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  • 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.
  • 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.

    8/10

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  • 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.
  • 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
  • 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!
  • 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 . . .
  • 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.
  • 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!
  • 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?
  • White zombie is recorded as being the first Zombie movie ever mad. They Zombie actors did an amazing job of it, especially when considering they had no bases to work from. It was all about portraying creepy and terrifying through a stiff body poster and facial features. And they pooled it off. It was the "eyes" of Lugosi, the king of Zombies who put the fear in me. Amazing skills as an actor to convey so much with just the eyes. The movie is at one scary, mysterious, weird, and funny. The key feature of White zombie is that it was made to scar the people of its time, not ours. And this is probably why most people won't give it the time of day. It is an old movie with old style acting and scare tactics. The viewer has to know that be for watching it.
  • 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
  • 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.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    If you're looking for a movie about undead cannibals that walk around with their rotting flesh falling off or want to see intestines get ripped out of people while they're still alive, you're going to be very disappointed.

    White Zombie is one of the first zombie movies ever made, and it's still one of the scariest. It's a creepy and atmospheric movie from the time when filmmakers made true horror movies that didn't rely on cheap jump scares or guts and gore.

    Bela Lugosi's character is probably one of the most evil villains in a horror movie. In some ways, he's worse than Dracula. Dracula could always blame it on the curse...what's this guy's excuse? He's just a sadist.

    The zombies are frightening to look at, especially the "chief executioner". He's comparable to Count Orlok from Nosferatu or Erik in Phantom of the Opera from 1925 (in fact, the whole movie feels like a silent movie). I bet the actors cracked up a lot during the making of the movie, though.

    Everything in White Zombie looks creepy, from start to finish. It's like a very bad dream. The graveyard, the house, the castle...and then there's the darn vulture. Stop making those awful noises! But fortunately, since this is an old movie, it has a happy ending where the villain is defeated, and our heroes (hopefully) live happily ever after.

    Forget overrated zombie movies like Dawn of the Dead and garbage like Fulci's "Zombi", and watch a true zombie movie instead.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • In Haiti, a sweetheart couple from America are stopped from marrying by a desperate plantation owner who wants the girl for himself; he turns for help to the diabolic voodoo master who also runs the sugar cane mill (which is staffed by the living dead!). A zombie Gothic, reportedly the first of its kind; rather ridiculous on the whole, but still retaining some potency and fascination due to the atmospheric production design and cinematography. Solid direction from Victor Halperin (whose brother, Edward, served as producer) lends the scenario a woozy, dream-like feel. Bela Lugosi, looking a bit like Fu Manchu, gives a playful, sassy performance, and his zombie minions are a slow-stepping but spooky lot. There are some sexual proclivities which are steeped in the hypothetical, giving the story some unexpected subtext, as well as a general air of good humor and melodramatic adventure. ** from ****
  • 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
  • ....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 ****
  • 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.
  • Arriving in Haiti, Madeline and Neil (Madge Bellamy and John Harron) were to be married right away, but were delayed by the strange Mr. Beaumont (Robert Frazer), who has become unnaturally obsessed w/ Madeline. Unaware of Beaumont's nefarious motives, the young couple stays at his palatial home. Beaumont seeks out the mysterious Murder Legendre (Bela Lugosi- DRACULA) at his sugar mill, operated by a small army of "men", looking not-quite-alive. Legendre's unique abilities could help Beaumont w/ his desire to possess Madeline. Of course, Legendre has plans of his own for everyone involved! Death and unholy resurrection ensue. Can Neil and his friend, Dr. Bruner (Joseph Cawthorn) somehow stop Legendre, and reverse his abominable act? WHITE ZOMBIE is a fantastic, early film about eeevil men, their wicked plots, and the living dead. Lugosi imbues his role w/ malice, looking about as satanic as is humanly possible! His eyes and those grasping hand gestures are truly memorable. EXTRA POINTS FOR: Legendre's shadowy, labyrinthine castle! Annnd, that damnable vulture! It's screeching could curdle mercury! Highly recommended for the horror fanatic, especially the zombie enthusiast...
  • Warning: Spoilers
    This movie hails from the era when Haiti had cornered the market on zombies. No raising from the dead, no alien induced zombie, no foot dragging or brain eating fun zombies. These zombies were gainfully employed at the sugar mill. Young Bela boasts an "Eddie Munster" hair style, pointy ears, manicured eyebrows, and a goatee. Along with his superimposed eyes he has come to epitomize evil. He is the one who actually creates zombies in what is now a campy film from a former horror classic.

