White Zombie (1932) by: The Masked Reviewer, starring Bela Lugosi, Madge Bellamy, John Harron, Robert Frazer
White Zombie begins with Madeleine Short (Madge Bellamy) arriving in Haiti. She’s there to reunite with her fiancee Neil Parker (John Harron). They are to be married at Charles Beaumont’s plantation. But Charles (Robert Frazer) also loves Madeleine. He goes to ‘Murder’ Legendre (Bela Lugosi). He’s an infamous Haitian voodoo master for a potion. To make her choose Neil over him.
She chooses Neil. But Charles’s magic “love potion” has a fatal flaw.
Charles Beaumont: I thought that beauty alone would satisfy. But the soul is gone. I can’t bear those empty, staring eyes.
Kudos for the acting
I saw the title and thought this would be one of Hollywood’s cheesy monster movies. But I was wonderfully surprised though. It was made by an independent film company — United Artists. Some people have said the actors were unrealistic. But they’re wrong in my opinion. The acting was wonderful, and the set had a great atmosphere to it. The wardrobe was spot on for the setting of the film. Bela Lugosi’s suit from the film made over $100,000 dollars in a recent auction. Unlike modern-day Hollywood, the real villainy was hinted at. There are zombies used as manual labor to run a mill. Zombified Madeleine hasn’t been used for manual labor … Yet. The movie treated the viewers like they understood what was going on in the film.
This movie was a breath of fresh air in a long line of cheesy monster movies. Their special effects were cheesy compared to today, but what do you expect from the 1930s? We live in the era of auto-tune and special effects, so everything looks cheesy compared to our modern technology. I would recommend this movie to people that love classic monster movies, Bela Lugosi films, or enjoy zombie movies. I would say this movie is for people in their late teens to adults. Younger teenagers might become bored with not as much action as you expect with the title. But good things come to those who wait. The action is just later on in the film.
As a classic movie fan, I give this film 5 out of 5 stars. I would watch the first zombie movie again any chance I can.
Editorial review of White Zombie (1932) starring Bela Lugosi, courtesy of Amazon.com
Bela Lugosi followed up his star-making role in Dracula with this ambitious low-budget horror film from the Halperin brothers, who effectively transplanted the misty gothic mood of the Universal horror films to their poverty-row studio. White Zombie drips with atmosphere from the opening, as eerie chanting accompanies the credits and Madeleine (Madge Bellamy) arrives at midnight to witness a mysterious burial before coming face to face with the satanic looking Murder Legendre (Lugosi with goatee and searing eyes), a hypnotist and voodoo master who has been supplying the local mills with an army of zombie laborers. Madeleine’s nightmare is just beginning.
Having landed in a world of almost perpetual night, where hollow-eyed zombies lumber through the sugar mill and the ghostly town is eerily bereft of living souls, she becomes the object of desire for Legendre, whose plan to possess her involves her initiation to the world of the undead. This first zombie movie is also one of the best, with Lugosi’s archly sinister performance dominating the film (thankfully obscuring a lot of overacting by supporting players), and astounding sets and gorgeous matte paintings creating a wondrous sense of poetic doom. —Sean Axmaker
Cast of characters
- Bela Lugosi (The Devil Bat; Dracula (1931)) … ‘Murder’ Legendre
- Madge Bellamy (Lorna Donne 1922) … Madeline Short Parker
- Joseph Cawthorn (Gold Diggers of 1935) … Dr. Bruner
- Robert Frazer (The Vampire Bat) … Charles Beaumont
- John Harron … Neil Parker
- Brandon Hurst (The Princess and the Pirate) … Silver
- George Burr MacAnnan … Von Gelder – Zombie
- Frederick Peters … Chauvin – Zombie
- Annette Stone … Maid
- John T. Prince … Ledot – Zombie
- Dan Crimmins … Pierre – Witch Doctor
- Claude Morgan … Zombie
- John Fergusson … Zombie
- Velma Gresham … Tall Maid
- Clarence Muse (Riding High) … Coach Driver (uncredited)
- White Zombie was a personal favorite of Bela Lugosi. According to his son, Bela Lugosi Jr.
- Bela Lugosi’s character name “Legendre” means “the son-in-law” (Le gendre) in French.
[Updated November 2, 2023]