White Zombie (1932)
Review by Jude Felton
In this day and age zombies are most often thought of flesh-hungry shambling, or sprinting, ghouls who want nothing more than to chow down on the living. Films featuring the undead tend to be bloody and gory affairs, but this wasn’t always the case. Way back in 1932 legendary actor Bela Lugosi was looking for roles that were different from Dracula; the role that made him famous. One such film was White Zombie, and it features zombies based on the Haitian voodoo style undead, similar to those that were seen in the 1988 movie The Serpent and the Rainbow.
A young couple, Madeline and Neil, are travelling to the Haitian plantation owned by one Charles Beaumont to get married there at his behest. Along the way they come across a funeral taking place in the middle of the road; one that seems not quite right. This is only just the beginning of their strange journey though.
Unbeknownst to Madeline and Neil, we learn that Beaumont has an ulterior motive for inviting the young couple; he is in love with Madeline and wants her to leave Neil, and instead marry him. Well, young Madeline is having none of that, so in turn Beaumont turns to Murder Lengendre, who runs the local mill. His mill is worked by mindless workers or zombies if you will, that Legendre has mesmerized into doing the work for him. Beaumont wants Legendre to do the same to Madeline, so that she will fall for the crafty bastard. Things don’t work out quite as planned though.
White Zombie is a great little movie; it’s atmospheric, with plenty of spooky moments and probably doesn’t get the credit it deserves. It’s one of those films that everyone has heard of, due in part to Rob Zombie’s previous band, but not everyone has seen. This Blu-ray release by Kino Lorber is the perfect opportunity for you to catch up with it, for a couple of reasons. The main reason you’ll want to get this being that this release features two versions of the film, which differ greatly in the visual department.
The new digitally restored version is going to divide audiences, of that there is absolutely no doubt at all. The picture is very crisp, a lot brighter than maybe it should be and as such has taken some of the low budget charm out of the film. Personally I had no real issues with it, I thought it looked good and it was nice to see this film cleaned up for a modern audience. This is the version that will play automatically, by the way.
On the flipside, you also get the raw unenhanced edition of the movie for your viewing pleasure. This cut of the film is a lot darker, with all of the grain intact and gives a far noisier viewing experience. It does however add more atmosphere to an already creepy movie, and works as a great counter to the new clean version. Whichever your preference is you now have the choice of which one you want to watch.
Also contained on the Blu-ray is an audio commentary, from film historian Frank Thompson, a 6 minute interview with Bela Lugosi, a stills gallery and the 1951 theatrical reissue trailer.
However you view the differing versions of White Zombie, there are a couple of things that remain. The first of these is that the film itself is an important entry into the world of horror, especially the zombie sub-genre. Secondly, Bela Lugosi is just wonderful to watch; his eyes mesmerizing the viewer, as well as those characters around him.
White Zombie may be a little stagey for a modern audience, but it still works incredibly well as an old school horror flick. It’s overly dramatic in places and some of the acting is quite rigid, but there is no denying its wonderful charm. Personally I am a big fan of the film and this release has done nothing to alter that, especially now that I have the option of watching either the clean version or the raw cut.
White Zombie is released on Blu-ray and DVD from Kino Lorber on January 29th.