early horror movies, buy it. Don't pay more than $10 unless it's packaged with other movies because the picture and the sound quality are weak. If not, you might catch it on a Friday night horror fest on TV. It's worth the time watching it if for Bela Lugosi alone.
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A terrific Lugosi performance helps make this creepy zombie pioneer a must see for any horror buff!
Infofreak18 January 2004
There's something about 1930s horror movies that makes them really special and haunting. It's probably got a lot to do with the talkies being new and directors being free to experiment with tricks learned from German expressionism. Whatever the explanation the best movies from the early 30s (James Whale's 'Frankenstein', 'Bride Of Frankenstein' and 'The Invisible Man', Todd Browning's 'Dracula' and 'Freaks') have a dreamlike quality that sticks in your brain and just won't leave. Bela Lugosi is one of the icons of horror movies. He made 'White Zombie' not long after 'Dracula', his definitive role, and gives another great performance. 'Island Of Lost Souls' is a better movie than 'White Zombie' but Lugosi on has a small role in that so I'd say this is his best movie after 'Dracula'. It's easy to forget just how quickly his career died. His two mid-30s teamings with Boris Karloff ('The Black Cat' and 'The Raven') were basically the beginning of the end for him as a major star, and by the time he played Ygor in the underrated 'Son Of Frankenstein' at the end of the decade he was almost a has been. Oh well Lugosi is just terrific in this movie as the sinister 'Murder' Legrende, Haitian mill owner and zombie master. Robert Fraser plays Charles Beaumont, a local plantation owner who becomes obsessed with a young woman (Madge Bellamy) about to be married. He invites her and her fiance (John Harron) to his estate to have their wedding all the while planning some way to win her. An hour before the wedding he becomes desperate and reluctantly approaches his sinister neighbour Legrende. Legrende's solution has dire consequences for all involved. The movie was obviously made a shoe string budget but there are plenty of striking visual images, especially those involving Bellamy after Lugosi gets to her. The zombies are very creepy and are the precursors to zombie classics later made by Tourneur, Romero, Fulci and Raimi. For this and for Lugosi 'White Zombie' is a must see for any horror buff!
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Pretty good, but Lugosi is great **1/2
JoeKarlosi26 August 2004
I'm a big Bela Lugosi fan, as well as a sucker for '30s and '40s horror chestnuts in general. But no matter how many times I watch WHITE ZOMBIE, I'm just always a bit short of considering it a "good" movie. Lugosi is delightfully weird and mysterious as Murder Legendre, a sinister zombie master who commands a legion of Walking Dead, and who grants a favor to a jealous man by helping him possess the woman he yearns for -- by turning her into a mindless zombie!

The surroundings are purely macabre and unsettling. But despite these assets, something goes astray in the snail-like pacing. Some of the acting is hopelessly dated and exaggerated, most notably by con man Robert Frazer and, to a lesser extent, hero John Harron. It's interesting that Lugosi - who's often lambasted by critics for overdoing it himself - is perfectly "on," however.

WHITE ZOMBIE is still a "pretty good" horror movie in its own right for such a minor production. But it's not a film I would recommend to those younger viewers who tend to feel bored by older classic films.
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A lost classic that has finally been found.
reptilicus4 October 2001
WHITE ZOMBIE is one of those rare early talkies where everything fits just right. Rumours have circulated for years that Bela Lugosi himself actually directed part, if not all, of the movie. Having seen all of the movies made by the Halperin Brothers in the 30's this is deffinitely the best, but DID Bela direct it? There is a quality in this film lacking from all other Halperin films. In many scenes the technique seems to have been borrowed from German silent films and Bela did work with Edgar Ulmer in Germany early in his career. Also notice that WHITE ZOMBIE is essentially a silent film with key scenes performed with a minimum of dialogue . . .or none at all; a standout moment is when Legendre (Bela Lugosi) traps the soul of Madeline (Madge Bellamy) by carving, and then melting, a wax image in her likeness. All without a single word being said. Another key sequence is a montage of scenes set against the haunting spiritual "Listen To The Lambs" performed by an offscreen chorus. Notice also the scene where Neil (John Harron, brother of former silent film star Robert Harron) and Dr. Bruner (Joseph Cawthorn) are talking. The camera starts out behind Harron's back and moves out. It moves in a circle around the room while the men talk and finally goes back behind Harron to end the scene; deffinitely an Expressionist Germanic touch! Granted the film has its flaws, Joseph Cawthorn's character is supposed to be to be a Christian missionary but he has a noticably Yiddish accent. Also for a film that is set in Haiti there is an uncomfortable lack of black characters. Clarence Muse as the coach driver is the only one in the movie! Two other alleged native Haitians are white actors in blackface! Madge Bellamy's bee-stung lips and eye makeup also belong back in a silent film. Weighed against the film as a whole however, these inadequacies are slight. The cast is quite good. Robert Fraser met up with Lionel Atwill in THE VAMPIRE BAT (1934). Clarence Muse met up with Bela again in THE INVISIBLE GHOST (1944). One of the zombies is played by George Burr McAnnan who had played the puritannical leader of the farm community that ostracises unwed mother Lillian Gish in WAY DOWN EAST (1920). Also look for Brandon Hurst as a creepy looking butler. He had played the evil Jehan Frollo opposite Lon Chaney's Quasimodo in THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME (1923). By all means see this movie! It is well worth your time. So did Bela direct it? Alas we may never know. Then again, in an interview given in the early 1970's Clarence Muse said he clearly recalled Bela directing a few scenes. So maybe . . .
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Explore The Origins Of "The Living Dead"..........
underfire3531 July 2005
A couple of years ago I saw the 1931 version of Dracula as part of a live performance for the new musical score composed by Philip Glass. Even in this refined setting, the film was met by laughter from the audience during several sections. This seemed rather odd to me, but I suppose older horror films cannot help but lose some of their initial impact over time. The black and white photography and performance techniques became antiquated, hence humorous to some. As time went on, filmmakers begin to spoof the broad overacting and dramatic music of the vintage horror picture. It is impossible today to view a film like WHITE ZOMBIE and fully understand the impact it may have had in 1932. It does, however, escape (for the most part anyway) the mirthful reactions described above.

