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

I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE. (1943) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

carre-four

I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE. (1943)

BASED ON A STORY BY INEZ WALLACE. DIRECTED BY JACQUES TOURNEUR. PRODUCED BY VAL LEWTON. STARRING FRANCES DEE, TOM CONWAY, JAMES ELLISON, EDITH BARRETT, CHRISTINE GORDON, JAMES BELL, THERESA HARRIS, DARBY JONES AND CALYPSO SINGER SIR LANCELOT.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

This is a strange, eerie and mysterious little classic horror film that’s positively oozing with atmosphere. It’s the story of a young attractive nurse called Betsy Connell (by whom the story is being told), who is brought from the cold and snow of a wintry Canada to the island of San Sebastian in the West Indies to take up a new job.

She is to look after the invalid wife of posh Britisher Paul Holland, who assures her on the boat over that San Sebastian is a place of misery and decay, and not at all the lovely island paradise it appears to be. What a downer! Anyone would think he was trying to put her off.

The boat on which they travel to the island is worthy of mention because it’s a proper old-fashioned sailing ship complete with the big sails and everything, just like on MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY and in all the old swashbuckling pirate movies. It makes the film seem even older and more atmospheric than it already is.

When Betsy gets to the island, she discovers first of all that it is populated by black people who were brought to the island as slaves by the Holland family. Even now, now that slavery has been abolished, they still work as servants or other employees to the Hollands.

We can infer from that, I think, that the island has been a silent witness to many years of suffering and bondage on the part of the slaves and former slaves. The history here is bound to have left its mark on the island, in the same way that pain and misery suffered within its walls can leave its mark on a bricks-and-mortar building. Can leave it haunted, even, at times, with the restless spirits who once lived there and the unhappy souls who now consider that they have unfinished business here on Earth.

Betsy is introduced to the handsome Wesley Rand, the half-brother of Paul Holland. Wesley is an American guy who was born to their mother and her second husband, while Paul was the progeny of Mrs. Rand and her first husband, who is now deceased.

Betsy, by the way, is immediately attracted to her employer, Paul Holland, even though he’s the stiff-upper-lip type, he’s married and he’s much less approachable than his boozy brother Wesley. Let’s see if her inappropriate attachment gets her anywhere, eh?

Paul and Wesley don’t like each other much. That much is clear. There’s a bad history there, some bad mojo as they say. Mrs. Rand, the boys’ mother, is a kindly doctor who tries to bring good medical practices and standards to the islanders, but this is difficult enough to achieve as the islanders are steeped in superstition and the centuries-old practice of voodoo.

Speaking of which, Betsy is shocked to discover that her patient is in fact what she terms a ‘mental case.’ The scene in which she encounters the beautiful catatonic Jessica Holland, a tall elegant blonde in a white flowing gown, wandering around silently like a ghost in the Tower is one of the two best- and spookiest- scenes in the film.

Can Jessica be cured of her trance-like state, brought on by a fever that destroyed part of her spinal cord and left her unable to speak, hear or feel? She can still walk, though, funnily enough. Mrs. Rand and Paul Holland are both adamant that she’s incurable. She’s a zombie for life, one of the living dead.

But not according to Alma, a maid in the Holland-Rand household. Alma, a native islander, tells Betsy that there are voodoo priests on the island who can cure Jessica of her terrible affliction. Betsy now loves Paul Holland so much that she wants to give his wife back to him, cured. That’s some funny kind of love, isn’t it? I’m pretty sure that I’d never be able to love that unselfishly myself.

Betsy, however, is well up for it. She’s obviously made of sterner stuff than me. She and an insensible Jessica make their way to the place known as the houmfort by night, where the voodoo priests meet and the magic happens.

The scene where they have to pass through the silent fields guarded by the zombie Carre-Four in the dead of night, with the tall grasses blowing in the breeze and the sky filled with frightening shadows, is the second of the two best and most memorable scenes in the film. Such haunting images! I know I won’t forget them.

So, does voodoo cure Mrs. Holland or has Betsy just twisted the lid off of a big old can of worms? You know perfectly well that she has, lol. But if you want to find out what happens next, you’ll have to watch this fabulous old film, which incidentally celebrates its seventy-fifth anniversary this year. It shouldn’t be any hardship. It’s a genuine old masterpiece.

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