After the success of Dracula and Frankenstein, Universal Studios rented out some of the sets of the famous movies to brothers Victor and Edward Halperin, independent film makers of the time. After 11 days of filming and only a $50,000 budget, White Zombie was the result.
|Bela Lugosi as Murder Legendre|
The movie stars Bela Lugosi as the evil Murder Legendre, a Haitian voodoo priest who makes people obey his will by killing and turning them into zombies. The main victim in the story is Madeleine Short (played by Madge Bellamy). Madeleine is in Haiti with her fiance Neil Parker (played by John Harron), and they are staying on the plantation of Charles Beaumont (Robert Frazer), who falls in love with Madeleine. Beaumont unable to woo Madeleine, decides to enlist the help of Legendre in order to turn her into a zombie. During the process, Beaumont realizes that, as Madeleine is being changed into a zombie by Legendre, he is as well. The only person able to save the day is Neil Parker. After an intense confrontation at Legendre's fortress, the villain is defeated and Madeleine wakes from her trance and embraces her beloved fiance.
|Madeleine Short (Madge Bellamy) when she begins being turned into a zombie.|
More important than the story, however, is this movie's place in film history. It is the first feature-length zombie film in history, and even though it was made during the early era of the talkies, there is very little dialogue and because the actors rely on body language and the events unfolding to tell the story, the movie actually seems like a silent film. Bela Lugosi's hypnotic gaze throughout the film gives it a creepy atmosphere, making it a great movie to watch at night. Another interesting note is that Jack Pierce, the makeup guru behind Dracula, Frankenstein's Monster, and the Mummy, did the makeup for this film as well.
Although this film was criticized very heavily and given negative reviews by many critics, it has stood the test of time long enough for its true place in horror movie history to be realized and appreciated. I give it 4 stars out of 5.