White Zombie (1932)
She was not alive... nor dead... just a white zombie performing his every desire!
Year of Release: 1932
Running Time: 69 minutes (1:09)
Director: Victor Halperin
Bela Lugosi ... 'Murder' Legendre
John Harron ... Neil Parker
Madge Bellamy ... Madeline Short Parker
Robert Frazer ... Charles Beaumont
Joseph Cawthorn ... Dr. Bruner
Brandon Hurst ... Silver
When a young girl joins her fiance on the haunting island of Haiti, the couple is befriended by a wealthy planter who secretly desires the girl for his own. To carry out his plan, he enlists the help of the island's notorious Zombie master, unaware of the high price he must pay!
White Zombie, the movie that begs the question; what's the point of even havin' a zombie bride when you've gotta wear an insulated condom just to keep your injector from freezin' up like Russian assets after a reclamation project? I dunno about the rest of you, but I'm just not seein' the appeal here, I mean, if you're that desperate to experience sex with somebody that lacks any emotion an feels nothing, there're plenty of nice women down at the truck stop that'll help you out. Or, lacking that, you can always try seducin' Gwyneth Paltrow, though that seems like an awful lotta trouble. I'm not tryin' to be critical here, this is a free country after all, an I wouldn't dream of treadin' on somebody's chosen lifestyle, but wouldn't it be easier to just put your RealDoll in the freezer next to the Hot Pockets an Stouffer's macaroni an cheese for awhile? I'm just tryin' to be pragmatic, is all, at least try it for a few days an give it a chance. If you're not completely satisfied, don't worry about it, neither was the doll. In any event, this movie's not only one of the very first zombie movies ever made, but it also happens to be the finest movie in cinematic history to feature Bela Lugosi teachin' a white girl how to zombie. It's not quite as inspirin' as the events of Breakin' 2, where Shabba-Doo an Boogaloo teach a white girl how to black, but it's pretty impressive just the same. These days, there're tons of white zombies, which you've no doubt seen if you've ever been to a Tea Party rally, but back in the 30s they didn't have many white zombies cause Haiti held the exclusive licensin' rights an plus nobody wanted to buy white zombies cause they always looked filthy after workin' in the cane fields all day an their farts smelled like egg salad. But I think it's great that Bela Lugosi did his part to help bring down the zombie racial barrier an bring us together as an undead society, an to show my appreciation for his efforts, I'ma share a few of the things I learned from this one an do my part to help rot everybody's brain, equally. First, when you're tryin' to talk a woman outta marryin' another man so she'll marry you instead, it's best to take a political approach. I mean, tryin' to sell yourself works *sometimes*, but usually you're better off just waitin' til the preacher says "does anybody object to this union?" to yell out "he banged the stripper last night at his bachelor party!" at the top of your lungs. Works much better than tellin' 'er about how you've had a crush on 'er since third grade an've built a shrine to 'er outta used tampons an dental floss to prove your devotion. Second, the best way to turn an enemy into a friend is with powdered blow fish venom. It outpaces "open dialogue" and "building mutual respect" by a factor of ten. An third, after years of paintin' up pitiful, scrawny white guys with black face, we probably had that whole White Chicks thing comin'.
But what nearly made me vomit up my varmint vittles watchin' this one was thinkin' about bureaucratic red tape. This movie really opened my eyes about government over-regulation an the impact all these restrictions have on the business community. Now, I realize that I'm prolly not tellin' you anything you don't already know, but I just couldn't get over how much better it was for Bela to base his sugar mill operation in Haiti, as opposed to one of our quote; "civilized nations." To start with, in the "first world", they'da thrown Bela in the crossbar hotel right outta the shoot just for havin' zombie slaves at all, an havin' seen this one, I think we can all agree with Mary Noble that they were all basically happy-go-lucky people who appreciated everything that their masters did for 'em, as there wasn't a single peep outta even one of these zombie slaves durin' the course of the movie. Okay, so maybe the speech centers in their brains weren't exactly in pristine condition, but they all seemed pretty happy to me. As if that isn't unfair enough, then they prolly woulda stuck 'im with an attempted murder charge for each an every one of those zombies he pulled outta the ground after slippin' 'em those supercharged roofies, too. That's right, over here, they'd actually *punish* the man, for rescuin' these people from their earthly tombs. So, so far, Bela's already lookin' at approximately 142 consecutive life sentences in Club Fed with no chance of parole. But then he'da also had the FDA comin' in an shuttin' 'im down after one of his zombies who showed up a little groggy cause he could never get used to workin' the night shift fell into a sugar cane shredder an got turned into Cajun cold cuts an got mixed in with the sugar. Then OSHA woulda been all over 'em like stupid on Pat Robertson for not havin' a safety rail or emergency stop in place an fined 'im back to the stone age, an why would they do all this? It's not like these brainwashed tool sheds have rights, I mean, they've been declared legally dead, haven't they? As far as Haiti's concerned, these guys don't exist, an that's where it oughta end. Where's our "progressive" government come off thinkin' they can just make up the rules as they go along? An don't even get me started on the zombie unions, ever since Jimmy Hoffa dug 'imself outta those cement shoes an resurfaced as their director of operations they've just gotten completely outta hand. Cripes, some guys just never learn. I've just about had it with this farce of a country, I think I'ma go check out Somalia an see if it's as great as they make it sound in that travel brochure.
