Restored classic given new lease of life!...,
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This review is from: Horror Classics, Vol. 1: White Zombie (1932) [DVD]  [US Import] (DVD)
The Region 1 Roan Archival Collection, Horror Classic 1 dvd..
Having attempted/dared to watch many public domain prints of obscurer old films, it is always a pleasure when some company bothers to treat old film stock with respect. Some of the films reputations have suffered as a result of appalling pictures duped from video prints, which were duped from 16mm prints, rather than 35mm.The images of this film i have seen have been bleached, damaged & the contrast so far gone i haven't sufficient vocabulary to dredge up suitable metaphors. Lovecraft would have said that it was a ghastly eldritch pitch black loathsomeness of long dead aeon spawned badness..
In this instance, the Roan release, the Kino dvd likewise, has a restored print. Now the muffled sound is still muffled and low (as it was recorded in an inferior manner this is unlikely to change), so the volume needs still to be cranked up. The picture however is now far superior.
Is the film worthy of this attention?..actually yes. I would suggest that it bears striking resemblances to Vampyr, by Dreyer, in it's poetic eerie qualities when the dialogue isn't providing exposition. The one hour or so of film, unlike many early talkies, tends to drive onward with visual filmic trickery and reveling in the gothic sets, rather than standing about chatting. There is one sequence that has a long take to explain what is happening, but even that is treated efficiently. As such, the period should not put people off, its not a silent, and its not a verbose chit-chat. It is a solid gothic mood piece with oddly effective horrible moments.
A few telling points of interest should draw one to the film. Lugosi is on one of his finest scenery munching parts as Murder Legendre. Watch his movements, his hands, his relish at the playing of one of cinemas most pernicious villains. Some of his lines are worthy of the sardonic playful evil from Ambrose Bierce's Devils Dictionary. The other key element to be aware of is the flourish of camera-work. The fluidity of movement, the imaginative use of depth, of focus, placing the actors in more unusual areas of the set, all contribute toward a fuller looking film. Many an old flick might tie down the camera and appear stagey throughout. Not so in this case.
That is not to say it isn't showing it's age. As much as there is an expressionistic use of shadows not unlike Island of Lost Souls, or the economy of very impressive matte paintings, there is also the slightly grand gesture of acting from the silent era, the abruptness of the denouements.
Overall be glad that it is now so much more visible, even though the sound level for dialogue and the interspersed musical moments still lack vitality. However,in this weird, eerie little creaker, using sets from larger more well known films, we have a classic of macabre cinema that has a timeless energy that will outlast many films of the era..if only because it has been deemed fit to give them a decent resurrection.