Style on Film - White Zombie (1932)

Posted by Meghan
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White Zombie is a particular kind of horror movie well suited to those of us with constitutions too delicate to generally enjoy a horror film. I myself am a fan of a well done horror film but I have no patience for cheap jump scares or any film of the “New French Extremity” variety (a fanciful way of marking excessively violent contemporary French horror films). White Zombie to our modern, desensitized sensibilities is not even slightly frightening, but rather possesses an eerie ethereality. The movie was filmed in 1932 on a shoestring budget and is one of the earliest instances of zombies appearing in cinema. Top billing goes to the famed Bella Lugosi who was reportedly paid only $1000 for his role as the voodoo maestro of Port-au-Prince, Murder Legendre. The bride-to-be, Madeleine, played by Madge Bellamy, is caught somewhat unknowingly in a love triangle upon arriving in Haiti. She’s to be married right away, though another man, her host, is in love with her deeply. He turns to Legendre to use his powers of voodoo manipulation to turn Madeleine into a zombie so that he may possess her. The kinds of zombies to be experienced in White Zombie are more like proto-zombies to the flesh-eating standard of the undead which we are familiar, they are less malicious than they are vacant shadows of human beings, pawns to be manipulated. Plot aside, it is actually a rather charming example of early sound film though the cinematography has a very silent, narrative style to it. And of course it is not short on the 1930s high glamour which I’m very much enamored. Dramatic silk gowns that billow along the Haitian bluffs, delicate bridal lingerie and, my personal favorite, a beaded lace calot veil worn dramatically in the moment Madeleine drinks the poison that turns her into a zombie.



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