Director Victor Halprin's telling of this tale is often cited as the genesis of the "zombie picture." There is some debate about this, but WHITE ZOMBIE is certainly one of the early films to deal with the Haitian legend of "the dead that walk." The story revolves around a young couple who have traveled through Haiti to meet with their friend and benefactor Charles Beaumont (Robert Frazer), at whose villa they plan to be married. He has designs on the young bride, Madeleine (Madge Bellamy), and enlists the help of Murder Legendre (the name kind of says it all) played by Bela Lugosi. After the wedding, Legendre performs some "witchcraft" rituals and Madeleine falls into a death-like state. Believing that she has in fact died, the newly minted groom (John Harron) spirals into a drunken maelstrom, eventually seeking out the learned missionary Dr. Bruner (Joseph Cawthorn) to help solve the mystery. All paths seem to lead back to Legendre as the plot thickens and Beaumont's true motives are discovered.

It is fascinating to watch these type of films, some of which, like WHITE ZOMBIE age well with time. This is partly due to the fact that it has been largely forgotten in the wake of the more successful Universal horror flicks. The main drawn here will be the performance by Lugosi. He essentially "vamps" his role in Dracula, but manages to fashion a fairly distinct and unsettling screen presence. It would be roles like this however that would lead to his rigid typecasting; as time went on, he was all but discarded by the film industry (see ED WOOD [1994] for his later years). Halprin's direction focuses on atmosphere and gloom. He is well paired with cinematographer Arthur Martinelli and together they create a suitably shadow-laden backdrop for this macabre story. WHITE ZOMBIE is ambitious in camera angles and editing. At one point there is a diagonal wipe edit, which stops midscreen to reveal the actions of two separate characters. This type of effect is effortless to achieve now, but must have been laborious in 1932. Observe also the unusually large transitional set of the plantation interior, or the framing of Lugosi though the ornate stone work during certain shots. These small details help set WHITE ZOMBIE apart by creating a realistic environment and aid in visually representing the pathology of the characters.

Since the 30's there has been countless movies about killer zombies run amuck. The concept predominantly became fodder for B-grade schlock productions. The genre would experience something of a renaissance in 1968 with George Romero's NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD which created quite a stir at the time and resulted in zombies becoming, once again, fashionable. The Haitian setting of WHITE ZOMBIE would also be revisited in THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW (1988) and the "undead" as a means of cheap labor subtext would be exploited for darkly comedic effect in the underrated HBO film CAST A DEADLY SPELL (1991). In recent years, there has been such a boom of these "living dead" productions that it is hard to keep track of them all. WHITE ZOMBIE, as an early example of this current trend, but should be seen as more than just a footnote in the ever growing history of film. It is not a great movie, like Dracula, but will prove to be of interest to film buffs at least. It has more to offer, though, and I hope that it will continue to be rediscovered by successive generations. 7/10
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Even better on the Big Screen
ebubier7 November 2009
This review will be more about the print and theatrical experience than about the plot. Most people won't find this "useful", but hey, so what. Here's my two cents.

If you have the opportunity to see the Roan Group print projected in a theater, don't hesitate. Go see it.

I just saw this in the big screen last weekend and it is MUCH better in a proper theater with a crowd of enthusiasts than in the confines of your home, even with a big TV and 5.1. The audience I was in was comprised of about 150 kids and their parents. The kids had a great time as did I, who has seen the movie several times over the years in the washed out public domain video prints that have circulated forever.

The Roan Group print (same as the remastered DVD) is the one we saw, projected in 35 mm. It was obvious that there were two sources for this print. The vast majority of this appears to come from a very nice print with high contrast and sharp definition. The "fill-in" portions, apparently missing from the other source, are much more typical of a 75-year-old cheapie independent production shot in 11 days, i.e., scratchy, multiple generations removed from the negative, and faded. Thankfully there's not too much from that second source. There are a few jumps in the film (a few seconds at most) that could not be restored. Too bad, but no biggie.

The sound was problematic, veering from a comfortable volume when dialogue was speaking, to way too loud, almost to the point of distortion, when the music played or the bird squawked. I really don't think it was the theater's fault as their sound is always "just right".

Interestingly, for a movie this old (pre King Kong and Bride of Frankenstein) there was a whole lot of music and not as much dialogue as one usually gets in a film from this era. The music was rarely background to dialogue and was used almost exclusively to enhance the mood of the film. It was probably cheaper to do it this way, but who cares why. It works.

This is a really neat film full of great shots and creepy characters. Bela is fantastic, maybe his best performance on film. White Zombie hardly ranks up there with the Universal classics of the era, but it is positively time for a historical and critical reappraisal of this newly restored film.

It's good on video, but on the big screen, WOW!
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A Classic For Some Reason, A Good One at That
gavin694212 June 2006
I'm not entirely sure why this film is considered a horror classic. But having seen many other horror films from the 1930s, I would have to agree it's definitely one of the better ones.

