Bela Lugosi followed up his star-making role in Dracula with this ambitious low-budget horror film from the Halperin brothers, who effectively transplanted the misty gothic mood of the Universal horror films to their pover... more »ty-row studio. White Zombie drips with atmosphere from the opening, as eerie chanting accompanies the credits and Madeleine (Madge Bellamy) arrives at midnight to witness a mysterious burial before coming face to face with the satanic looking Murder Legendre (Lugosi with goatee and searing eyes), a hypnotist and voodoo master who has been supplying the local mills with an army of zombie laborers. Madeleine's nightmare is just beginning. Having landed in a world of almost perpetual night, where hollow-eyed zombies lumber through the sugar mill and the ghostly town is eerily bereft of living souls, she becomes the object of desire for Legendre, whose plan to possess her involves her initiation to the world of the undead. This first zombie movie is also one of the best, with Lugosi's archly sinister performance dominating the film (thankfully obscuring a lot of overacting by supporting players), and astounding sets and gorgeous matte paintings creating a wondrous sense of poetic doom. --Sean Axmaker« less
Scott T. Rivers | Los Angeles, CA USA | 08/12/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The DVD release of "White Zombie" does justice to one of the great horror films of the 1930s, not to mention one of Bela Lugosi's finest hours. It looks and sounds terrific. In addition, the supplemental Lugosi interviews are a nice touch. If you never have seen "White Zombie," you're missing one of the most atmospheric and stylish horror films ever made. Transferred from a stunning 35mm print, the Roan Group has done wonders in its restoration of the Lugosi classic."
Yes it is a strange film, isn't it ?
E. Parsons | 06/14/2000
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Between the introduction of sound and the imposition of the Hollywood Code, some of the most inventive movies ever seen were produced and 'White Zombie' is a prime example. On paper, the plot is pretty basic. However it is the ultra-strange premise - zombies roaming around the Haiti countryside working as slaves for a power-mad Bela Lugosi - that makes the film so unique. It doesn't have the polished feel of the classic Universal horrors such as 'The Mummy' or 'Frankenstein' but it lacks nothing in imagination. The movie also benefits from good direction and excellent set designs. A lot of credit must go to the 'Roan Group' for the production of this DVD. We get the obligatory trailer and commentary but the real bonus is the picture quality. You will not find a better print of 'White Zombie' anywhere. Do not make the mistake of thinking 'White Zombie' is a museum piece only of interest to film buffs because of its age. The selling point of this DVD is that above all 'White Zombie' is highly entertaining, so don't just watch it - enjoy it!"
Birthe Jrgensen | Odense, Denmark | 10/31/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This may sound strange, but as a big Lugosi fan I never thought very highly of "White Zombie"...until now. I now realize why it was never that high on my favorite list of Bela stuff; I couldn't see the damn picture on my other versions clearly enough for all the dirt and darkness. This DVD from the Roan Group is, in one word, superb. It's been cleaned up, and it's like a whole new experience for me to watch it now. (I think it actually looks better than those much more expensive special editions of Hitchcock's "The 39 Steps" and "The Lady vanishes".) Lugosi's performance is good, and it's certainly a nice part for him, but among all his great roles I don't think it's his best. -However, I do appreciate it more now that I can finally see it !. (My fave of his is 1935's "The Raven".) There's a wonderful dream-like quality throughout, and some very atmospheric set-pieces, like the eerie mill. One scene in particular stands out; the conversation between the old man and our completely inept hero. The scene is 5 minutes long, and there isn't a single cut in it which I guess is highly unusual for a horror film, but a brave move. The only problem I have with "W.Z." is the constant use of music. -There's music in nearly every scene, and apparently the film-makers wanted their movie to be somewhat in the style of old silent films, but I feel it would've been even more effective with less. The excellent talk by Gary Don Rhodes is informative about cast & production, just as these commentary tracks are supposed to be. This DVD is the one and only version of "White Zombie" to have."
Reasonable If Not Best Remaster of a Seldom-Seen Horror Clas
Gary F. Taylor | Biloxi, MS USA | 06/30/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The term "Zombie" and the concepts it conveyed did not really enter American conciousness until the publication of William B. Seabrook's THE MAGIC ISLAND in 1929--but once established, it fired popular imagination, producing everything from a host of pulp fiction shorts to a fairly lethal mixture of rum and tropical juices. Released in 1932, THE WHITE ZOMBIE is generally considered to be the first motion picture on the subject--and it would pretty much set pop culture ideas about zombies, voodoo, and Hati for decades to come.
