Directed By: Victor Halperin
Starring: Bela Lugosi, Madge Bellamy, Joseph Cawthorn
Tag line: "The Dead Walk Among Us!"
Trivia: Rob Zombie named his first Heavy Metal band after this film.
Considered the first feature-length zombie film ever made, White Zombie is also one of the best, boasting yet another top-notch performance by the legendary Bela Lugosi.
Set in Haiti, White Zombie opens with Madeline Short (Madge Bellamy) and Neil Parker (John Harron), who are engaged to be married, traveling by horse-drawn carriage to the home of wealthy plantation owner Charles Beaumont (Robert Frazer). Beaumont has invited Neil and Madeline to hold their wedding ceremony at his enormous estate, but what the young couple doesn't realize is that Beaumont himself is in love with the bride-to-be, and plans to prevent the wedding from taking place. To this end, he enlists the help of Murder Legendre (Lugosi), a voodoo master who's developed a potion that transforms normal people into mindless zombies. Legendre agrees to help, and gives Beaumont a sample of his concoction to use on Madeline. The potion works as promised, but Beaumont comes to regret turning the love of his life into an emotionless zombie, and asks Legendre to change her back. When Legendre refuses to do so, it kicks off a battle of wills between the two men, one that takes a horrifying turn once Legendre summons his “associates” to join in the fracas.
Fresh off his star-making role in Dracula, White Zombie provided Bela Lugosi with yet another opportunity to perfect his patented “hypnotic stare” (when he first meets Madeline, Legendre gazes directly into her eyes, mesmerizing the young girl so completely that he's able to snatch a scarf from around her neck with perfect ease). Of course, the real stars of White Zombie are the zombies themselves, and for a film made almost 80 years ago, these creatures are really quite alarming. When we first lay eyes on the undead, they're creeping down the side of a hill towards the carriage carrying Madeline and Neil to Beaumont's estate. Their faces are hidden by the shadows, but as they slowly make their way forward, the driver of the coach, a native Haitian, realizes who (or should I say 'what') they are, and speeds away. We see even more of them at Legendre's “factory”, where, to save money on labor, the evil voodoo expert has put his mindless guinea pigs to work. At one point, an unfortunate zombie falls into the equipment and is instantly killed, yet the others pay no mind whatsoever, carrying on with their work as if nothing happened.With scenes such as these, White Zombie remains a work of horror that, even today, will send a chill racing up your spine; just imagine how it played to an audience in 1932.
Aside from being the first of its kind, White Zombie is also a bona-fide classic, a film that, like many of the great Universal horror movies, has withstood the test of time.