The plot: a Frenchman in Haiti makes a deal with Bela Lugosi to turn a beautiful young woman (Madge Bellamy, the finest 1930s woman by far) into a zombie. But then he becomes disillusioned and Bela Lugosi strikes back at the Frenchman. Oh ,and there are other zombies, an absent-minded professor and a really annoying screeching vulture.

This film has some of the strangest transitions between scenes. I forget the word for when the screen slides over, but it does it a number of times in short succession in some strange shapes (like curtains, or diagonally). And there is a weird fascination with showing Bela Lugosi' eyes and his hand gestures repeatedly. The eyes reveal what seems to me some of the fakest eyebrows ever glued to a forehead.

But if you like Lugosi or classic horror, or Madge Bellamy... yeah, you should see this film. So much crap is pumped out of theaters and studios these days in the horror genre, why not see the roots that inspired all this before it went bad?
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An underrated masterpiece...
One of the most important names in the history of the horror genre is without a doubt, Bela Lugosi, the Hungarian actor who in 1931 became an icon after playing the legendary Count Dracula in Tod Browning's adaptation of the film. Thanks to the powerful presence he gave to the elegant vampire, Lugosi became instantly famous and a major star for Universal Studios. Sadly, due to his heavy accent Lugosi wouldn't have much luck in finding roles for him, and eventually became type-casted as the obvious choice for playing sinister and classy villains in horror films, a problem that would take him from making movies for big studios to acting in low-budget independent films. However, the fact that such movies weren't big productions didn't mean that they were bad films, and this 1932 film is probably the best proof of that, as "White Zombie" is a classic as important as any film done by Universal in those years.

In "White Zombie", Neil Parker (John Harron) and his fianceé Madeline (Madge Bellamy) are traveling to a plantation located in Haiti to celebrate their wedding. Charles Beaumont (Robert Frazer), the owner of the plantation, invited the couple to his house after meeting them on a cruise ship during one of his travels, and not only he offered his plantation for the party, he has also offered Neil a highly profitable job in the island. However, there is a sinister purpose behind Beaumont's apparent good nature and friendly attitude: he is madly in love with Madeleine and plans to separate the couple before the wedding. To do this, he has asked the help of a man named Legendre (Bela Lugosi), a Voodoo sorcerer with the ability to create and control zombie slaves. But the zombie master has his own plans for the trio's souls.

Written by Garnett Weston, "White Zombie" is a very dark and atmospheric tale of horror and suspense partially inspired by the writings of traveler W.B. Seabrook, whose 1929 book, "The Magic Island", introduced Voodoo to American audiences. Of course, Weston's movie is a highly fictionalized account of Voodoo, but it was probably the first movie to introduce zombies to the horror genre. With a story that mixes romance, horror and melodrama, "White Zombie" is essentially a Faustian tragedy with a Voodoo setting, where a man's forbidden desire brings damnation to him and those around him. There is not really a lot of character development through the film, but that actually helps as "White Zombie" is more about the nightmarish experience of the three characters facing Legendre's sinister machinations than about their relationships.

The film's highlight is certainly Victor Halperin's directing, which in its cinematography (by Arthur Martinelli) shows a lot of influence from the German expressionist movement of the 20s and gives the movie an ominous surreal atmosphere. Due to the film's scarce use of dialogs, it would be easy to believe that Halperin wasn't interested in sound technology (new at the time), however, he does give an interesting use to sound in this film by using atmospheric sounds and Xavier Cugat's score to enhance the film's eerie ambiance. It is clear that Halperin was working on a very low-budget (sets were rented from Universal Studios), but his inventive use of camera effects together with Martinelli's beautiful cinematography truly give the film a special nightmarish look similar to Browning's "Dracula" or Dreyer's "Vampyr - Der Traum Des Allan Grey".

The acting is for the most part effective, although several members of the main cast give average performances that tend to diminish the power of the film a bit. John Harron is one of them, delivering a really weak performance as Neil, a shame as his character is essentially the story's protagonist. Robetr Frazer is a bit better as Charles Beaumont, although like Harron, he could had done a better job than the average performance he gave. Still, Madge Bellamy is remarkable as Madeleine, and is specially dreamy after falling under Legendre's spell. Now, if Bellamy is excellent in her role, Bela Lugosi is simply perfect as the macabre zombie master Legendre. Taking what he did in "Dracula" one step beyond, Lugosi appears here in what is probably one of the best performances of his career, literally becoming this embodiment of evil with his strong presence and sinister elegance.

Like the previously mentioned film "Vampyr", Victor Halperin's "White Zombie" seems to be a literal bridge between silent films and the sound era, as it keeps a lot of the silent style of film-making including the highly expressive acting and the expressionist visual design. Together with the movie's extremely slow pace, those elements enhance the whole surrealist vibe that surrounds the movie, making it look almost as the representation of a nightmare. However, this is a double edged sword, as certainly those elements may disappoint those expecting something more graphic and action-packed (it is nothing like the modern zombie films of Romero and Fulci), or at least, something similar to Universal's "Frankenstein"'s series. Don't get me wrong, this is still Gothic horror at its best, but it's definitely on a more serious tone than most Universal films.

"White Zombie" is a difficult film to watch, but certainly one that's very rewarding in the end. Its silent style feels definitely dated, but oddly, this only adds to that surreal atmosphere that Halperin was aiming for when making the film. Sadly, director Victor Halperin would never reach the mastery of this work, as if this was the movie he was destined to make. A very underrated classic of horror, "White Zombie" is another of the films that prove that there was more in Bela Lugosi than "Dracula", and it's a film that can proudly stand next to the Universal classics despite its modest and humble origins. 8/10
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New Classic Kino Version for 2013!
morgie5519 February 2013
I picked up "White Zombie" from Kino Classics since they boasted a newly cleaned version from the original negatives. Bela Lugosi, fresh from his hits "Dracula" and "Murder at the Rue Morgue" amongst others, he puts a fresh face on the then-new class of mystery films.

