Chris & Marcey’s March Movie Exchange: Week 2 – White Zombie (1932)

Movie Exchange

What’s a Blog-a-thon? This movie exchange is a challenge, its participants have chosen films the other has not seen to watch and review.
Marcey’s criteria for Chris: Horror Films of the 1930’s
Why Marcey Chose This Film For Chris: I feel like White Zombie is a bit more of an obscure horror film from the 30’s, it isn’t one of the bigger named one. It does star Bela Lugosi, and he is the reason to see this, well aside from the fact it does have zombie in the title. The modern zombie film is often credited to Romero’s Night Of The Living Dead, but people often forget that ‘zombies’ did exist is some form before 1968. While this may not be the best film ever made, it is certainly worth a watch. I thought Chris could do with some Lugosi this month.


Chris’ Review
When people often think about zombies films they picture reanimated corpses that feasts upon the living, features lots of gore and that they can only be killed by a good old fashioned shotgun blast to the head. This is basically the zombie genre in a nutshell, one that has remained pretty much unchanged since George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. It may be shocking to to wider public that zombie films were in existence more than forty years prior to Nights release, although these zombies were not rotting flesh eating cannibals but poor souls caught under a voodoo spell and used to serve as a mindless servant to their master. White Zombie is considered to be the very first feature length zombie film and it is quite a clever piece of cinema.

The story focuses on young couple Madeline (Madge Bellamy) and Neil (John Harron) who have recently arrived in Haiti with the intent to marry immediately. During their voyage the couple meet local resident Charles Beaumont (Robert Frazer) who insists that they come to his estate and have their wedding there. From the films opening scene, things begin to go wrong very quickly, warnings from the carriage driver about zombies lurking the sugar fields fall upon death ears and the first appearance of Murder Legendre (Bela Lugosi) who says nothing, but grabs for Madeline’s scarf as the carriage pulls away. Things further become complicated as Dr. Bruner (Joseph Cawthorn) the films Van Helsing like character who begins to tell the couple stories surrounding Beaumont and the region. It soon becomes clear that Beaumont has fallen in love with Madeline and will do anything for her, so he asks for Murder to use his voodoo powers to make her his.


The plot is simple and the run time quite short, just over an hour in total, but that doesn’t affect the films quality as it is a beautiful looking film that would have genuinely scarred 1930’s audiences who were being introduced to a variety of different cinema monsters. The zombies of this film are a collection of rivals to Lugosi’s Murder whom he has placed under his spell, when asked what would happen if his hold over them would end he calmly replies “They would turn on me and tear me apart”. These zombies are far more terrifying than anything that followed in the success of Romero’s game changing debut as zombies have never been able to escape the mythology that Romero created, with the exception of the fast zombie, the genre has struggled to explore anything new which is a shame, because White Zombie and other early zombie films such as I Walked with a Zombie all focusing on the voodoo aspect of zombie-ism which is far superior mythology to the zombies that modern day audiences are familiar with.

The film has few errors mostly with some misplaced dialogue mostly from Dr. Bruner who tries to provide comic relief by constantly asking for a match to light his pipe, particularity at the films end. Other flaws include rushed scenes, mostly due to the films low budget and short run time to wrap the films climax up nicely. The final half of the film goes from looking like a south pacific location to that of a European castle by the cliff side, but this doesn’t affect the flow of the film in anyway way. The films highpoint is Lugosi as the films charming villain, Murder a performance that is far more memorable than his Dracula. Lugosi not only looks far more menacing but also has more character depth to him than the count that he is more widely recognised for.

White Zombie is a great little film that wasn’t able to spawn its own franchise in the same way as Dracula or Frankenstein, but it was successful in bringing to the screen the original and still best representation of the zombie, that of the Haitian voodoo curse.


Review written by Christopher Innis

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