WHITE ZOMBIE. (1932) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

white zombie bela closeup

WHITE ZOMBIE. (1932) BASED ON THE 1929 NOVEL BY WILLIAM SEABROOK, THE MAGIC ISLAND. DIRECTED BY VICTOR HALPERIN AND PRODUCED BY EDWARD HALPERIN.

STARRING BELA LUGOSI, MADGE BELLAMY, JOHN HARRON, ROBERT W. FRAZER AND JOSEPH CAWTHORN.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

This is such a marvellously atmospheric old horror movie, starring Bela Lugosi who was still fresh from his success as UNIVERSAL’s DRACULA (1931). He looks young, extremely handsome, charismatic and devilish here as the white Voodoo Master of Haiti who puts a spell on a beautiful young woman on whom he has personal romantic designs. But let’s start at the beginning, shall we?

The beautiful young woman in question is a blonde ‘Twenties bombshell called Madeleine Short, and she’s come to Haiti to marry her fiancé Neil Parker, who’s already there for some reason. I think he has a plantation there. On the boat over to Haiti, she meets a rich young man called Charles Beaumont who’s determined to befriend the young married-couple-to-be for reasons known only to himself.

On the coach-ride to Mr. Beaumont’s plantation, the young couple pass a funeral party that is burying the deceased in the middle of the road. This is to deter anyone who might have a mind to steal the corpse and turn it into one of the ‘undead,’ explains their Haitian coachman matter-of-factly. And, speaking of which, here come a party of these eerie ‘undead’ rascals right now!

The coachman whips up the horses to a frenetic degree.

‘What the hell are you playing at, driver?’ demands Neil irately. ‘We might have been killed!’

‘Or worse, Mister Neil,’ replies the coachman sagely, ‘we might have been CAUGHT…!’

Apparently, Haiti is swarming with these ghouls, who once walked the earth as human beings but whom the most nefarious black magic has raised up from the dead and turned into mindless zombies who work night and day in the islands’ sugar-cane mills. What a life, or should I say what an un-life…?

Mr. Beaumont is a wealthy plantation owner and it soon becomes clear that he’s fallen madly in love with the gorgeous Madeleine, with her huge doe eyes, Clara Bow lips and short blonde ‘Twenties hair.

She’s the very image of a ‘Twenties babe, despite the fact that we’re now in the ‘Thirties. The fashions here are very much still of the ‘Twenties. It gives the whole production the look of a silent movie and, as I’m a huge fan of silent movies, that’s no bad thing in my opinion.

In fact, the film would have worked very well as a silent movie. There’s kind of minimal dialogue in it anyway and the fantastic music score would have been ideal for a silent horror flick.

There’s a long stretch of the film at the end, the bit where Neil is fighting off the zombies by himself, where there’s little or no dialogue and the music is extremely dramatic. You could easily imagine yourself to be watching a terrific old silent movie at this point.

Mr. Beaumont wants to stop the marriage between Madeleine and Neil. He seeks out Bela Lugosi’s evil Voodoo Master, a white creator of zombies with the fantastically memorable name of ‘Murder Legendre,’ to help him. He wants the marriage stopped, but when he realises that the Voodoo Master’s method of doing it is to turn Madeleine herself into one of these ‘living dead’ zombies, he freaks out.

When the Voodoo Master in turn works a spell on Beaumont to immobilise him while he, Murder Legendre, claims Madeleine for his own, the situation becomes desperate. Can Neil rescue the lovely Madeleine from Murder’s evil clutches and, whether he can or he can’t, what will happen now to poor zombified Mr. Charles Beaumont, himself a rich plantation owner but who is now under one of Murder’s terrible spells?

Is he doomed for all time to slave in the Voodoo Master’s mills as one of the undead? And why am I calling him ‘poor’ Mr. Beaumont? If he hadn’t tried to break up Madeleine and Neil in the first place, none of this stuff would now be happening…! He’s only got himself to blame but still, being a zombie is probably a lot less exciting than it sounds.

The bit where Beaumont meets Murder Legendre in the Voodoo Master’s sugar-cane mill is quite chilling. Not only has the VM turned hundreds of once-living people into mindless zombie workers for profit (they work long hours for no pay and never quibble about anything because they can’t), but he’s also turned a specific coterie of them into his own personal group of bodyguards.

‘See these lads here?’ he tells the horrified Beaumont with his trademark evil Bela Lugosi smile. ‘These all used to be my enemies. This one here used to be my master.’

Beaumont is clearly shocked.

‘What happens if the spell you put on them is ever broken?’ he asks nervously.

‘Why, then they will tear me to pieces,’ says Bela matter-of-factly, still smiling. ‘So that can never be allowed to happen…’

By the way, here are some random facts about the film. The film was savaged by the critics upon release for the very things I love about it, the slightly hammy acting and the silent movie look and feel of the thing. The critics were nuts. This is possibly the best zombie movie ever made. Certainly it was the first full-length one.

I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE from 1943 has the same dark, shadowy atmospheric look and feel to WHITE ZOMBIE. It’s an excellent film as well, though with a slightly more modern feel to it because it’s a full decade older.

Rob Zombie’s metal band WHITE ZOMBIE took their name directly from the film and they wouldn’t have done that unless they thought it was the coolest movie ever, which it is, so take that, moronic critics. I still can’t believe they dissed this film.

The huge stone tower or cliffside castle where the zombified Madeleine is being held prisoner is actually a painting. It’s just like a black-and-white version of the fabulous painted castles in Roger Corman’s Edgar Allan Poe film adaptations for AMERICAN INTERNATIONAL PICTURES. It’s a gorgeous castle, very atmospheric-looking and quite like something out of the 1931 UNIVERSAL DRACULA too.