The movie begins in Haiti where a buncha townsfolk've set up caution cones while they fill in this big ole pothole with a corpse so the ladies drivin' their horses down the road won't get any cheap thrills from the uneven ground. So while they're tuckin' Sinkhole Sam in for his dirt nap an singin' like howler monkeys that fell out of a tree an landed in a briar patch, a young couple (Neil an Madeline) ridin' in a carriage comes down the road an goes all Four Non Blondes askin' the driver what's goin' on while they wait for the flagger to wave 'em through an he tells 'im they're buryin' a body under the road most traveled so the graverobbers'll at least have to wait until everybody's in Sunday mornin' mass to kipe the corpse without bein' spotted. Once the road's clear, they drive on over the Swede bump an mosey on down the road a piece til they have to stop an ask Bela Lugosi for directions cause the driver ain't sure if he should've taken the Loas Lane cutoff or keep goin' down Bokor Boulevard an Bela grabs the lady's scarf just before the driver spots the zomb-squad comin' down the hill an splits like Vincent van Gogh's personality. Somebody really needs to put a zombie crossin' sign at this intersection, this is ridiculous. So after awhile they make it to Chateau Whitey an by this point Neil's pretty P.O.'d an starts yellin' at the driver for savin' their hides an the guy has to explain to Cracker Jack why it's a bad idea to get captured by voodoo priests an then tell 'im he's real sorry if his lily white ass got bruised in transit. Then this old codger (Dr. Bruner) shows up an tells Neil not to pay no mind to the superstitious locals til this butler that looks like the love child of Christopher Lee an Vladamir Putin (Silver) invites 'em all in for white rice an crackers. So Silver goes upstairs to get this weaselly douche that dresses like Napoleon Bonaparte (Beaumont) an tell 'im his company's arrived while the doc tells Neil an Madeline that if he was them he'd get the heck outta Dodge as soon as they're married cause Beaumont hasn't been nice to anybody since those U.S. Marines showed up back in 1914 an started tryin' to be the boss of everybody. Then Beaumont has Silver get everybody settled in an once they're outta sight he steps outside an hops into a carriage with this grumpy lookin' mime an they drive to Bela's sugar mill where all these employees who're either zombified or unionized (they're real goll durn slow, so it's kinda hard to tell) spend the night dumpin' cane leaves into a bamboo Cuisinart. Silly Bela, shoulda got female Haitian zombies, everybody knows they can balance those baskets on their heads without usin' their hands. Unfortunately, one of these guys who woke up late for work again an didn't have time to drink any coffee ends up fallin' into the sweet grinder an ends up gettin' ground into torn beef hash.