    Madge Bellamy stars in the title role, a bride, abducted by another man and turned into a zombie. The ending wasn't exactly a cliff hanger. A good movie to watch with "Reefer Madness" if you catch my drift.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Copyright 1 August 1932 by United Artists Corp. New York opening at the Rivoli: 28 July 1932. U.S. release: July 1932. Original running time: 73 minutes. Present 1998 TV prints run only 68 minutes and are missing "the one scene which seemed most gripping to Rivoli audiences, wherein zombies carry a body out of its burial grounds and return the corpse to life at the will of hypnotist Murder Legendre." (New York Daily News).

    SYNOPSIS: An evil hypnotist who staffs his sugar mill with zombies is contracted to exert his influence over a young married girl whom a local plantation owner covets.

    NOTES: Shot in only two weeks at Universal studios (though of course the many elaborate glass shots and other laboratory work, plus the dubbing of dialogue, music and sound effects, extended the film's production time considerably), White Zombie became one of the most successful independent horror films ever made. It turned its backer, Phil Goldstone, into a multi-millionaire, and won for the Halperin Brothers a contract at Paramount where they made Supernatural which was equally weird, far more polished, but less financially successful. Technically, there's quite a lot wrong with White Zombie. For modern audiences the two most important are the extremely noisy soundtrack (presumably the Halperins could only afford the outmoded sound-on-disc system which was then going cheap for independent producers) and the old-fashioned acting (particularly by once super-popular silent star Madge Bellamy, here attempting a comeback after her 100% talkie debut in the 1929 Tonight at Twelve was indifferently received. Mind you, the other players are not much better. Miss Bellamy seems so bad mainly because the script requires her to mime most of her role. Even Lugosi hams it up, but then that is what we expect of the master. Harron is as unbelievable as Bellamy, but his part is so small it doesn't really matter. Frazer is hammy too, but manages to impress nonetheless. Cawthorn is the most assured of the lot, but he is saddled with an irritating line of comedy relief).

    Other technical problems include jerky cutting (partly caused by hasty shooting, partly by the need to clip either picture or track when the voices get out of sync); abrupt continuity (partly disguised in TV transmission by the insertion of commercial breaks); and the use of old, full-frame cameras, which means that the image is awkwardly truncated unless printed between bars (which fortunately the 1998 TV prints are).

    On the positive side, the film is such a genuine weirdie, most audiences will overlook most of the shortcomings. Superlatively atmospheric photography, imaginative direction, staggeringly impressive sets (achieved by almost faultless glass shots), and above all, some of the most bizarre sound effects (including music - note the credit to Xavier Cugat, of all people) ever assembled for a motion picture combine with Lugosi, Frazer and the zombies (brilliantly made up by Universal's legendary master, Jack Pierce) to create a movie experience of absolutely chilling intensity.
  • "White Zombie" is a cool little horror tale, barely clocking in at feature film length at only an hour and seven minutes.

    The film is a take on the zombie legend of Haiti which is a far cry from the kind of zombie movie/TV show/video game we have all seen at least a million times. The movie does feature an army of zombies, rather than just one, but they are not flesh eating creatures who transmit their disease through bites and must be put down with a shotgun blast to the head. Instead, they are more like mindless automatons.

    Moreover, what this film has, that very, very few zombie movies in the modern era have had, is a main bad guy. Generally the zombie outbreak is caused by a phenomena like a crashed satellite or comet. Often times it is not even accounted for. In "White Zombie", there is a very definite cause for the dead walking: voodoo magic performed by none other than Bela Lugosi.

    Watching "White Zombie" made me wonder a couple of things. Firstly, I was considering whether Romero (RIP) and his "Living Dead" pictures were the first time zombies were depicted as flesh eaters. In "White Zombie", they are slaves created to do Lugosi's bidding. His evil nature is accentuated by the fact that it is hinted that some of the zombies are former rivals of his, being exploited after death as an ultimate act of humiliation.

    Secondly, I wondered if, by not having a main bad guy controlling the zombies that "White Zombie" has, we are essentially missing a key ingredient that would generally improve these stories. I mean, nobody is scared of zombies any more, if they ever were. They exist basically to demonstrate the different ways the human body can be degraded and destroyed, and maybe to make us think how we would try to survive an "outbreak". "White Zombie" gives you a real channel for fear in the consummately evil character created by Lugosi.

    I do penalize "White Zombie", however, for not containing any extremely effective frightening moments. This might be a bigger minus for some rather than others; if you watch a lot of horror films like me, you don't expect them to scare you, because most don't. You expect to be entertained, and you will be.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    An early horror movie, which stands as the first ever movie to feature zombies, or at least creatures that can be called zombies. Don't be put off by the typical plot, or the fact that these zombies are not of the modern flesh-eating variety seen in NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, rather the old-fashioned mute slaves. WHITE ZOMBIE features some nice (if low budgeted) atmospheric scenes in graveyards, where bodies are ripped from their graves under the cover of the night and used in sinister black magic rituals where they are reanimated and set to work. You see, zombies are the perfect workers; they don't talk, they don't need paying, they don't even have a union!