The two little maids assigned to care for Madeleine are scared to brush her hair because they know she’s one of the undead. They’re also too afraid to run away because the wicked and cunning VM will find them and turn them into zombies too. It’s quite a creepy no-win situation in which they find themselves.

Madeleine looks like a medieval princess when she comes out onto the balcony with that long dress on her with the low-slung belt around the waist. If her hair was several feet longer, she’d make a great Rapunzel. She’s the perfect damsel in distress, waiting patiently in her medieval tower to be rescued. There ain’t nothing remotely proactive about this dame. 

I’m not sure, though, why Neil is in such an all-fired great hurry to snap her out of the vacant, glassy-eyed zombified state she’s in. At least while she’s checked out like this, she won’t be nagging him to change his socks or get up from the sports on the telly to put the bins out. Some blokes clearly don’t know they’re born.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger, poet and book-and-movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens’ fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

http://sexysandieblog.wordpress.com

http://serenaharker.wordpress.com

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://twitter.com/SandraAuthor

JESSABELLE. (2014) A SUPERNATURAL HORROR FILM REVIEWED BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

jessabelle

JESSABELLE. (2014) DIRECTED BY KEVIN GREUTERT. WRITTEN BY ROBERT BEN GARANT. STARRING SARAH SNOOK, MARK WEBBER, DAVID ANDREWS, JOELLE CARTER AND ANA DE LA REGUERA.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

This is the story of a haunting and a possession set in modern times down on the good old Louisiana bayou. Jessie, short for Jessabelle, is the unluckiest girl in the whole world, having just lost her boyfriend and her unborn baby in a car crash that happens just as they’re all driving off happily together to their new home and their new lives. That’s when Fate reckons you’re at your most vulnerable and strikes like a deadly cobra, lol.

Now, after the accident, Jessie is wheelchair-bound and forced to go and live with her one remaining relative, the father she hasn’t seen since she shook the dust of their small town off her feet years ago to go to college. It seems as if she went off to college mainly to get away from her kippy home town and her surly mean father, and you can’t really blame her for that.

When she gets to the house, the Dad opens up a secret cobwebby room that’s been all locked up for at least twenty years and says, well, here, in ya go to the bedroom your mother died in, giving birth to y’all way back when.

God help the girl if she’s of an imaginative bent or in any way given to dwelling on things too much, which of course all young girls are, especially if they’ve suffered a lot or undergone a trauma like bereavement, and Jessie’s life is chock-full of bereavements.

Her mother, her boyfriend, her unborn baby and, by extension, the wonderful life she and her bloke were going to have in their new home with their new baby. All gone up in smoke, the whole kit-and-kaboodle. That’s a lot of bereavements, enough to give any woman the heebie-jeebies.

There’s no furniture in the room barring a giant four-poster bed and a box of video-tapes the mother made for Jessabelle while she was still pregnant with her. The Momma is the kind of hippy-dippy type who believes in psychic readings and fortune-tellings and all that kind of thing.

In the video-taped psychic readings Momma performs for her as yet unborn daughter, she keeps turning up scary shit like death and burnings and an angry female presence in the house that wants Jessie out, because the ghost thinks the house is hers by rights.

Jessie is, not unnaturally, scared shitless by these dire premonitions which, if you’ll excuse my authorial interjection here, was a very unfair and insensitive legacy for any mother to leave for her child to see, long after the mother has died of the cancer that blighted her last months of life. Jessie should be thrilled when her father tries to burn the evil tapes, instead of bitching at him about it.

Unfortunately Pops, who’s clearly no luckier at the game of life than his daughter Jessabelle, only succeeds in burning himself, leaving Jessie in the haunted house alone with no-one to help her with anything. This is where she gets her claws back into her childhood sweetheart Preston, whom she left without a second glance when she quit town.

Preston is unhappily married now to poor Samantha, who is really not thrilled about the helpless little Jessie, with her soft blonde hair and her braless bosoms hanging out of her low-cut dresses, sleeping on their couch because her own house is too haunted to live in for now.

I don’t blame the hardworking, sensibly-dressed-in-sweatpants Sam at all for resenting Jessie. When was the last time Preston unhinged her, Sam’s, flaps in the tender, devoted way he does Jessie’s? (You’ll have to watch the film to decipher this naughty in-joke, lol!)

There’s definitely an angry, jealous female spirit present in Jessie’s house. There’s a tiny coffin buried out on the bayou as well with the skeleton of a newborn baby in it. That’s some real creepy shit right there.

There’s voodoo and superstitious locals who believe in what Preston refers to as ‘all that mumbo-jumbo’ but, as Jessie’s witnessing a lot of strange things since her return to the bayou, she can’t help wondering what evil supernatural forces are at work here and what exactly they want her to do…?

This is a very water-based horror film, with baths and lakes in it. It puts me in mind of THE CHANGELING, WHAT LIES BENEATH and the film adaptation of Stephen King’s excellent novel BAG OF BONES for exactly that reason.

The film’s a bit messy and implausible at times, but it’s not the only film ever to put a wheelchair-bound person in an isolated setting with no possible way of doing certain things for themselves, so we won’t berate it too harshly for that.

I enjoyed the film, though, even the cheesy ending, and I’d certainly recommend it as a one-time-viewing for horror fans. It’s like a floaty supernatural dream or something, with voodoo and some stunning visuals thrown in and some good old-fashioned sexual jealousy to boot. Enjoy it, with my humble blessing, lol.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger, poet and book-and-movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens’ fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

http://sexysandieblog.wordpress.com

http://serenaharker.wordpress.com

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://twitter.com/SandraAuthor