Madeline is about to be married to her fiancé Neil. She met this guy on a boat who turns out to be a rich fella who happens to own a spooky castle in the Mountains of Haiti, a land filled with zombies and such. This guy Beaumont falls for her and does not want her to go through with the marriage. He gets the help of a zombie master, Legendre, who has other plans. He already has an army of zombies working the sugar plantation. Why not a cute girl who wears veils? Why not indeed! The story is slow-paced, but is filled with the occasional shocker. The zombies in this film are not of the "Romero" clan, but are actually living people, who through hypnosis and drugs, find themselves under the thrall of Legendre. Legendre's motives are not that clear, except perhaps he just likes to play games and wants to create horror just because he can.

I also enjoyed the character of Dr. Bruner, played well by Joseph Cawthorn. He plays the wise man to the naïve fiancé, Neil, who is grieving over the death of his new wife. Except, as the good doctor expounds, "she's not dead!" The sugar plantation plant with the zombies in tow, the clear sounds and clearly contrasted black & white, make a great film. The only real complaint is that vulture: quite a screech! DVD: The DVD has an interesting interview with Lugosi at his house, which is scripted and makes for some fun yet insight into Lugosi at the height of his career. There is a gallery of colored movie lobby cards and the usual language and chapter features. I especially enjoyed comparing the "Raw" version to the cleaned-up version of the film.

Bottom Line: Great horror for the time, has some corny moments, but overall a great product by Kino Classics. Definitely recommended, especially for the Lugosi fan.

Cast Bela Lugosi - 'Murder' Legendre Madge Bellamy - Madeline Short Parker Joseph Cawthorn - Dr. Bruner Robert Frazer - Charles Beaumont John Harron - Neil Parker
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Angels of death creep and groan.
Michael O'Keefe24 August 2004
This is a horror classic. A wealthy traveler(Robert Frazer)is smitten by a lovely young woman(Madge Bellamy)on a cruise ship and invites her and her fiancé(John Harron)to hold their nuptials at his plantation home on the island of Haiti. Harron is promised a high paying job to insure a visit. Frazer's darkest intentions are to lure Bellamy away from her fiancé; and enters an alliance with an island zombie master(Bela Lugosi) to win the possession of the young woman...alive or dead. Bellamy suddenly falls ill and dies only to be resurrected as...yes, a zombie...and Frazer's love slave. A strange and bizarre finale determines the captivating, but mesmerized beauty's fate. Incredible otherworldly atmosphere and the eerie, haunting Lugosi insures a high quality black and white thriller.
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Better than you would expect it to be.....
gazzo-231 October 2004
....not exactly a lost masterpiece, but more than worthy of viewing.

I agree w/ some of the others here--it's basically a silent movie w/ added dialogue here and there-check out the wild over-acting on the part of the Zombies(lurch around w/ bug eyes etc), Bela(just a bit) and the two lead guys the lover and the obsessive. They're basically '20's actors held over from what I saw, overly mannered etc.

I enjoyed the china doll look of the blonde, thought that the wipes/dissolves/matte shots were innovative for 1932, and agree that the tone is indeed quite effective and eerie. All those shots of the hillside graveyard w/ the zombies lurching along its top are nicely done.

What was w/ having just the one black actor and then a couple more in blackface? I don't get it. It's not like you can't tell....

Bela is fine here--a few too many 2" closeups but not a bad performance, as always he can project the evil as few ever could. I liked the zombies-as-mill-workers part, that certainly stands out.

Overall, if you are a Bela fan or like '30's horror flix, do check it out. It's slowish and dated as hell, but you won't be let down if you keep it's era/genre in mind as you watch.

*** outta ****
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I love the old Universal horror films, but this is a lesser one
secondtake20 July 2015
White Zombie (1932)

This is the perfect example of the direction of Bela Lugosi's career after "Dracula" the year before. The sets, the creaky acting, and even the plot (with zombies) is all canned horror stuff. What made "Dracula" work was partly that it was first, and that the story is so classic. Here we have a more routine series of events with some familiar necessities—the innocent woman becoming a zombie, the innocent man trying to find a way out of the mess, and Lugosi and the knowing and powerful man behind all the evil. They even drink suspicious looking fluids from goblets—though it's not blood this time.

And frankly the production values are even lower than for "Dracula," despite a year going by. What does still work well is the mood, and the gloom, and the dark drama. That's the best of it, and that's steady all through.

One great aspect here is the setting—Haiti. At least in some scenes. So there are primitive drums and weird rural customs alongside impossibly large Gothic interiors (straight from the Dracula mode). I can't say I liked the movie, but I enjoyed parts of it, and liked comparing it to other Universal efforts from this important period for that studio. Lugo himself is always a trip, too, and so enjoy that, too.
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Not Your Grandchildren's Zombies
Cd10839 May 2015
I took the time before watching White Zombie to read enough about the film to understand that this was not a film I was going to recognize. It's not George A. Romero, nor is it Sam Raimi. White Zombie is something else all together and I can't say that I enjoyed it even with that expectation.

My general rule of thumb is that the shorter a film, the less leeway I give it in terms of excitement. If a film is going to run at less than an hour and a half, it needs to be efficient with it's time, while a longer film is allowed to create more suspense and setup and run parallel story lines at the same time in order to fill up the time. When a film barely surpasses the hour mark, it better do something to keep my attention. White Zombie did not.

