Friday, 3 July 2015

White Zombie (Victor Halperin, 1932)

The Man whose name is 'Murder'!
Legendary legerdemain from genius loci Lugosi, in a Caribbean corpse carnival.
Bela "The Ghosty" stars here as a plantation owner / slave driver / zombie master by the incredible name of Murder LeGendre, employing the living dead as his employees in the local mill (the ultimate expression of capitalism: the dead are unlikely to unionise). Lugosi here gives full reign to his theatrical, yet effective, range of expressions, hand gestures, and bleary-eyed close-ups in a performance far better than the stagy and stilted hamminess of 1931's "Dracula"; and i remain sure that it is this film, rather than the earlier movie, that made Lugosi's reputation.
 Madge Bellamy (star of the 1920s silent version of 'Lorna Doone', as i'm sure no-one but me cares) and John Harron star as newlyweds Madeleine and Neil Parker, traveling to the Carribbean island of Haiti  to visit an old friend and becoming involved in the plots of the turncoat Beaumont (Robert Frazer) and Hungarian houngan LeGendre, with the pale Madeleine in her flowing white wedding gowns becoming the titular (stop giggling at the back) creature after being subjected to 'Serpent and the Rainbow' subterfuge.
Also starring Brandon Hurst of the 1920 John Barrymore Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and the sublime The Man Who Laughs (1928).

Made on a shoestring budget by the Halperin Brothers, "White Zombie" is a very atmospheric adventure in phantasmagoria that manages to keep the viewer on edge throughout its relatively short running time, and drop us over the edge of the cliff into the crashing rocks of the ocean below. The living are the dead.... 


  1. Interesting. I knew zombie flicks predated Night Of The Living Dead, but didn't know it was by over three decades. Also, isn't the Serpent And The Rainbow the film where the protagonist gets his nutsack nailed to a chair? Not a tree like my mum thinks, she's weird.

  2. I can't remember that bit. But then again i haven't watched it since i was about nine. My reference was more to the book (that the Wes Craven flick was sort of based on). It's a very interesting book: all about the actual voodoo rituals and practices.

    The nutsack reference reminds me of a story i was told at college about a guy who nailed his wedding tackle to a coffee table, for a laugh or something. Apparently he then realised he was going to have to phone an ambulance, and so was trying to get down the stairs to the phone carrying the table to which his chopper was tacked. Gravity and physics intervened, and the descriptor i got was 'like a snake's tongue'. I retell this to appall anyone who may read it, and inflict an instinctive crossing of legs.

  3. Writing a story about zombies who unionise sounds like just the sort of thing that China Miéville would do.

  4. I could be imagining the nutsack thing if The Serpent and the Rainbow if not for the comment from my mum about it getting nailed to a tree, she used to watch whatever films she had to rent out for me for my wednesday horror flick evening (I looked about 12 even when I was 16-17), so someones nutsack must have been nailed to something.

    I've watched enough Jackass to be inured to what men do to their nuts, but why on earth did this man do it with no one around? Surely that's the sort of thing you do with friends to show off. Men, heh.