The film is interesting in several respects, not least of which is the fact that it an independent production, something rare indeed for a film of its era. Unfortunately, this fact also gave rise to a series of legal battles between writer Kenneth S. Webb and producers Edward and Victor Halperin. What with one thing or another the film itself was considered lost from about 1935 until it resurfaced in 1960, when it once more touched off another legal battle between the same parties and their estates. In consequence, and although it has indeed turned up at special screenings and on the late-late show, the film has never really been widely seen since its 1932 debut--and most of the prints available were pretty dire. This was certainly the case when I saw the film in a "big screen" film festival in the late 1970s: the sound was poor, the visuals worse, and it was very difficult to tell what all the fuss was about.
Fortunately for fans of 1930s horror, THE WHITE ZOMBIE is now available in numerous DVD versions--but it is very much a case of "buyer beware," for most of them are extremely dire. Roan Group has released an exceptional restoration of the film; PC Treasures has a reasonable budget release in tandem with the cult classic CARNIVAL OF SOULS. The Timeless Classics edition falls somewhere between the two: the age of the elements show and it isn't a patch on the Roan edition, but its a darn sight better than most.
As for the film itself, even by 1932 standards THE WHITE ZOMBIE was not a "screamer" in the same sense as DRACULA or FRANKENSTEIN were; it is instead lyric, at times poetic in nature, disturbing in the same manner of an Edgar Allen Poe poem. The story is quite simple: Madeline Short (Madge Bellamy) and Neil Parker (John Harron) have come to Hati--and en route have met estate owner Charles Beaumont (Robert Frazer.) Beaumont falls in love with Madeline; unable to convince her to leave Parker, he goes to zombie master 'Murder' Legendre (Bela Lugosi), who works his evil spell upon her. But Beaumont soon finds himself at odds with Legendre, and Parker, with the aid of missionary Dr. Bruner (Joseph Cawthorne) has set out to rescue Madeline at all costs.
The cast is quite fine, and many critics consider that this is really Lugosi's best performance of the early 1930s, surpassing his more famous turn in DRACULA. Indeed, he is a remarkable presence in the film, ugly and sinister and yet at times--it is difficult to describe--one sees the unexpectedly attractiveness of the man in both physical and psychological terms. It is a memorable performance. But the big thing about THE WHITE ZOMBIE isn't so much the story or the performances as "how the thing is done."
The cinematography is simple, but it has a misty quality, and one is always aware of the texture of black and white; shadows are important in the film, and the overall look is quite unlike anything to come out of Hollywood up to that point--and even today it remains largely unique. There is an elegance to the way the scenes are staged and photographed that rarely occurs in any film of any era.
Modern viewers without significant interest in films of this period are likely to find THE WHITE ZOMBIE mannered and a bit slow--but if you have an interest in early sound films, and even more so in horror films of the 1930s, THE WHITE ZOMBIE is an essential in your collection.
GFT, Amazon Reviewer"
Atmospheric Horror Tale Containing A Classic Performance By
Simon Davis | 02/14/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"When the name Bela Lugosi is mentioned most people's thoughts straight away go to "Dracula" which of all his large number of films is the one performance for which he will be forever after remembered. Like the undead themselves that one role could never be put to rest by Lugosi and became equally a blessing and a curse for his future career prospects. This situation was a shame as he gave numerous other interesting performances in films such as the fascinating "White Zombie" which he made just after his stardom making role in "Dracula". "White Zombie", has happily become a cult classic itself with the passage of time and with its recent superb restoration for DVD by the talented Roan group the film is looking better now than it has in almost 70 years. Bela Lugosi delivers one of his most unforgettable performances here in a role full of menace and mystery, in short it was a role he was ideally suited for and literally born to play. "White Zombie" is also especially significant in being the first motion picture to feature those strange creatures of the horror genre; the zombies. Made on a shoe string budget by Halperin Producions, what the film lacked in budget it more than made up for with rich multi-layered atmosphere that is more than equal to any other horror effort produced by the larger film companies in the 1930's.
