Known throughout the horror community as the first ever zombie film, White Zombie is a gem from 1932. Obviously an extremely old film, it has the unique trait of being the first to cast its thoughts on zombies and how they look and act. Years later, zombies are much different, but it was incredible to watch their humble beginnings. Certainly not the scariest film on the block, I still found White Zombie enjoyable and would recommend it to anyone looking to boost their horror knowledge.
White Zombie is about a young couple, Madeline and Neil, who travel to Haiti to vacation and get married. While there, they are introduced to the supernatural culture and the zombies that haunt the island. The resident of the house they’re staying at, Charles Beaumont, is secretly in love with Madeline and hopes to woo her away from Neil. He enlists the help of an evil man in wooing her, which leads to him turning her into his zombie slave. The film stars Bela Lugosi as the villain and he does a fantastic job. Lugosi is a bit of a horror legend himself as he stars in the original Dracula. In fact, the acting is all-around great in this film and it’s largely what makes the movie an enjoyable watch. Plus, it has that It Happened One Night magic that falls on films from that time, where anything seems possible.
With a runtime barely over an hour, this film is short and sweet. The story is concise and doesn’t drag on. The zombies are portrayed as mindless living dead. They walk and move but their eyes stare blankly at the world and they never speak. They are controlled by their owner to do whatever he wishes, much like slaves. The zombies do look creepy, but there isn’t any excessive gore or limping or foaming at the mouth. These zombies are pre-everything we have now, they are simply the living dead with no soul. The story is a fun little story, but in the end it’s not very scary. Some movies made long ago are able to stand the test of time and still scare audiences today, but this film isn’t one of them. Honestly, I doubt it was ever meant to be scary. It’s more of an innocent horror, before it became customary to douse our horrors in blood and guts.
White Zombie is a solid, engaging film that marks the start of zombies in horror. While not a scary film, it provides the viewer with a great history of this beloved creature. The acting is fantastic and the story fun to watch. With zombies haunting so many forms of media nowadays, it’d be helpful for anyone interested in their origins to tune into this film. After all, you can’t know where to go if you don’t remember where you came from. A lesson many creatures on horror island should take note of.
If you liked White Zombie, you might also like Wake Wood and Psychomania.