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White Zombie (1932) – DVD Review



Written by: Garnett Weston
Directed by: Victor Halperin
Starring: Bela Lugosi, John Harron, Joseph Cawthorn, Robert Frazer, Madge Bellamy


  • The 1952 trailer
  • Running commentary by Gary Don Rhodes, a Lugosi scholar
  • “Intimate Interviews”: a short from 1932 featuring Lugosi
  • “Ship’s Reporter”: a segment of the show from the 1950’s featuring Lugosi

Released by: ROAN
Region: 1
Rating: NR
Anamorphic: N/A; appears in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio.

My Advice: Rent It.

[ad#longpost]Neil (Harron) and Madeleine (Bellamy) are in Haiti to get married. In fact, a kind local gentleman by the name of Beaumont (Frazer) wants to do something nice for the couple, so he offers up his house for the ceremony. However, Beaumont’s motives aren’t what you would call pure. He’s got a thing for Madeleine too, and is desperate to figure out a way to keep her for himself. His only recourse, it seems, is to enlits the help of local bad guy Murder Legendre (Lugosi) to turn her into a zombie.

The problem with watching films of vintage is the lack of context. The example I always give is that of the original Psycho. Audiences today don’t understand what a big deal it was to kill off the star of the movie. They don’t recognize that what they see as “old hat,” witnessed a thousand times in the cinema, is really just things that Hitchcock established and others emulated. So I try and find a context for such films so that I don’t fall into that trap of trying to judge seventy-year-old films by today’s standards.

Unfortunately, no matter the context, this film is fairly laughable. I’m sure that at the time it might have been perhaps a bit stunning, but I can’t find the right mindset. Sorry. My fault. There’s just something about spurious close-ups of Lugosi’s eyes (which I think received second billing on the original theatrical one-sheet), Bellamy’s nigh-comatose state throughout the film zombie or no, and Joseph Cawthorn’s character’s penchant for being a Van Helsing wannabe that has to bring some degree of humor into the mix.

Before...I didn't drink wine. Now--I *am* the wine!

The running commentary by Gary Don Rhodes is pretty amusing as well. Although he does provide some interesting background information on the state of Hollywood horror at the time and the cast, he has a couple of glaring faults that he brings to the table. First, he never stops talking. He seems to feel the need to fill the entire length of the film with academic hullaballoo, which as stated can be good information, but a lot of time just feels like filler. Second, he’s way too preoccupied with sex. Bringing homosexual undertones into things and talking about Lugosi’s stare as “penetrating” in a literal sense might be interesting in moderation–but once they’ve been mentioned and re-mentioned (to kill time) it becomes almost as laughable as the film. And he never introduces himself or explains why he’s the guy that got tapped. Sure, we can read it on the box, but it’s a bit sudden to just launch into things without an introduction.

The other features on the disc are actually pretty cool, though. The trailer from 1952 is truly comical. Note the narrator’s extremely enthusiastic interp of the words he speaks. You’d think it was a young Ben Stein. The “Intimate Interviews” short from 1932 is blatantly staged and entertaining if for nothing else to have such a thing extant. The grandfather of Entertainment Tonight, if you will. Same thing for the “Ship’s Reporter” segment, although it’s much more spontaneous.

Why is this man smiling?

For fans of Lugosi, this is a solid presentation of both film and extras and would be worth picking up for your shelf. For the rest of us, it’s worth renting just to see it. It is a classic, you know.

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