The action opens on a dark mist shrouded road where we see a carriage carrying young soon to be wed couple Madeleine, (Marge Bellamy), and fiance Neil (John Harron), to the Haitian plantation property of an acquaintance Charles Beaumont (Robert Frazer), who they met on a recent sea trip. Beaumont it seems has organized for the young couple to be married on the estate however his motives are devious ones as he seeks Madeleine for himself and plans to obtain her by fair means or foul. After failing in the lead up to the actual wedding ceremony to convince Madeleine to come away with him, Beaumont decides to use desperate measures to get her and consults with the mysterious "Murder", Legendre (Bela Lugosi), a neighbour who it turns out is a zombie master living on a remote estate who uses the "undead" or zombies to run his sugar plantation. Legendre gives him a strange potion which Beaumont applies to a rose which he gives to Madeleine before the ceremony which in time renders her an emotionless zombie with all the symptoms of actually being dead. The group buries Madeleine in the estate crypt however Beaumont removes her still living body to have her for his own however the Madeleine he felt such passion for is now an emotionless zombie with no attraction at all. Beaumont goes back to Legendre to see if he can change her back however the zombie master sees his own opportunity to obtain more workers and drugs Beaumont with the same potion rendering him into a semi zombie state. Meanwhile seeing that Madeleine's supposedly dead body has been removed from the crypt the distraught Neil sinks into a life of drunkeness however when warned by local priest/missionary Dr. Bruner (Joseph Cawthorn), that Madeleine may still be alive the pair eventually track her down to Legendre's castle where in the final confrontation both Legendre and Beaumont are killed and Madeleine is rescued from the zombie like trance she was imprisoned in to now be reunited with her young husband Neil.
It's very hard nowadays in our era of multi million dollar budgets and star salaries that a film such as 'White Zombie", was filmed in 11 days on a budget of $50,000 American dollars. It says alot for the great skill of early sound filmmakers that the impossible was seemingly achieved here with a polished look production that admittedly has its slow parts. For one of the few times in his erractic career Bela Lugosi has a role where his full screen presense is properly put to use. His sinister Zombie master "Murder' Legendre stands out as one of his better acting assignments and even though much of "White Zombie", is still emeshed in silent film technique and presentation he manages to work wonders with his minimal screen dialogue relying instead on his hypnotic eyes and commanding manner. Indeed it is appropriate that the first thing we see of Lugosi is his staring eyes superimposed over the screen before we even see his character fully in the story. The remainder of the performances are very much of the old school of acting and while capable, they betray the actors orgins in silent cinema. The young romantic couple played by Madge Bellamy and John Harron and Beaumont played by Robert Frazer are the best cases in point and it is significant that all of these actors despite their relatively young ages, found their careers ebbing away rapidly with the advent of full sound productions. Jospeh Cawthorn as the local missionary Dr. Bruner despite being of more of an advanced age displays more of the fluid qualities essential for acting in the sound era and he comes across as far more natural than the younger members of the cast. However "White Zombie", is Bela Lugosi's film all the way. Often accused even in "Dracula", of a stagey style of acting those qualities are what make shis character here work so well where so much of the menace of his character and his intentions is conveyed through his hypnotic stares that dont need alot of dialogue or movement. The second great star of 'White Zombie", is it's overwhelming atmosphere and superb use of shadow and light courtesy of gifted cameraman Arthur Martinelli who creates here one of the most doom laden horror tales of the 1930's. The scenes of the zombies marching up the hillside to work in the sugar refinery and the sinister graveyard scenes, in particular when we as the viewers seem to be literally entombed along with the Marge Bellamy character when her coffin is slid into the crypt are cinematic strokes of genius and are far superior to most of the other early talkie camerawork at this time. Even the frequent reuse of sets left over from earlier productions such as "Dracula", because of th elimited budget dont injure the films overall look, and Lugosi's eerie castle perched up on top of a stormy cliff above the ocean is one of the best matte painting backgrounds made for a horror movie in the '30's. Special mention must also finally go to the superior makeup work performed by Jack Pierce on his zombie creations and in creating the wonderfully sinister appearance for Bela Lugosi's character which really heightens the feeling of unease when he is on camera.
Considering the film's budget and the short time it was in production "White Zombie", is truly amazing for the rich visual quality of its presentation. It is also unique in that it tells its at times convuluted story with a minimum of dialogue where the emphasis is on facial expression to tell the intriguing story giving it an almost silent film feel. To properly see the legend that was horror icon Bela Lugosi there is truly no better vehicle than "White Zombie", where one can really appreciate the skill that this often maligned and underrated actor brought to low budget productions such as this. For an atmospheric horror tale populated by sinister individuals and strange happenings the early talkie "White Zombie" is a horror treat not to be missed. Starring the legendary Bela Lugosi in his second most famous role and now restored almost back to it's original magnificence for this DVD presentation this film is a must for Lugosi and early horror fans alike. Enjoy!"