Spoiler Alert! If you think you might want to see White Zombie (1932) with Bela Lugosi, I would advise you watch it before reading this. I think it is better enjoyed if you’re not thinking, “Oh, this is that part she was telling us about.”
According to Robert Osborne’s pre-movie commentary, White Zombie is believed to be the first movie ever made about zombies. I find it hard to believe there are no silent movies featuring zombies, but I’m not that knowledgeable about silent movies (it’s difficult to crochet or knit during a silent movie, because you have to keep your eyes glued to the screen or you’ll miss something).
First or not, it’s an atmospheric, eerie movie. The zombies are the old-timey slow moving creatures with staring eyes. They don’t eat flesh, but some of them do kill a guy and try to kill a couple of others (I did include a spoiler alert, didn’t I?) (I think it’s a bigger spoiler to let you know they only try to kill someone, don’t you?).
The movie takes place in the West Indies, home of voodoo, zombies and assorted other creepy weirdness, it seems. A Beautiful Girl and a Handsome Young Man (side note: why don’t I just refer to him as a Boy and be symmetrical?) are in a horse drawn carriage (to give you an idea of period) on their way to some rich guy’s house.
At least, I think he’s rich. Yes, my famous lack of attention is once again my undoing. Rich Guy has gotten Handsome Young Man a job back in the states and wants the couple to be married from his house. It soon transpires that he is in love with the girl and is willing to use fair means or foul to make her his.
Enter Bela Lugosi. Ah, but before he does, Rich Guy’s butler warns him to have nothing to do with that sort of person. Well, it wouldn’t be much of a movie if the characters listened to sensible advice, would it?
First Rich Guy tries fair means, by propositioning Beautiful Girl as he escorts her to her marriage ceremony. Anybody still wondering why this guy is alone? Of course it doesn’t work, although she tries to let him down easily in the limited amount of time available to her. So it is on to foul means and the zombie meat of the movie.
The nefarious plot perpetrated by Lugosi involves turning Beautiful Girl into a zombie. It is not clear to me how he does it. Something to do with carving some wax and sticking it into the flame of a streetlight. She falls dead into her new husband’s arms.
Soon she is the glassy-eyed possession of Rich Guy. Well, that’s not the chick he fell in love with. He demands Lugosi turn her back into a person even if it means losing her. I guess he’s not such a bad guy for someone who resorted to foul means to win the girl. But Lugosi will have none of this and is soon tormenting Rich Guy in ways that ought to make anybody sorry for him, even viewers who still consider him a lousy beautiful girl stealer.
Lugosi, as usual, utilizes his scary eyes to good effect. The things that especially struck me in this movie were his wild and wooly eyebrows. I think Count Dracula must have tweezed.
Eventually Handsome Young Man finds help and hurries to the rescue, as you probably figured. But can he rescue her? I guess I can’t spoil everything. This movie is recommended. I’ll look for something cheesier next time.