White Zombie (1932)
Reviewed on 2011 February 1
This creaky old B&W flick was made in 1932, and the soundtrack is full of crackles and pops. It’s still one of a kind, with Bela Lugosi as the local villain who creates zombies, both for his personal slave labor and for a fee.
Charles Beaumont (Robert Frazer) is a plantation owner in Haiti. He invites a young couple to be married on his plantation, and they show up, not suspecting that Beaumont has ulterior motives: He’s in love with the beautiful Madge (Madeline Short Parker) and wants her all to himself. Madge loves her Neil (John Harron) and isn’t interested in the her rich host. Beaumont makes a bargain with the witch doctor Legendre (Lugosi) to win over Madge, and soon realizes he made a deal with the devil.
So what if it’s silly and the plot is a little soap opera-ish? It’s a shame this thing wasn’t better preserved, because it’s unique. These aren’t your modern brain-eating zombies. These creatures are unwitting slaves, and it’s interesting how over time the fear in this genre shifted from being turned into one of the hapless creatures, to a zombie craving you like sweetbreads. There’s also a cool bit with the wedding toast. The Chinese proverb makes sense: If you see in your wine the reflection of a person not in your range of vision, don’t drink it. And there will never be another Bela Lugosi.
Three chocolate morsels. As far as I know it’s the first zombie movie ever made.