Course, since they're on a dead-line, nobody stops, an Beaumont heads downstairs to talk to Foreman Lugosi about makin' Neil disappear for a while so he can work his magic on Madeline an Bela tells 'im it'll never work cause he's botched more magic tricks than Criss Angel. But the guy's a hopeless romantic, an so when he makes like Meat Loaf an tells Bela he'll do anything for love, Bela's eyes swell up to the size of dinner plates an he tells Beaumont that there's a way, but the cost is very, very high, an that he won't take an American Express card. Then he passes Beaumont a vial of Angel Dust an tells 'im all sales're final, no take backsies, an that the offer's void in Utah. So Beaumont heads home an begins Neil an Madeline's weddin' ceremony an makes like Christopher Lambert tryin' to convince 'er that he's the one while he's walkin' 'er down the aisle but she just keeps turnin' 'im down like the thermostat at a Weight Watchers meetin' til he gives up an shows 'er to the podium. Once Neil's been issued his life sentence, everybody heads on over to the dining hall for the reception, only then Bela shows up outside an starts stealin' candles outta the light posts so he can carve the Venus de Milo outta one an wrap it up in Madeline's scarf while the newlyweds toast their future. Then Bela starts feelin' left out, so he toasts Madeline's future too, only he's usin' another candle to burn the scarf an his wax sculpture an all the sudden Madeline needs 'er dyin' couch. The next day, they box 'er up an stash 'er in the Cryptkeeper's unlivin' room an Neil heads over to the bar to pound Tequila shooters til he starts seein' 'er face superimposed everywhere an eventually he gets so bummed out that his blubberin' attracts the attention of Hank Williams who sits down an starts usin' 'im for musical inspiration. Then Bela an Beaumont go down into the crypt an Bela orders his Z-Haul crew to drag Madeline outta there just before Neil stumbles by to find 'er corpse missin' an turn the place into a whine cellar. Eventually, Neil Linda Blairs his head back on straight an gets the smell of formaldehyde washed out of his hair so he can go try to bilk the doc outta some free psychological therapy an the doc tells 'im that Madeline's body was either crushed down into a dwarf, dug up for spare parts by Colin Clive, or was only mostly dead to begin with an made to look completely dead. When they're all dead, there's really only one thing left to do with 'em. It would also seem that the doc actually knows a whole helluva lot more about this than he'd let on earlier, only he must've worked for Bela at some point an signed a non-disclosure agreement or somethin', cause now he tells Neil that his driver didn't see Romero zombies at all, an that what they'd actually seen were Wade Davis zombies. Then Neil starts suspectin' that maybe Beaumont has somethin' to do with this on account of all the other ladies on the island bein' of the black persuasion an prone to laughin' at the size if his winkie anytime he takes off his breeches.
Meanwhile, at The House on Haunted Coastline, Beaumont's watchin' his Stepford Wife prototype play the piano, only by this point she's got the Percodan stare of eternity, an ambient body temperature, an has generally speaking, lost that lovin' feelin'. So now Beaumont's got buyer's remorse worse'n that time he realized a little late that his hooker had an Adam's apple an starts tryin' to renegotiate his contract with Bela. Then Bela gets this grin on his face like his long-shot bet over at Delmas Downs just paid off an he says "oh what the heck" an hands Beaumont some wine so they can drink to their new arrangement. Course, then Beaumont takes a big pull an realizes the roofie quotient in the vintage is a little overpowerin' an gives Bela this pitiful betrayed look like he's thinkin'; "if you can't trust the guy you hired to zombify your secret crush, who can you trust?" an then Bela explains that he's got plans for the great white ho an ain't nobody got time for this shit. Then Silver tries to waffle Bela with a servin' tray an Bela has his funky flunkies toss 'im in sewer drainage line so he can ride the log flume down to the septic tank. Elsewhere, Neil an doc're out in the jungle lookin' for this old coot whose painted up with black face an dressed like Mokey Fraggle so he can show 'em how to get to Castle Forrester without fallin' in any tiger traps on the way an once they find 'im the guy tells 'em he can't go to the Land of the Living Dead cause it's a real scary place an cause he still owes some of the zombies money. He does at least point 'em in the right direction, so while they're headin' up the stairway to Hell we get to watch these two maids fight over who has to give Madeline a permanent an wax 'er bikini zone to pass the time. From the sounds of things, it must be more like Bikini Atoll now that the personal hygiene's pretty much ceased. While that's goin' on, Bela's hangin' out with Beaumont watchin' 'im go zombie an thinkin' about what a bummer it is that Beaumont can't give 'im a play-by-play about what it's like since he's the first guy to ever really understand why his brain's seizin' up like a Model T that ain't had its oil changed since 1922 an Beaumont just kinda gives 'im this look like if he could talk right now there'd be no way the movie'd ever get past the censors. Then Neil finally makes it into the castle, only by now he's more worn out than Camilla Parker Bowles' welcome at Buckingham Palace an has to flop down on a coupla chairs an take a little power-nap while Bela looks at the camera real hard for about forty-five seconds til he gives the hand signal for the Death Valley Driver an pretty quick Madeline wanders over, grabs a dagger offa the table an prepares to tell Neil a dead-time story. Will cut it off here, even though people can watch this one on Youtube for free.
