White Zombie (8/4/32) There is much to like in White Zombie, but you have to wade through the other dreck to get to it. I haven’t seen the restored version but I would like to. I really like the way they reuse Universal’s redressed sets and props, I hardly find myself pointing at something in recognition. I WOULD like to SEE more of the sugar mill set which I still can’t place. Much of the acting is poverty row level, but it’s a zombie movie fer crying out loud, great acting has never been part of that criteria. For a movie set in Haiti, many of the Zombies in the film are white. It really only has one African American speaking role, Clarence Muse’s coach driver, who issues the obligatory unheeded warnings.
Bela is pretty good, though he gets upstaged by own eyebrows, without them the film doesn’t work at all. His witchdoctor/voodoo guy combines magical hand motions and intensive stares, with plain old chemically induced mind control. Managing a captive and compliant work force by using intoxicants has been done for thousands of years, and zombifying a woman into giving a flawless concert on the piano seems a rather arrogant exercise in comparison, but every man needs a hobby.
The real stars of White Zombie, besides Jack Pierce’s hair & makeup on Bela, are Conrad Tritschler’s matte paintings, they really do class up the joint. Giving this tiny shot after dark film a much larger scale than it deserves. The vulture, sometimes mechanical, sometimes played a hawk, is a nice touch, you need something to do the screaming when you don’t have a Fay Wray. And I really like a self cleaning zombie picture, where all the bad guys, zombies and non-zombie alike are washed away into the sea. One can only hope that all the native zombie worker bees are released from mind control with the death of their master.
As a horror film, its small band of assorted zombie men are pretty scary, especially if you want to get rid of a troublesome butler or boyfriend. Especially the one that looks like he wandered in from a Bergman picture. And as zombies go, these are are probably the scariest yet most pliable ones on film, until of course Francois Edmonds. If I saw this in a dark cinema they would probably have given me nightmares, well, if not them, then those eyebrows