White Zombie

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

On arrival in Haiti, Madeleine Short reunites with her fiancé Neil Parker, with imminent plans to be married. On the way to their lodging, the couple’s coach passes Murder Legendre, an evil voodoo master, who observes them with interest. Neil and Madeleine arrive at the home of the wealthy plantation owner, Charles Beaumont. Charles’ love of Madeleine prompts him to meet Murder secretly in Murder’s sugar cane mill, operated entirely by zombies. Charles wants to convince Madeleine to marry him and solicits Murder’s supernatural assistance. Murder states that the only way to help Charles is to transform Madeleine into a zombie with a potion. Beaumont agrees, takes the potion, and surreptitiously gives it to Madeleine. Shortly after Madeleine and Neil’s wedding ceremony, the potion takes effect on Madeleine, who soon apparently dies and is buried. Murder and Charles enter Madeleine’s tomb at night and revives her as a zombie. In a drunken state, a depressed Neil sees ghostly apparitions of Madeleine and goes to her tomb. On finding it empty, Neil seeks out the assistance of the local missionary, Dr. Bruner, who recounts how Murder turned many of his rivals into zombies, who now act as Murder’s closest guardians. The two men journey to Murder’s cliffside castle to rescue Madeleine.

At the castle, Charles has begun to regret Madeleine’s transformation and begs Murder to return her to life, but Murder refuses. Charles discovers he has been tainted by Murder’s voodoo and is also transforming into a zombie. As Neil enters the fortress, Murder senses his presence and silently orders Madeleine to kill Neil. She approaches Neil with a knife, but Bruner grabs her hand from behind a curtain, making her drop the knife and walk away. Neil follows Madeleine to an escarpment, where Murder commands his zombie guardians to kill Neil. Bruner approaches Murder and knocks him out, breaking Murder’s mental control over his zombies. Undirected, the zombies topple off the cliff. Murder awakens and eludes Neil and Bruner, but Charles pushes Murder off the cliff. Charles loses his balance and also falls to his death. Murder’s death releases Madeleine from her zombie trance, and she awakens to embrace Neil.

REVIEW:

Old movies seem to have legacy in music that many don’t know about. For instance, the film Eyes Without a Face is responsible for inspiring the Billy Idol song of the same name. White Zombie is responsible not only being a forgotten gem in the annuls of horror flicks, but also being the namesake for Rob Zombie’s band, White Zombie.

What is this about?

A young couple honeymooning in Haiti is terrorized by a crazed plantation owner who turns the wife into a zombie to join his legion of undead workers. Made in 1932 in just 11 days with a $50,000 budget, this early talkie remains a horror classic.

What did I like?

Zombie. Our current definition of zombie is a mindless, living dead creature that wants to eat brains or just kill. However, the actual zombie, though, is just a person under some kind of mind control. Not sure where they changed, my guess is probably somewhere around Night of the Living Dead, but it was nice to go back and see real zombies. It was a nice change of pace from what we’re used to with things like The Walking Dead.

Bela. In this era of film, there was no bigger star in horror than Bela Lugosi. With his European accent and unique look, he makes for the perfect horror villain. Throw in the part that his character plays, a voodoo master, and everything just falls into place.

Eerie. There is a tone and vibe about this film that just leaves you shaking. What is so striking about this is, in comparison to today’s films, there isn’t anything to be scared of, and yet there is just something unexplainable and creepy about this film. Perhaps that is why it is help in such high esteem.

What didn’t I like?

Zombie or vampire. As great as Bela Lugosi is, I couldn’t help but think he walked of the set of Dracula, without shaving, and showed up on this film. He is supposed to be a voodoo master, and yet he acts like a vampire. IF they didn’t show him making voodoo dolls in a couple of scenes, you wouldn’t know he wasn’t Dracula in Haiti!

Climax. Maybe I’m spoiled by today’s big action set pieces that allegedly “take your breath away”, but the climactic ending did nothing for me. It felt like the writers couldn’t think of a better ending, and just used the quickest way they could think of. Something more creative would have served it better.

I’m a bit confused about the legacy of White Zombie. On one hand, it seems to be a forgotten gem, but on the other hand it is revered as a benchmark classic horror film. What do I think of it? Well, it is a true classic. This copy I had included screen pops and such. I love that authentic retro stuff, as opposed to the watered down remastered versions that take out all the soul of the original. That point aside, this is a pretty good film. I didn’t find it to be the greatest, as it suffered from too many moments of slowing down, but it is worth watching. Give it a shot!

3 3/4 out of 5 stars

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