    We just know we're back in familiar horror territory when the film opens with two young lovers fleeing into an unknown world (in this case, Haiti) in a carriage, little realising the terrible situations they will find themselves in. Unfortunately a lot of potential impact is ruined when the actors begin acting - and we realise that they're hopelessly trapped in the past, their over-acting carefully built up in the silent movies and unable to let go, only a few years after the silent films had actually ended.

    At fault the most? Probably the actor playing the couple's host, who permanently has manic hair, gleaming eyes, and a larger-than-life persona. The dashing hero is not in the least bit dashing, instead he keeps on fainting instead of battling the hordes of evil, and it is up to an old man to save the day in the final reel! What a wimp. The actress playing his wife isn't much better, it's difficult to distinguish her transformation from human into zombie seeing as she's just about catatonic for the entire film. Still, her woeful/soulless demeanour is a good one and scenes of her under Legendre's control are genuinely unsettling.

    Thankfully, though, we have old Bela Lugosi hanging around the sets, giving us an actor to watch and recognise in all this madness. Lugosi was already typecast after making the fantastic Dracula, and it shows here, with maximum emphasis on Lugosi's evil appearance (complete with widow's peak and goatee beard). The film also employs the trick of having Lugosi's staring, wild eyes displayed in close-up, a technique Hammer relied on in their Dracula films with Lee substituted for Lugosi. You can really believe that Legendre is capable of hypnotising people with the smallest effort, and of course, being the baddie he gets all the best lines. The best line in the film is where the hero asks who the zombies are, Lugosi replies "For you, my friend, they are the Angels of Death!".

    Okay, so much of the film is slow and static, but this is to be expected. To break up the dialogue we have some weird shots of zombies at work in the sugar mills, ignoring a fellow worker who collapses into the mill and is ground up in the mechanism. They just keep working, willed on by Legendre's powers, single-minded and single-purposed, with no thought of their own. To accentuate the fact that these people are supposedly dead, some crude black makeup is used to make fingers seem thin and skeletal, also in eye sockets to make the actors look like cadavers. While this might not be frightening to a modern audience, it is effective in a simplistic way.

    WHITE ZOMBIE is perhaps a little too low key for it's own good, but there is some genuine suspense built up at the finale, where Lugosi clutches his hands together in a battle of wills with the hero and heroine, and the zombies are forced to walk off a cliff after good wins out in the end (and you just knew it would). This exciting climax compliments an atmospheric film which wrings maximum haunting impact from the zombies themselves.
  • TheRedDeath3015 October 2016
    Warning: Spoilers
    I would guess that there is some film geek out there that could dispute this notion with some obscurity that no one has ever heard of, but for all intents, this is the first zombie movie. Of course, these are not shambling brain munchers or lightning fast infected. These are not the zombies that litter indie horror nowadays. No, the zombies we are speaking of here are of the old voodoo variety. Maybe still shambling in their own way, but mindless hypnotized minions, set one destruction at the whim of their master.

    The movie sets an eerie tone right from the outset as a young couple moves to the West Indies and we open on their carriage ride to their new plantation, but something interrupts that ride. There is a ceremony going on at a crossroads, a voodoo ceremony at that. They are burying their dead in the road to prevent grave robbers from stealing the bodies. It immediately sets a wonderful midnight mood to this movie, as the crowd chants their songs. Seems our young lady has met a man who promises to be their guide through the exotic land, but he has more on his mind than that. He covets the young woman as his bride. Rather than try to win her the old fashioned way, he sets upon an evil plot.

    We meet Lugosi as Murder Legendre, one of his absolute best roles. He runs a sugar plantation where the workers seem to do anything their boss desires, in fact they do because they are all hypnotized zombies. Legendre tempts this young man with the idea that he can hypnotize our young maiden and make her a slave. Of course, the whole thing will eventually go awry, as you can never trust an evil mastermind.

    There are plenty of eerie scenes in this movie, including an odd march of the zombies, as they descend down a hill on their way to accomplish their master's commands. Even more, the theme of hypnotism is played out in the cinematography of the film. The actors often move with a slow steadiness. The camera pans and sweeps with serene movement. The entire thing feels like a dream (or perhaps, a nightmare). This effect is heightened because most prints I have seen are not of the best quality, so the graininess of the film adds to the effect. Watch this movie on an October evening with the lights down low. It's not an outright terror, by any means, but there is an overwhelming hypnotic quality that will creep in and settle with you.
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