There is certainly going to be those viewers who enjoy this film for the pure reason that it's a 'cult classic.' It's not well acted, it's not presented visually in even an adequate manner and overall the plot is dull as dirt. The medium in which the film was presented may certainly play a factor in my enjoyment as a bright lit Sunday afternoon may not do the film justice, but even with that in consideration the ebb and flow of the film presented a difficult pill to swallow…and stay away through.

Where the film does receive some credit from me is with Bela Lugosi's casting. He is the lone bright spot in this film and provides some sliver of hope that I'll find more to enjoy with this film with repeat viewings. The dark setting and low contrast makes it difficult to appreciate much of the subtle I'm sure this film offers that I was unable to pickup on the first couple go around.

I really wanted to enjoy White Zombie for the simple reason that there is obviously something to it. Legendary filmmakers have been drawn to it and it's been credited as being the granddaddy of zombie films even though it has very little to do with what we think of in our zombie genre. The rules of the modern zombie world simply don't exist here and that makes it difficult for anybody without the appropriate context to appreciate what it has to offer.
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Great At Times. Sleep Worth At Others.
Michael_Elliott25 March 2015
White Zombie (1932)

*** (out of 4)

Young couple Neil (John Harron) and Madeleine (Madge Bellamy) meet a man on a cruise who offers them his mansion to get married in. As soon as they arrive they realize things really aren't normal due to some zombie like people walking around. They eventually meet the man turning these people into zombies, Legendre (Bela Lugosi) who plans on turning the woman.

WHITE ZOMBIE is a film that horror fans usually end up in a heated debate about. Some people love every second of the film while others have a hard time reaching the end credits because they fall asleep. To me this film could easily be called an incredibly flawed masterpiece and I think it proves that you don't have to be a great director to create something special. I say this because director Victor Halperin has created some incredibly great moments here but when you take a look at his other films like SUPERNATURAL, REVOLT OF THE ZOMBIES and TORTURE SHIP, there's none of the "talent" on display that you see here. In fact, I think it would be very fair to say that WHITE ZOMBIE is good simply by luck.

What I love about the film is its creepy and rather surreal atmosphere. Right from the opening shot you can just feel the darkness of the area and there's no question that you really do feel as if you're in this location and it's a place you'd want to get out of as quick as possible. There are some terrific moments scattered throughout this film but I think one could argue that the opening sequence right up to when we first see Lugosi, is among the best moments in any horror film from this period. There are other great moments including the drum beat that is used throughout the picture and there are some beautiful matte shots of the castle, which are quite haunting.

Another great thing going for the film is the performance of Lugosi. Who knows where the truth and the myth goes but after not getting the monster role in FRANKENSTEIN you have to wonder why Lugosi wanted to do such a low-budget film. Again, there are countless theories out there but this role certainly isn't the "sexy" role that Dracula was. Lugosi is quite evil here and he manages to do it without every going over-the-top but instead he stays pretty calm and collective throughout. He's given a terrific look and there's no question that the actor knows how to use his eyes to display coldness. The supporting players really aren't all that memorable but each of them are good enough for what they're asked to do.

There are many flaws to be found in WHITE ZOMBIE. The film moves at a snail's pace and while this might help the atmosphere, after a while the movie really begins to drag. In fact, I've seen this movie countless times and I always feel like I've accomplished something great when I can make it through in one sitting without falling asleep. Another flaw can be. It's hard to bash the direction for some at times silly looking stuff when you're at the same time praising him for the atmosphere he brings to the picture. WHITE ZOMBIE really is a hard film to judge but it remains an important part of horror history and there are enough strengths to make it worth viewing.
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Bored- To Death!
john-hogan2325 September 2014
Warning: Spoilers
In 1932 the American people were introduced to the Zombie, a simple reanimated corpse that would go on to become the most famous and popular monster across all of film, television, and video games. A monster so ingrained in pop culture that they even have their own specific apocalypse. A monster so horrifying that the governor of Kansas has actually declared October to be "zombie preparedness month." So if you're like me, you've wondered how the zombie had grown to claim its crown as the king of monsters. Was it because of a simple concept? Probably. Was it because of a plausible premise? No. Did it have a groundbreaking and excellent foray into film? Absolutely not.

White Zombie is the 1932 film debut of the Zombie. Knowing this, you would probably expect a lot from the film. If this is true for you, you will be disappointed. In reality White Zombie is a low budget, grainy, crackling mess of a film that was shot over the course of 11 days on used sets with recycled props. The star of the film is the disgustingly low quality of both the video and audio. It looks and sounds like it was made in the early 20's, and it is just incredibly hard to get over that. The overall quality of the film is done no favors by a cast of dangerously cheesy actors, all of whom seem to be about as enthusiastic about the film as the viewer. Add all of this together and its 69 minute run time will feel like an absolute eternity. It actually took me three attempts to finish this film, all of which ended in a nap so immense that my 69 minute investment would twist and deform into a mass of terrible boredom powerful enough to consume the entirety of my afternoons.

