White Zombie (1932)
Director: Victor Halperin
Director: Victor Halperin
3.5 / 5 zedheads
Before zombies were flesh-eating corpses, they were voodoo slaves. The fear they invoked was not the fear of being consumed alive but rather the fear of having one's individuality, free will, and consciousness stolen. White Zombie was the first feature film to represent voodoo zombies on screen, and for that we consider it a classic. Unfortunately, White Zombie is not a stellar movie, even by the standards of the 1930s. It's not as bad as critics in 1932 charged, but it's less interesting as a movie and more interesting for how it established the cinematic zombie mythos
|Bela Lugosi pioneered the Edward Cullen technique of seduction: off-putting and creepy stares|
It seemed that while the zombie came from the grave, it was neither a ghost, nor yet a person who had been raised like Lazarus from the dead. The zombie, they say, is a soulless human corpse, still dead, but taken from the grave and endowed by sorcery with a mechanical semblance of life—it is a dead body which is made to walk and act and move as if it were alive. People who have the power to do this go to a fresh grave, dig up the body before it has had time to rot, galvanize it into movement, and then make of it a servant or slave, occasionally for the commission of some crime, more often simply as a drudge around the habitation or the farm, setting it dull heavy tasks, and beating it like a dumb beast if it slackens.Lifeless. Drudging. Slaves. These are the zombies of White Zombie. Pale faces, wide eyes, blank stares and rigid movements. These characteristics would terrify and amuse audiences for decades. These early zombies are, in fact, the most interesting thing in White Zombie even though they are not actually dead people. The film plays its supernatural elements close to the chest by showing that Legendre has supernatural powers in terms of mind control (as visualized by Lugosi's disembodied, crazy eyes superimposed on the screen), but the zombies he resurrects are still living people. Legendre has used a combination of toxins, chemicals, and his own powerful, hypnotic will to control his zombie slaves. When he's rendered unconscious in the film, or dead, he loses control over his zombies completely. Makes you wonder how he sleeps at night.
|Look! It's Dr. Frightenstein and his faithful servant Igor.|
|Wham! Right between the eyes!|
White Zombie is not a film I watch very often. It serves its purpose but is not overly memorable or re-watchable. Then again, if you're at all a zombie fan, it's mandatory viewing. If you want to understand where cinematic zombies are today, you have to see where they started.
Stay tuned for the next two weeks as I review even more zombie classics as part of my Christmas countdown: THE 12 DAYS OF ZOMBIE.