White Zombie (1932)

White Zombie (1932)

“You don’t seem to realize what this girl means to me. Why, I’d sacrifice anything in the world for her!”

A covetous plantation owner (Robert Frazer) in Haiti seeks the help of a voodoo practitioner (Bela Lugosi) in wooing the newlywed bride (Madge Bellamy) of his friend (John Harron) into his clutches.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Bela Lugosi Films
  • Horror Films
  • Mind Control and Hypnosis
  • Newlyweds
  • Plantations
  • Voodoo and Black Magic
  • Zombies

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary accurately notes that this “impressive early sound shocker” has “marvelous visuals, some that are extremely poetic” — much “like something from a classic silent horror film”. Indeed, director Victor Halperin employs an astonishing array of creative visual techniques in his telling of this spooky “fairytale”, which possesses thematic parallels with “Snow White”: just as “Snow White tasted the poisoned apple, Bellamy falls victim to a poisoned rose”, and must be “roused” awake by her lover. There are many “lengthy non-verbal passages in which the emphasis is on character movement, set design, creating atmosphere through light and shadow, and music (there’s a fine, varied score)”; in general, if there’s a way to frame a scene creatively, Halperin does so. Lugosi — with truly wicked eyebrows and goatee — is note perfect in the lead role as evil Murder Legendre (that name!); watching him carve voodoo dolls of his victims out of candles is truly chilling. As Peary notes, while “some scenes are static, [and] others silly”, this “‘sleeper’ is guaranteed to please the true-blue horror fan” — and, I would argue, most all-purpose film fanatics as well.

Note: A number of classic horror fans have pointed out this film’s historical relevance as the first appearance of zombies on film — and it’s certainly an atmospheric precursor to Val Lewton’s RKO horror classics as well.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Bela Lugosi as Murder Legendre
  • Truly atmospheric sets, cinematography, special effects, and framing

Must See?
Yes, as an historically relevant and most enjoyable early horror film.


  • Good Show
  • Historically Relevant


One thought on “White Zombie (1932)

  1. First viewing. A must for its place in cinema history.

    I’ll admit that director Halperin does a rather fine job (esp. with some of the visuals) – and the film does get better as it goes (it’s only about 66 minutes). Overall, I’m less enthusiastic, though I recognize the film’s influence as horror.

    The print I saw was not the best – I actually had to strain to hear some of the dialogue.

    But, as I said, the film does gain power in its latter scenes. I especially like the very strong sequence between Lugosi and Frazer in which Frazer, in a very weakened state, valiantly (and wordlessly) attempts to dissuade Lugosi from carrying out more evil deeds, while simultaneously resisting turning into a zombie himself.

    There is also poignant, gothic beauty in the shots of Bellamy wandering here and there in a white, somewhat diaphanous gown that flows freely in every direction.

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