There was only really one thing I enjoyed in the film, and that was its portrayal of the zombies themselves. Instead of the necrophagous, non-sentient sack of decay that we've become accustomed to we're presented with a semi-conscious, lumbering mind- slave sort of creature, conjured to do the bidding of some type of necromancer. I loved this. I thought it was a great concept and much better than the modern zombie. Its just too bad the rest of the film was trash.
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Very Eerie, Spooky, Surreal & Dream like Fairy tale
gullwing5920032 December 2010
This is one of the few 1930's horror movies that still scary & frightening & chilling even today. White Zombie tries from the first moments to make your hair stand up even the opening credits over the burial scene in the road is unsettling, disturbingly unusual for a film in 1932. The "White" flashes on the screen horizontally & "Zombie" is flashed on the screen one letter at a time shooting upwards on the screen against the pounding pulsating native drumbeat. And then the chanting ritual begins. Bela Lugosi's presence is first evident when his hypnotic eyes are superimposed gigantically over the scene of the young couple played by John Harron & Madge Bellamy riding in a stagecoach witnessing a Haitian burial in the road to prevent it from being unearthed & turned into a Zombie.

Bela Lugosi looks devilish & diabolical & just radiates with charismatic evil. A voodoo zombie master & plantation owner Murder Legendre & his "special" zombie servants are also a sight for sore eyes. Talkies were still very new in the early '30's & unlike the big budget Universal horror films of that time like "Dracula", "Frankenstein", "The Mummy", "Invisible Man", etc. White Zombie was more innovative & experimental in the way that it combines elements of silent film style acting, an imposing musical soundtrack score, minimal dialog, Germanic expressionism & striking visuals & artwork. The Universal horror classics also had a dreamlike surreal & Gothic romanticism but not as extreme as "White Zombie".

"White Zombie" is in a class by itself, an independent film directed & produced by Victor & Edward Halperin. The film looks very experimental & fresh & intentional or not the experiment works & makes "White Zombie" stand out & memorable. It's a low budget film that looks & resembles a major quality film, I read that the Halperin brothers used some of the sets from Universal's "Dracula" such as Lugosi's castle.

"White Zombie" is arguably just as good as "Dracula" with Bela Lugosi in top form in both films giving magnificent performances. Joseph Cawthorn as the old missionary is almost as good as Edward Van Sloan as Van Helsing. I've lost count how many times I've seen this film as "White Zombie" is right up there with all the classic Universal horror films of the '30's. It's the definitive horror film that introduced "Zombies the living dead, corpses taken from their graves & made to work in the sugar mill" & that reminds me, the sugar mill plantation scene showing the zombies working long hours & all that is heard is the loud roaring & grinding crushing oars, it is an unforgettable scene & it's filmmaking at it's finest.

This film did reasonably well at the box office in 1932 & it's success inspired other "Zombie" movies even though most of them were not as good. But Zombies didn't make another significant impact again until George A. Romero brought "Night Of The Living Dead" to the screen in 1968 & it was also made on a shoestring budget with unknown actors that stayed "unknown". But White Zombie had a major stage & film star Bela Lugosi & he really shines in this one. After "Dracula" he did "Murders In The Rue Morgue" & then.......by the end of the movie after Lugosi & Robert Frazier fall off the cliff & the young couple are reunited Madeline says to Neil "I dreamed", this film ends like a fairy tale. And they lived happily ever after.
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Lugosi at his best!
sfstendebach31 October 2010
This IS my favorite Bela Lugosi movie. I Personally think it is even better that Dracula.

Bela Stars as a mad witch doctor who creates an army of zombies. When a young couple comes to his village, a wealthy citizen pays Lugosi to make the girl fall in love with him. What Lugosi does is add her to his army. There is an awesome chase scene at the end.

Without a doubt Lugosi makes this film. It is the way he stares at the camera, or the way he moves his hands. It is very haunting. The only reason someone would not like this film is that the pace is a little slow. Fans of modern horror films may find it a tad boring, but it is truly one of my all time favorites.
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This movie holds up.
jtownsend014 March 2010
Warning: Spoilers
If you don't mind the technical limits of a movie from 1932, "White Zombie" is a great way to spend an hour and six minutes. I watched it for free on IMDb. While the 4:3 aspect ratio and the overacting that was so prevalent in the early movie days (all the actors were exclusively stage trained) were a little distracting, I could easily put them out of my mind or even appreciate their quaintness. Bela Lugosi is exceptional! With his slow, steady movements and those gazing, hypnotic eyes, he was made for movies. Anyone with an interest in film history should watch White Zombie. Think of all the zombie movies that have followed and how few of them live up to it, regardless of their big budget Hollywood bells, whistles and breasts. I was also impressed by the simplicity of the plot. Today's zombies are the result of some government lab test or virus gone wrong. White Zombie's incentives for reanimation are simple: lust and greed. I enjoyed White Zombie and I think you will too.
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As good a horror film as ever came out of Universal...
calvinnme21 November 2009
...except it's not a Universal horror film. It was an independently made film directed by Victor Halperin, but it has the look and feel of Universal horror of the 30's. This is the eerie tale of a newlywed couple who has come to live in Haiti, the alleged walking dead forced to work the fields at night, a local rich man who becomes enamored of the bride-to-be and wants her for himself, whatever the means, and finally Lugosi, the local master of voodoo that the rich man comes to in order to get his heart's desire. Lugosi gives a great performance here akin to his performance in Dracula, and there is even the wise elder man of science who tries to make sense of it all, much as Edward Van Sloan did in Dracula and in The Mummy. The difference here is that the case is being made for that which looks like the supernatural actually having a basis in science rather than vice versa.

