White Zombie (1932; Victor Halperin)
By Daniel Barnes
From its first shot of a Haitian burial ceremony undulating under the opening credits, Victor Halperin’s 1932 indie horror film White Zombie establishes an eerie and unusual atmosphere.
The corpse in question is getting buried in the middle of the road to discourage body snatchers. This delays and unnerves the passengers of a passing coach, a white-suited schmendrick (John Harron) and his platinum blonde fiancee (Madge Bellamy).
Meanwhile, Bela Lugosi plays a creepy, black-hearted robber baron who uses an unfathomable charisma to hypnotize poor people into zombies so that they’ll work around-the-clock shifts in his sugar mill and holy shit you guys, I think I just figured out Trump’s endgame.
Lugosi’s legendarily mesmeric glare is used to stunning effect here, but every other actor is a total stiff, and the tone and pace feel incredibly uneven.
For every entrancing use of shadows and era-appropriate special effects, such as the scene where the schmendrick sees his presumably dead wife in a pool of spilled booze, there is a scene that plays like a poorly blocked stage play. White Zombie is all wizard and no brains, heart or courage.