White Zombie

White Zombie is currently available on Amazon Prime

White Zombie (1932)

“A Haitian plantation owner convinces his young friends to wed at his residence, hoping he can use the opportunity to lure the woman away from her fiance. When this ploy fails, he turns to the help of his mill operator for assistance, hoping the man can use his voodoo knowledge to make the woman his slave.”

“Why did you drive like that you fool, we might have been killed.” – “Worse than that monsieur we might have been caught”

One of the main problems for the non-Universal horror movies was that they would only grab a star (Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff) and not all the wonderful supporting players (Dwight Frye, Una O’Connor, Lionel Atwill, etc.). Bela Lugosi was paid a mere $800 for his starring role. On the other hand, that was for only eleven days of work during the Depression. The eyes menaicng you from the poster are Lugosi’s and he has a high old time here.

The best scene in White Zombie is where Lugosi introduces his enemies to a client and it is nicely chilling.There is an equally chilling scene as Lugosi teases an incapacitated victim. While the movie is a cheapie, Lugosi is definitely at the top of his game.

Madge Bellamy plays Madeline Parker, the woman that all three of our male leads are after. Madge had a fascinating career in silent movies (40+) but had her Fox contract terminated when she turned down The Trial of Mary Dugan, a property Fox had purchased specifically to star her. It seemed as though she could have made the transition to talkies if she had not shot herself in the foot. Her career was essentially over after White Zombie. She also married a stockbroker for three days in 1928 and was famous again in 1943 when she shot her millionaire lover.

The wonderful Jack Pierce did the makeup. The zombies do come off looking goofy with goggle eyes. They are very distinctive but I’m not sure they are memorable in the way Pierce would have liked. I do love what he did with Lugosi’s eyebrows, beard and mustache. Lugosi looks awesome here and diametrically different from Dracula.

For those who like Latin music, the legendary Xavier Cugat composed the music for White Zombie (even though he is not credited). He is however credited with popularizing the rumba in America (no, not the vacuum). The score is not particularly memorable other than that Cugat was the composer.

Unfortunately the public domain print is watchable but only just. It is washed out and contrast is overblown. Some of the dialogue is popped out as well. This is yet another reason why the Universal features hold up better – their prints are cleaned up and not public domain.

People Watch: Clarence Muse plays a coach driver here but he was also Sam in Casablanca. What’s that you say? You remember Dooley Wilson playing Sam? Well, Clarence Muse played Sam in the short-lived 1955 television series.

He also played over a hundred and fifty other roles. The majority of these roles would make for a great paper on what it was like to be an actor of color in Hollywood in the pre-civil rights era. Here is a partial list for just the 1930s and 1940s: porter, janitor, servant, servant, doorman, shoeshine man, janitor, doorman, servant, servant, servant, bootblack, doorman, servant, servant, bootblack, porter, porter, porter, porter, porter, porter, porter, porter, porter (seriously) and at least twice a death row inmate.