Rich in atmosphere, this is highly recommended. Make sure to get the ROAN release of this public domain property, as it is the best transfer I've seen even if it is ten years old.
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Bela Lugosi Enslaves the Dead
Witchfinder General 6669 October 2008
Warning: Spoilers
The great Genre of Horror has brought forth many masterpieces that are essential for every Genre-fan to see, and then there are some which are essential for every fan of motion pictures to see. "White Zombie" doubtlessly belongs to the latter category. There are a variety of reasons why Victor Halperin's 1932 masterpiece can easily be considered one of the most important Horror films ever brought to screen, but I will stick with the most important ones. First this is the very first Zombie film, and also easily the most influential one until George A Romero redefined the sub-genre with "Night Of The Living Dead" in 1968. Second, this film has one of the most memorable villains ever with 'Murder Legendre', brilliantly played by none other than Horror-deity Bela Lugosi. I guess that most of my fellow fans of classic Horror will agree that Lugosi was one of the most brilliant actors who ever blessed the screen with his presence, and the role of Murder Legendre is his arguably greatest, eeriest, and most ingeniously diabolical one. Third, this is easily one of the most atmospheric films of all-time, and it is simply not imaginable to me, that any Horror-buff or film-fan in general would not be stunned by the incomparably eerie mood of "White Zombie".

The young couple Neil (John Harron) and Madeleine (Madge Bellamy) come to Haiti to get married in the Porte Prince mansion of their acquaintance Charles Beaumont (Robert Frazer). Beaumont, however, is desperately in love with Madeleine himself. When she renounces his attempts to get her to run away with him, he turns to the sinister Witch-doctor 'Murder' Legendre (Bela Lugosi) for help. Not a very good decision, of course... Decades before Romero's living dead (and their descendants) wandered the world of Horror, brainlessly craving for human flesh, Bela 'Murder Legendre' Lugosi manipulated the dead and made them his slaves via voodoo. Lugosi is brilliantly diabolical in his most memorable role, easily one of the eeriest (and greatest) villains in motion picture history. It is not only Lugosi's mesmerizing performance which makes this a Horror milestone, however. "White Zombie" must be one of the moodiest Horror films ever made. Haiti is a superb setting for Horror, and the atmosphere in this film is incomparably creepy. The unforgettable scene in a mill operated by zombie slaves alone is incomparably creepy and breathtaking as such. When the great Bela Lugosi starts to raise his voice, looking so inimitably eerie, any Horror lover will notice that this is a unique gem of this wonderful genre. Even apart from Lugosi, the performances are excellent. Especially Madge Bellamy fits in her role greatly. The incredibly eerie-looking Zombies are another brilliant aspect of this film. "White Zombie" is often compared to the previous German Expressionist films, the contemporary Universal Horror pictures, as well as the posterior Val Lewton productions. These comparisons are obvious and also justifiable. As far as I am concerned, "White Zombie" stands up there with the most brilliant films of these great Horror streams. I have seen this film many times, and I am certainly not the only Horror fan who ranks this masterpiece among his all time-favorites. "White Zombie" is a milestone in all aspects and no self-respecting lover of film can afford to miss it! 10 out of 10 from me, and if it was possible, I would even like to reward this with a higher rating!
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Strange, Lyrical, and Seldom Seen Classic
gftbiloxi11 June 2007
The term "Zombie" and the concepts it conveyed did not really enter American consciousness until the publication of William B. Seabrook's THE MAGIC ISLAND in 1929--but once established, it fired popular imagination, producing everything from a host of pulp fiction shorts to a fairly lethal mixture of rum and tropical juices. Released in 1932, THE WHITE ZOMBIE is generally considered to be the first motion picture on the subject--and it would pretty much set pop culture ideas about zombies, voodoo, and Hati for decades to come.

The film is interesting in several respects, not least of which is the fact that it an independent production, something rare indeed for a film of its era. Unfortunately, this fact also gave rise to a series of legal battles between writer Kenneth S. Webb and producers Edward and Victor Halperin. What with one thing or another the film itself was considered lost from about 1935 until it resurfaced in 1960, when it once more touched off another legal battle between the same parties and their estates. In consequence, and although it has indeed turned up at special screenings and on the late-late show, the film has never really been widely seen since its 1932 debut--and most of the prints available were pretty dire. This was certainly the case when I saw the film in a "big screen" film festival in the late 1970s: the sound was poor, the visuals worse, and it was very difficult to tell what all the fuss was about.

Fortunately for fans of 1930s horror, THE WHITE ZOMBIE is now available in numerous DVD versions--but it is very much a case of "buyer beware," for most of them are extremely dire. Roan Group has released an exceptional restoration of the film; PC Treasures has a reasonable budget release in tandem with the cult classic CARNIVAL OF SOULS. The Timeless Classics edition falls somewhere between the two: the age of the elements show and it isn't a patch on the Roan edition, but its a darn sight better than most.

As for the film itself, even by 1932 standards THE WHITE ZOMBIE was not a "screamer" in the same sense as Dracula or FRANKENSTEIN were; it is instead lyric, at times poetic in nature, disturbing in the same manner of an Edgar Allen Poe poem. The story is quite simple: Madeline Short (Madge Bellamy) and Neil Parker (John Harron) have come to Hati--and en route have met estate owner Charles Beaumont (Robert Frazer.) Beaumont falls in love with Madeline; unable to convince her to leave Parker, he goes to zombie master 'Murder' Legendre (Bela Lugosi), who works his evil spell upon her. But Beaumont soon finds himself at odds with Legendre, and Parker, with the aid of missionary Dr. Bruner (Joseph Cawthorne) has set out to rescue Madeline at all costs.

The cast is quite fine, and many critics consider that this is really Lugosi's best performance of the early 1930s, surpassing his more famous turn in Dracula. Indeed, he is a remarkable presence in the film, ugly and sinister and yet at times--it is difficult to describe--one sees the unexpectedly attractiveness of the man in both physical and psychological terms. It is a memorable performance. But the big thing about THE WHITE ZOMBIE isn't so much the story or the performances as "how the thing is done." The cinematography is simple, but it has a misty quality, and one is always aware of the texture of black and white; shadows are important in the film, and the overall look is quite unlike anything to come out of Hollywood up to that point--and even today it remains largely unique. There is an elegance to the way the scenes are staged and photographed that rarely occurs in any film of any era.

