WHITE ZOMBIE (1932) – The Dungeon Review!
One of my goals when starting this blog was to watch and review more classic horror. I guess “classic horror” is a bit of a catch all phrase but for me it means pre-60s. When I was a kid I watched a lot of horror films from the 60s and 70s because my dad was heavily into sci-fi and horror from this period. My dad’s love of horror stayed with me and growing up in the 80s I literally watched every single horror film I could get my hands on. I have an intimate relationship with these three decades of horror where pre-60’s I’m still at the kissing stage. I have crossed a few classics off the list but I still have a multitude of titles to check out. What amazes me the most is of the dozenish titles I’ve reviewed I’ve yet to run into one I disliked. Black and white photography is beautiful and provides so much gothic appeal to these films. The expressive actors, great character development and stories hypnotize me and I am powerless to escape their embrace. I’m pleased to report, like its predecessors, White Zombie definitely did not disappoint.
Happy couple Madeline (Madge Bellamy) and Neil (John Harron) are convinced to marry at the Haitian plantation of Charles Beaumont (Robert Frazer). Mr. Beaumont’s intentions are purely selfish as he is in love with Madeline. Unable to prevent the marriage he turns to Legendre (Bela Lugosi) who provides him with a drug to keep Madeline under his control. The drug however turns its user into an emotionless, uncommunicative zombie. Desperate Mr. Beaumont turns once again to Legendre to give Madeline back her senses but the evil man has his own agenda. Meanwhile grieving fiancé Neil believing his Madeline to be dead is convinced by a local doctor that his love is merely under a spell. The two set out to find her and save her from Legendre’s grasp.
Haitian voodoo is the backdrop for White Zombie, not an uncommon theme in these older zombie films. White Zombie begins with a couple in a carriage being stopped by a group of Haitian locals conducting a funeral in the road. The carriage driver’s explanation of the ceremony creates some nice foreboding. These are not your entrail eating variety but the small army of drugged and bug-eyed zombies controlled by the diabolical Legendre is quite effective. The zombies aren’t covered in makeup or masked they are simply well chosen background performers who are dressed shabbily and stare wide-eyed into the camera. It’s simple but creepy. Their captor is Legendre who puts the mind-controlled zombies at work in his mill. The men in his personal army are those who once had a bone to pick with him and now do his bidding. Bela Lugosi is at his diabolical best in White Zombie. Lugosi plays the villain with mischievous flair and plenty of hand-wringing and glowing eye action. Lugosi rocks that Widow’s peak and looks downright devilish. As Legendre, Bela Lugosi tops or at least equals his great performance as Dracula. Robert Frazer is strong as Charles Beaumont. Madge Bellamy who plays Madeline is beautiful and likeable and John Harron is well matched as her fiancé. My only real complaint however revolves around these two characters. I found Neil’s grieving a little bit hard to take after a while and the love conquers all theme was a bit schmaltzy for my tastes.
White Zombie relies on atmosphere and mood and its cup overfloweth with both. It is amazing what can be achieved with a small budget and a ton of creativity. The scene inside Legendre’s mill where his zombie drones mindlessly work at redundant tasks is very eerie. The graveyard shots and every scene in Legendre’s lair are terrific. The score for the film from Xavier Cugat is excellent. The film has a steady pace, good story, impressive scenery and strong performances. White Zombie is top notch entertainment! Highly recommended.
Dungeon Rating: 4/5
Directed By: Victor Halperin
Starring: Bela Lugosi, Madge Bellamy, Joseph Cawthorn, Robert Frazer, John Harron, Brandon Hurst, George Burr Macannan, Frederick Peters, Annette Stone, John Printz, Dan Crimmins, Claude Morgan, John Fergusson, Velma Gresham, Clarence Muse