White Zombie was produced in 1932. It stars horror legend Bela Lugosi as ‘Murder’ Legrande, an evil voodoo master. It is considered the first feature-length zombie film. And these are proper voodoo zombies, not the flesh-eating modern varieties – which aren’t really zombies at all.
The film is set in Haiti, where Madeleine Short (Madge Bellamy) has arrived to marry her fiancée, Neil Parker (John Harron). But a wealthy plantation owner, Charles Beaumont (Robert Frazer), has also fallen in love with her.
He turns to ‘Murder’ Legrande – who runs a sugar cane mill operated entirely by zombies – for help to persuade her to marry him instead. Legrande agrees, but tells Beaumont that the only way is to turn her into a zombie, and gives him a potion to give her.
Parker is distraught at Madeleine’s death, and even more so when he finds her tomb empty. He seeks assistance from Dr. Bruner (Joseph Cawthorn) – a local missionary.
Together they set out to rescue Madeleine from Legrande’s cliff top castle.
White Zombie is a classic 30’s horror film, but it is much less known or appreciated than others of its time – such as Dracula or Frankenstein. To a modern audience it can seem rather stagey and melodramatic. This is only to be expected though, as most of the cast were – slightly faded – stars of the silent movies.
Lugosi is wonderful as the evil-eyed villain. However, his eyebrows quite often steal the scene (he has some most truly wonderfully amazing crazy eyebrows in this film!)
The zombies – all male apart from Madeleine – are of the tatty clothes, grey complexion, staring eyes and shuffling type. They are quite effective, in a low-key kind of way. As are the majority of the sets. Most of them are beautifully lit and shot.
Whilst, yes, the acting is not great by today’s standards, the plot is decent – a classic love triangle – and it looks quite good too. This is a film everyone should see. A much under-appreciated gem. Well worth 4/5.