Modern viewers without significant interest in films of this period are likely to find THE WHITE ZOMBIE mannered and a bit slow--but if you have an interest in early sound films, and even more so in horror films of the 1930s, THE WHITE ZOMBIE is an essential in your collection.

GFT, Amazon Reviewer
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More than just zombies
theowinthrop28 October 2006
Warning: Spoilers
The ULTIMATE ZOMBIE flick? Actually I would think NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD or one of it's sequels was that. WHITE ZOMBIE is an intelligent movie dealing with the world of the zombies - but it actually is considerably more than that.

Bela Lugosi's career in Hollywood did not begin with a flourish in Dracula. He had been in films (including silent movies) in a wide variety of parts in the late 1920s and early 1930s. He appears in several film comedies like FIFTY MILLION FRENCHMEN and WOMEN OF ALL NATIONS (one of the Edmund Lowe - Victor McGlaglan "Quirt & Flagg" spin-offs). He was also in Warner Baxter's SUCH MEN ARE DANGEROUS as a doctor. But it was the role of the Count that made forever a Hollywood star and symbol. He rejected the follow - up part of Frankenstein's monster, allowing Boris Karloff to get that role. But shortly after he was offered the role of voodoo expert and zombie master "Murder Legrande" in WHITE ZOMBIE.

The story is simple. Robert Frazer is Beaumont a wealthy man who has met Madge Bellamy (Madeleine Short) on a sea voyage to his native home. She is going there to meet her fiancé John Harron (Neil Parker) to marry him. Beaumont falls heavily in love with her, and decides he must have her by any means. He meets Parker and suggests the wedding be held on his country estate.

They ride out at night, and are twice surprised unpleasantly. First by some of the natives burying a recently deceased person in a road they are using (the reason is that the locals don't want the dead person revived for zombie work, and figure it is less easy to dig up the corpse if the person is in a constantly used road). Secondly, they meet a man (it turns out to be Legrande) who is working in his fields with some assistance. Legrande falls for Short, and snatches her scarf. The coach driver (Clarence Muse) sees the men are zombies and drives the coach off.

At Beaumont's home, Parker and Short meet Joseph Cawthorne (Dr. Bruner) who is to perform the wedding. Bruner is a little surprised at his invitation to do this from Beaumont, whom he barely knows. They also meet Beaumont's servant Brandon Hurst (Silver, the butler), who is aware of Beaumont's personal schemes and tries to dissuade him from going to get the assistance of Legrande. While the young couple and the Reverend refresh themselves, Beaumont is picked up in a carriage (which he is amazed is driven by one of the zombies). He goes to Legrande's mill (where all the work is done by field zombies - one of whom falls into the mill's grinding machine without a sound, and with nobody else except Beaumont taking notice). Legrande and Beaumont discuss the problem of the up-coming marriage, and how Beaumont wants to prevent it. Actually by this time so does Legrande, but for his own reasons. However, it is obvious that the besotted Beaumont is less realistic than the "worldlier" Legrande. Beaumont is given a potion to use to turn Short into a zombie. A drop of the potion is enough.

Beaumont tries to talk Short out of it, but she won't be talked. So, reluctantly, he has Silver doctor a rose to give to Short, who takes it. The wedding goes well, but during the party afterward Short is affected by the drug and collapses and "dies". Subsequently she is dug up and turned over to Beaumont as his zombie sex slave.

That is the first half of the movie, and I won't go into anything further. But what is frequently missed is that it is more than a study (and a good one) on zombies. Legrande is also a voodoo master, able to summon vultures to do his bidding, as well practicing voodoo arts. Twice we see him carving and manipulating wax figures, first of Short, later of Beaumont, to torment or to manipulate the people to behave in a certain way. With Beaumont, Legrande actually toys (in a very memorable moment - Lugosi was obviously enjoying it) with the doomed fool by carving the "Beaumont doll" with a sharp knife while the stricken man watches helplessly. Also note the scene between Cawthorne and Harron, where Cawthorne demonstrates a great knowledge of the odd laws of Haiti, which included laws concerning creating zombies.

The film is also set in Haiti, and has that tragic country's poverty and traditions down pat. Most of the people are villagers in dirt farms or such. Beaumont and Legrande have large estates, but they are isolated (we see Short preparing for her wedding and hearing drums beating to drive away evil spirits - she orders her window doors shut and the noises are cut out). Legrande's home is on a high cliff facing the sea. It reminds us of King Henri Christophe's mighty fortress palace (still in existence today) that was the greatest engineering feat of the first third of the 19th Century.

The acting honors belong to Bela and Cawthorne, who enlivens every scene he is in with his honesty and friendliness. Lugosi has, in Legrande, the closest clone to his Count Dracula he'd ever get. There are many similarities between the films, both starting with carriage trips at night, amidst unnerving events, and both involving "undead" victims. Legrande, however, is more of a businessman (he even suggests that Beaumont might find the zombies useful for his enterprises). As the lovers, Bellamy is adequate, but her acting gets limited to the difficulty of looking blank for much of the film, while under the zombie-inducing drugs. Harron has a good moment when, thinking his recently wed wife dead, he gets drunk and sees her face constantly in front of him. As the doomed butler, Hurst does a capable job. The zombies are quite unsettling when you see them - especially the tall bearded one.
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