Legendre: For you, my friend, they are the angels of death.
White Zombie is a 1932 horror film directed by Victor Halperin and starring Bela Lugosi. Based on the 1929 book The Magic Island by William Seabrook, this was the very first film to bring zombies to the silver screen, predating Night of the Living Dead by 36 years.
Unhappy that Madeleine Short (Madge Bellamy), the woman he loves, is marrying someone else, Haitian plantation owner Charles Beaumont (Robert Frazer) turns to the local Witch Doctor, "Murder" Legendre (Lugosi) to have things his way. Legendre uses his voodoo skills to have Madeleine seemingly die. After she's whisked away from her grave by Legendre and Beaumont, her husband Neil Parker (John Harron) learns the truth about her condition from missionary Dr. Bruner (Joseph Cawthorn) and together they set out to rescue her.
The film is in the public domain, which means it can easily be found either online or included in almost any home video release containing public domain movies, though the versions found through said methods are of questionable quality. It was released on DVD and Blu-ray by Kino (their release contains both a heavily DNR-ladened version of the film and an uncleaned version) and by VCI Entertainment (their release has a version falling somewhere in between).
Followed in 1936 by Revolt of the Zombies, a loose unofficial sequel made by Victor Halperin with a different cast.
Not to be confused with the band White Zombie, though this is where they got the name from.
This film has examples of:
- All in the Eyes: Hey, it wouldn't be a Lugosi flick without this.
- Ambiguous Situation: The carriage driver in the opening scene states that the zombies are the corpses of men who Legendre killed and reanimated from the grave. Dr. Bruner maintains that Legendre's victims are alive, just having lost their minds, and that he gave them the illusion of death so he could kidnap them. Madeline seems to be the latter, as Legendre's death and possibly The Power of Love are enough to make her come to her senses. This also appears to be the case with Beaumont.
- Anything but That!: Beaumont's reaction when he realizes what is coming up to him after Legendre poisons him.
- Big Ol' Eyebrows: Sported by Chauvin, one of Legendre's zombies.
- Body Horror: Much of this movie doesn't age well, but this trope is used for a thoroughly chilling moment. While Madeleine fell directly into her non-death after taking a full dose of Legendre's potion, Beaumont realizes what's up after taking only a sip of the poisoned wine. The result for him is even worse—he changes into a zombie slowly, while being awake and aware the whole time, but unable to talk. The scene where a twitching, wild-eyed Beaumont just manages to extend a hand in supplication to Legendre, only for Legendre to brusquely brush it away, is quite disturbing.
- Disney Villain Death: Legendre dies when Beaumont uses his last ounce of will to push him over a ledge to the rocks below.
- Drowning My Sorrows: After Madeleine's "death" and burial, Parker hits the bar.
- Exact Eavesdropping: Beaumont has his butler Silver eavesdrop on his guests.
- Fate Worse than Death: Parker's initial reaction when Bruner informs him that Madeleine may not actually be dead.Parker: Surely you don't think she's alive, in the hands of natives? Oh, no. Better dead than that!
- Grave Robbing: After her burial, Madeleine's body is stolen from her grave by Legendre's zombies.
- Hallucinations: After drinking little too much, Parker starts seeing visions of Madeleine around the bar.
- Hypnotic Eyes: When Beaumont orders Silver to attack Legendre, he hypnotizes him and he is helplessly carried away by his zombies.
- Names to Run Away from Really Fast: MURDER Legendre.
- No OSHA Compliance: One of the Undead Laborers at the sugar mill is shown tripping over and falling into the sugar cane grounder, and is crushed to death by the machine's uncaring operators.
- Pstandard Psychic Pstance: Legendre employs his hypnotic powers by hand gestures, usually by clenching them together.
- Running Gag: "Excuse me, please. Have you got a match?"
- Tampering with Food and Drink: Legendre poisons Beaumont's glass of wine to turn him into a zombie.
- Technically-Living Zombie: Madeleine's condition as the eponymous "white zombie".
- The missionary Dr. Bruner implies that all of Legendre's victims are this, and that the idea of them being living corpses is superstitious nonsense.
- Trilling Rs: Legendre is fond of this:Legendre: For the futurrrrre, monsieur!
- Voodoo Zombie: Legendre's slaves are classic voodoo zombies—either living people or reanimated corpses that have been enslaved by voodoo magic to serve a master. The later idea of zombies as monsters out to eat people was basically invented by George A. Romero in Night of the Living Dead (1968) over thirty years after this movie.
- Wheel of Pain: Legendre's sugar mill runs on such contraption, which is operated by his tireless zombies.