Once again, Max delves into the vault of horror with a 1930's classic
White Zombie is a tale of a young couple, Madeline (Madge Bellamy) and Neil (John Harron,) who travel to Haiti to be married on the behest of a new acquaintance, Charles Beaumont (Robert Frazer.) After the couple is married by the missionary, Dr. Bruner (Joseph Cawthorn,) Beaumont, who has fallen madly in love with Madeline, enlists the aid Murder Legendre (Bela Lugosi.) Legendre is a Haitian voodoo master who runs a sugar cane factory manned by zombies of his making.
The film itself is rather short, with IMDB clocking it in at an hour and none minutes while Netflix's instant streaming service has the movie four minutes shorter. The shorter time span could be explained due the process of transferring the original film output to a digital medium. The movie itself is from the thirties and time could be a factor in the deterioration of film. The film does have pockets where the audio drops for a second or two, though not enough to lose any information or confuse the viewer. Also there seem to be moments where the movie seems to cut scenes abruptly, though that could be rough editing on the part of the film's crew.
White Zombie's shining stars are, of course, Lugosi and Cawthorn. Lugosi had made a name for himself in the horror scene in the year previous with Dracula. The film helped solidify his image as a wonderful and devious villain. Cawthorn was recognizable to the original viewing audience for his comic roles in many films. He brings that comic relief to the film without over using it and taking away from the suspense and horror.
The film itself is a refreshing break from the sex and violence laden horror cinema of today. It builds strongly on mood and suspense to build horror and tension. This isn't to say that the modern horror era is bad. Its more that, to use an appropriately horror sounding idiom, there's more than one way to skin a cat. The Universal era, that which the movie comes from, and into the Hammer horror suspense driven movies were the norm. Then, introduced in the sixties and fully formed in the seventies, the gore horror took over.
White Zombie is an excellent example of the era of horror it was birthed in. It features no gore, yet still has deaths. What!? By today's standards, it is probably not terrifying, though it is hard to do that anymore, especially with fans of the horror genre.
It’s too difficult to really tell that, if White Zombie had never been made, that the zombie sub-genre would be a very different beast. It’s clear that the film inspired a slew of zombie movies during the 30s and 40s, though they did not take from the Haitian Voodoo inspiration that White Zombie did. What is clear is that White Zombie is a piece of horror movie history. It’s a must see for fans of Lugosi, fans of zombies, and horror fans. It’s a worthy addition to any collection.
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