Wednesday, 3 June 2009

No. 147 : White Zombie

Here’s an early talkie featuring horror maestro Bela Legosi dating from 1932 which was feared lost bur rediscovered in the 1960s. When you see the print and hear the sound you may think that it would have been better off staying lost but that would be to deny yourself a cracking film with some real iconic moments.

The film is set on Haiti and a young man is bringing his girlfriend home to the family plantation to marry her. On their way to the house their coach is set upon by some zombies. Their driver explains that these dead people have been reanimated so they can work the farms. The mysterious and aptly named Murder Legende (Legosi) is nearby and manages to swipe the bride to be’s scarf.

Understandably a bit upset at the zombie infestation the couple bunk down for the night but elsewhere nefarious plans are afoot. Another suitor of the lovely girl won’t give her up and seeks advice from Legosi, who predictably enough comes up with a diabolical scheme involving his zombie raising powers. Using the stolen scarf and some nifty candle carving skills he kills the new bride much to the overacting of her groom.

With the bride in a box the husband hits the bottle while Legosi gets ready to reanimate the body. All is not well however as the reanimated woman isn’t quite the life and soul of the party that the suitor believed. A bit like the old joke really - I think my wife is dead, the sex is the same but the washing up is piling up. Having being clued up by a local missionary the husband sets about recovering his wife and taking revenge against Murder and his cadre of corpses.

At only 65 minutes this film stuffs a lot in but given the crappy quality of the stock you have to be grateful for that. My summary is based on watching the film but having read some other comments it appears that different interpretations can be made. This is understandable as I’m a bit slow and at times it was impossible to make out the audio. It also doesn’t help that the narrative gets a bit confused in the last quarter and that the two love rivals look a lot like each other.

On the plus side you do get the first ever screen appearance of zombies and they haven’t been as scary since, They aren’t flesh eating or anything mental just mindless slaves capable of any evil command. They are all under Legosi’s direct control and this leads to a funny scene at the end once Legosi has been knocked out. As they all strive for the perfect dive.

Of the actors Legosi steals the show although sound may not be his forte as he often just strikes a menacing pose and holds it. The worst is the missionary who flubs every line and clearly doesn’t believe a word of the tosh he’s spouting. Similarly bad is the butler who has the presence of mind to hold his nose when he’s thrown into the seas by the zombies.

The direction is really impressive and certainly ahead of its time. You get fancy split screens, match cuts and some pretty convincing ghostly special effects where our pissed up man keeps seeing his dead wife floating about. Legosi hogs most of the screen when he’s on set but when you see his evil face you’ll know why. The other leads are OK but nothing notable apart from the lead zombie who basically sewed up the genre look in this outing.

The ending is a bit pat but overall the production is pretty lavish with the sets a rival to the great Universal epics. Before we close a word on the title. The ‘white zombie’ is the lady and the title is to separate her from all the other zombies who are largely black plantation workers. You wouldn’t get away with that kind of profiling today - you’d have to call it ‘White Living Impaired Individual’.

Best Bit : Zombie Dive Off
‘W’ Rating : 17/23

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