Alrighty, well, you all know how I feel about these moldy oldies. I'm sure it's prolly just me, but even the good ones kinda feel like takin' your Mom to the prom, ya know? Then Dad gets all P.O.'d at ya cause by the time you get home an Mom heads off to bed she expects somethin' an so you end up mowin' the lawn two times a week in August to help "build character" so Dad can punish the tar outta you without havin' to actually go into the details of what he had to do that night. But I'm gettin' off track here. What I meant to say was, even though I don't personally care for these classic flicks from the 30s and 40s, this really is one of the better ones, and when you figure they shot it in only 11 days, it's all the more impressive. Course, back then they didn't have the kinda ridiculous lengthy shooting schedules we have these days to begin with, but even for the time, 11 days isn't all that long. I mean, even Two Thousand Maniacs! took a full 14 days to film, so kudos to those guys for makin' this thing in such a short period of time. Pretty impressive achievement regardless of when it was made. This movie also ended up dropping into the public domain at some point and can be picked up for pretty cheap on a few of the Mill Creek 50 movie packs, or you can always check it out on Youtube for that matter since nobody has the rights to it. It was actually considered a lost film for a while until a copy turned up in the 60s, which would've been a real bummer for fans of classic horror because, as I said, this one's pretty decent by 1930s standards. It's no Dracula, even though Bela Lugosi's practically working the same role, but Bela's great in this one all the same. This would also be one of those cases where the movie probably would've bombed without him, even though the plot was pretty original for the time. Despite my feelings of general apathy towards older movies like this one, even I love watching Bela Lugosi work. And despite what happened with his career, and that whole typecasting problem he ran into, I still think his overall acting talent and charisma trump Boris Karloff's. The man just had a presence about him that you can't teach in acting school, heck of an actor, regardless of era. This is gonna end up being another one of those instances where I give something a lame rating, but I'll also insist that fans of the classic era add some points to it so as to keep my own prejudices from ruining it for them. I really don't know what my problem is, I can watch these classic movies, see that there's clearly nothing wrong with them, but just can't manage to really enjoy them because they're slow. This one was actually pretty damn short, so it'll fare better than many of the others, but all the same, it's still slow to me.
Okay then, lets dump this thing into the bamboo blender an see what comes out the other side. The plot's pretty good, and although it's been done many times since then, it was definitely original for the time. The best known modern take on it would probably be The Serpent and the Rainbow, although the other plot details still keep it pretty well separated from Serpent, and make for an interesting story that's pretty faithful to the Haitian idea of what a zombie is, and how it comes into being. So the plot deserves pretty high marks, and probably a few bonus points for being one of the first to utilize it. The acting is decent as well, with Bela Lugosi doin' what he does better than most; namely, staring into the camera until the audience wets itself. Robert Frazer's also pretty good as the weaselly dirtbag, Beaumont, and Madge Bellamy does a pretty good zombie dame, walkin' around like a teenager with her face glued to her iPhone. Here's who matters and why (less Bela Lugosi, cause, duh): Robert Frazer (Black Dragons, Condemned to Live, The Whispering Shadow, The Vampire Bat), John Harron (The Return of Dr. X), Brandon Hurst (House of Frankenstein, The Leopard Man, The Ghost of Frankenstein, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde 1941, House of Mystery, Murders in the Rue Morgue, The Hunchback of Notre Dame 1923, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde 1920), George Burr Macannan (The Black Room 1935, Supernatural 1933), Clarence Muse (The Soul of a Monster, Invisible Ghost, Black Moon). Not a bad ensemble, and a pretty decent showing in representing a horror genre that was really only just getting started at that time.
The special effects, well, in those days, most horror films relied on acting and atmosphere rather than trying to blow anyone away with special effects, and thus, doesn't really have many. The zombies all look like regular people (because they are, if a little brain dead) and as far as I can remember, I don't recall anything else that you'd even consider a special effect, save maybe the diagonal wipe edit near the end of the movie that's trying to indicate that two characters are connected on an emotional level even though they're some distance apart. Nothing at all wrong with the "effect," but when you have to mention that just to fill the space, we're getting a little bit pitiful. The shooting locations are alright, though everything was shot in California and not even remotely close to Haiti. Nothing really special, although the interior of Bela's sugar mill was kinda interesting and Beaumont's castle wasn't bad either. The soundtrack is... well it's from the 30s. I've gotta be honest with this part, I felt like the soundtrack, more than anything else, showed the movie's age, and didn't do a whole lot to improve it. Save the scene where Madge Bellamy's playing the piano once she's gone zombie. That's a pretty good scene, though it's not really good because of *what* she's playing, rather, that she's essentially a shell of a human being playing anything at all. And come to think of it, the Haitians singing while they're digging up the road at the beginning to bury a body where it won't be disturbed does add something as well. The movie is really at its best when it's letting sound effects do the heavy lifting, but I suppose it's at least fair, taking those two sequences into account. Overall, not really my thing, but for fans of classic horror, I'd suggest adding about 20% to my rating and giving this one a shot. However, if you're not, skip it, unless you're just that desperate to view the name-sake of Rob Zombie's first band.