White Zombie (1932)


A young couple, Madeleine Parker (Madge Bellamy, Charlie Chan in London) and her fiancé Neil Parker (John Harron, The Crowd Roars), agree to get married at a friend’s Haitian plantation. The friend, Charles Beaumont (Robert Frazer, The Vampire Bat), is secretly in love with Madeleine, and with the help of a witch doctor, Legendre (Bela Lugosi, Dracula), Beaumont plans to stop the wedding at any cost.

Reaction & Thoughts:

“They are not men, madame. They are dead bodies!”

Victor Halperin directed this Pre-Code hair-raiser with the cleverness and precision of a great magician. Halperin, with the help of screenwriter Garnett Weston, also inadvertently created an entirely new genre: the zombie movie. While quite different from George A. Romero’s 1968 classic Night of the Living Dead, this is still a great zombie.

1968’s Night of the Living Dead has been interpreted as a metaphor for America’s class hierarchy. White Zombie is essentially about “control” — most characters are preoccupied with controlling the people around them.

The evil voodoo master proudly brags about turning important members of the community into mindless slaves. The plantation owner wants to “own” the woman he loves. Even the well-meaning fiancé wants to “control” his girlfriend via marriage. We all know that “control freaks” are the most insecure of all people and the characters’ various insecurities make the story very interesting.

Made on a minuscule budget, White Zombie looks absolutely fantastic. The painted background and stylized sets give the movie a strong German Expressionist vibe. The camera work is very stylish too. The “dissolve wipes” anticipate the works of Akira Kurosawa and George Lucas. The film’s handling of the split-screen technique is way ahead of its time. All in all, a snazzy, trendy little movie.

Bela Lugosi gives one of his all-time best performances. Lugosi’s deliberately slow delivery and impenetrable Hungarian accent add the necessary touch of mystery to the movie. The actor’s hand movements — deftly parodied by Martin Landau in Tim Burton’s Ed Wood — are particularly effective here. Lugosi is obviously working at a much higher level than the rest of the cast — it’s a truly fascinating performance.

Conclusions & Final Thoughts:

White Zombie is a delight from beginning to end. It was designed and shot in a highly imaginative manner. Being a Pre-Code production, the film has its share of naughty touches (I don’t want to spoil the surprises). It’s a great horror movie — White Zombie deserves a place next to Universal’s classics Dracula, Frankenstein, The Invisible Man and The Mummy. B&W, 67 minutes, Not Rated.

P.S. This is my contribution to the The Great Breening Blogathon, hosted by Pure Entertainment Preservation Society.

15 responses to “White Zombie (1932)

  1. Pingback: EXTRA: “The Great Breening Blogathon!” | pure entertainment preservation society·

  2. Pingback: THE GREAT BREENING BLOGATHON: DAY 3! | pure entertainment preservation society·

  3. Love this one and it really took the VHS era of discovery to find an audience and I think that is because it wasn’t in the Universal stable of Monsters and horrors. Forgotten for years but now I think rightfully looked to as one of Bela’s best.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Pingback: THE GREAT BREENING BLOGATHON: THE COMPLETE ROSTER! | pure entertainment preservation society·

  5. Thank you so much for participating in my “Great Breening Blogathon.” Here is the final roster, in which I compiled all the articles written: https://pureentertainmentpreservationsociety.wordpress.com/2017/12/19/the-great-breening-blogathon-the-complete-roster/. Your article was a huge addition to my participants; I appreciate the time and energy you put into it.

    By the way, I would like to invite you to join our next blogathon, “The Singing Sweethearts Blogathon,” which is described at the bottom of the final roster. We could use your talent in this blogathon!

    Yours Hopefully,

    Tiffany Brannan

    Liked by 2 people

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