Monday, 14 October 2013

White Zombie (1932)

White Zombie (Victor Halperin, 1932), which Wikipedia claims is Hollywood's first zombie flick, is ruthlessly, remorselessly stupid (thus setting the bar for a lot of zombie flicks).

A film that cannot be saved by Bela Lugosi in a tux.
Madeleine (Madge Bellamy) and Neil (John Harron), the 1930s' most annoying newlyweds-to-be, have arrived in Haiti for their destination wedding. Inconveniently, every male they meet immediately lusts after Madeleine, who is apparently the only woman in a 100-mile radius. Madeleine's list of would-be suitors includes annoying plantation owner Charles Beaumont (Robert Frazer), who teams up with annoying voodoo master Murder Legendre (Bela Lugosi; yes, the character's name is actually Murder) to zombify Madeleine. This is not difficult because Madeleine barely has two brain cells to rub together. Once Madeleine is zombified our heroes and villains run all over Haiti fighting for her while she wanders around looking stunned. The appropriate parties are dispatched in convenient ways, Madeleine is apparently de-zombified (though it's not easy to tell) and we, the audience, have wasted an hour of our lives.

Most of the reviews I've read for White Zombie blast the acting, which is unfair. The performances are dated (they're not bad, they just veer into the more melodramatic silent style), but they're solid. White Zombie's real problem is that these actors have nothing to work with (except, in Bellamy's case, some funky vintage costumes). Bland script, boring characters, dumb cinematography. And although I hate to shoot fish in barrels, this film is as cringe-inducingly racist as you might expect of a 1930s movie called White Zombie. A product of its time, perhaps, but there are still some absolutely squirm-worthy moments.

Some people enjoy a good bad movie. I am one of them. If you go into White Zombie knowing that it's a curio, not a classic, you might have a good time. Or you could just, you know, watch something that's actually good. Do what you want, I guess.

SCENE STEALER: There's not much to salvage in White Zombie, but Bela Lugosi does his fighting best. Fresh off of 1931's Dracula, Lugosi was probably used to being the coolest person in the room. Still, even he can't pull off those ginormous prosthetic eyebrows. For real, it looks like twin caterpillars crawled onto his face and died.

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