With zombies being so popular right now I thought, what better movie to start my movie reviews with than the very first feature length zombie movie, White Zombie?
This movie was released in 1932, and for all you youngsters out there that means it’s in black and white. And no, colorizing it would not improve it. This movie features Haitian zombies, not the rotting flesh zombies that are so popular today, and the zombie master, Murder Legendre, was played by the king of the horror flicks, Béla Lugosi.
A young woman named Madeline (played by Madge Bellamy) arrives in Haiti to be reunited with her fiancé Neil (played by John Harron). Apparently on the voyage over, she met plantation owner Charles Beaumont (played by Robert Frazer) who insists that the young couple get married at his estate. On their way to this estate they witness a burial at a crossroads, which is supposed to prevent the deceased from becoming a zombie.
Of course Beaumont is hopelessly in love with Madeline and enlists the aid of zombie master Legendre to make her his. The young couple get married and during the wedding feast, Beaumont slips her a potion that makes it appear that she’s dead. Later, he and the zombie master steal her body and turn her into a zombie. When the distraught Neil goes to visit her tomb and finds her body missing, missionary Dr. Bruner (played by Joseph Cawthorn) helpfully tells him about how Legendre has been turning people into zombies.
Meanwhile, Beaumont is having second thoughts and goes to Legendre’s castle to get him to reverse what he’s done to Madeline. Not only does Legendre refuse, but Beaumont realizes the zombie master is trying to turn him as well. Neil and Bruner arrive at the castle to rescue Madeline and Legendre uses his mind control to make her try and kill Neil. Bruner manages to knock Legendre out and the zombies he had going after the men walk off a cliff instead. Then Beaumont and Legendre struggle on the same cliff and they, too, fall to their deaths. With the death of the zombie master, Madeline is freed from her living death and is reunited with Neil.
It’s a low budget film and it shows. By current standards the effects in this movie might seem a little tame, mostly atmospheric lighting, but when you consider the age of the film, it’s actually kind of interesting. Talking movies had only been around for about five years when this movie was made and they made good use of music, like drums, and spooky background noises.
It’s been a while since I’ve watched this, and what I remember most is the really demented looking “head zombie” and the way the filmmaker kept focusing on Béla Lugosi’s eyes. He’s got the creepiest eyes ever. And I have to say, the thing that ruined it for me was the way Dr. Bruner kept asking if anyone had a light for his cigarette, even during the final clinch between Madeline and Neil.
You know what? You don’t need me to tell you whether this movie was good or bad, you can check it out for yourself:
Hope you sleep well tonight!