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on 11 July 2017
Some so called classics from the 1930's such as DRACULA and THE MUMMY are actually poor to average movies, but as horror fans were supposed to like them. Thankfully White Zombie widely known as the first ever zombie movie is not one of them. The zombies here are used as slaves as their master played so well by Bela Lugosi oversees their work. Now he is after a newly wed couple in the town and wants the woman as one of his zombies. Whilst there are of course horror elements this is also a classic tale of love conquers evil. Acting is decent if not sometimes hammy, though Lugosi thankfully plays it super straight.

Direction is quite superb ala Hitchcock and the movie plays out as if it is 10-15 years ahead of its time. A genuine classic movie. If you dip in and your a DVD person opt for the ROAN or KINO version only. Sound dips a bit but is well watchable and picture quality is good.
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NB: As is Amazon's Wont, they've very unhelpfully bundled all the reviews for various editions and formats together. This review refers to Kino's 2013 Blu-ray release and also refers to the Roan Group's NTSC DVD.

At times superbly directed by Victor Halperin with imaginative use of shadows and light and blessed with what may well be Bela Lugosi's best screen performance as the wonderfully named Murder Legendre, White Zombie, although a bit creaky in places, is still one of the very best of the Thirties cycle of horror films that followed Universal's success with Lugosi's Dracula and Frankenstein the previous year. While most of the supporting players are a bit insipid, to put it generously, Bela has more than enough personality to make up for them as the sorcerer who turns his worst enemies into mindless zombies to serve his whims and who hires out his expertise to lovesick plantation owner and Harry Houdini-lookalike Robert Frazer to steal Madge Bellamy from her true love John Harron, only to decide he'd rather like to add her to his own collection.

It's a film full of wonderfully atmospheric moments, from its opening with a midnight burial at a crossroads which sets the eerie tone for the rest of the film to its climax in a gothic cliff top mansion inhabited solely by Lugosi and his living dead slaves. Then there's Legendre taking the scarf from Bellamy's neck as her carriage rides away, his zombie workforce not even noticing when one of their number falls into a mill grindstone to meet an unnaturally silent death or a distraught husband going mad as the shadows of happy revellers dance on the bar-room wall behind him and visions of his `dead' wife beckon him on, while the lovelorn colonist's fate worse than death and the horrific (offscreen) death of his butler are memorably unnerving. It's a fascinating mixture of the dreamlike and the overly theatrical, at times showing its rushed 11 day shooting schedule with a fluffed line or an awkward bit of timing from the cast only to come up with a genuinely striking moment like the surprisingly underplayed scene between Lugosi and the first of his victims to realise what is happening to him while powerless to stop it or a doom-laden atmosphere that more than compensates as its characters destroy each other in the pursuit of what they think is love. It won't give you many nightmares but it will keep you watching.

Sadly only available in a cut reissue print after a notorious rights battle led to the uncut version literally disintegrating before it could be restored, it's long suffered from a succession of poor public domain copies, the best of which was the Roan Group's NTSC version. Kino's new Blu-ray version isn't quite the huge leap forward hoped for, curiously offering two versions of the 67-minute version on one disc. The default version is a digitally restored version that, unusually for the label, has gone through a lot of tinkering and DNR work that cleans up all the blemishes and brightens up the image in places but also removes most traces of film grain to give it a different texture that's not always pleasing. Thankfully they've also included the `raw' non-digitally restored version of the film taken from a 35mm print, albeit hidden away in the extra features, and this looks a lot better despite the occasional scratches and suitably darker image. Both versions have the same running time, with a slight difference in the `restored' version accounted for by the addition of logos and restoration credits, and both have the same missing frames and odd skipped bits of dialogue, though these are more minor irritants than the major problems with other releases of the film.

The extras package is rather smaller than the Roan Group version, losing the Ship's Reporter interview with Lugosi returning from shooting Old Mother Riley Meets the Vampire (in which "I mayk komady by scaring evaryvun arownd me") but carrying over the 1932 short Intimate Interview with Bela Lugosi playing up his newfound success in Hollywood and the 1951 reissue trailer narrated with typically stilted melodrama by Criswell, replacing the previous audio commentary by Gary Don Rhodes with a new one by Frank Thompson and including a rather good stills gallery of hand-colored lobby cards.
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on 7 July 2007
Within a year of becoming the screen's first and still-best Dracula, Bela Lugosi was starring in this "epic" for The Halperin Brothers. Don't ask who they were-long ago forgotten!!

So is this film, and that's one mistake you can swiftly rectify by buying it. You won't find another quite like it.

Only 5 years after sound films had started I know, but there are some fairly wobbly bits of recording. As for the soundtrack, that is even scratchier, off 78's!

But this only adds to the atmosphere. The eerie, low-lit photography is quite astounding and completely at one with the studio backdrops. God knows where Haiti was actually recreated, but it's convincingly chilling even if it was Poverty Row, LA!

The soundtrack is actually parts of Schubert's Unfinished symphony, parts of other half-recognisable classical pieces, plus a bit of refrains or variations based on what's gone before. In any other context, you'd probably rush to sell it on e-bay or here, but it really is compelling stuff alongside Bela!

And it is Mr Lugosi who makes it, finally. All I will say is that the hero is daft enough to put into Port-au-Prince with his fiancee to stay with another single bloke they met on the boat to New York, and his fiancee is daft enough to stand around in her underwear by the shuttered window listening to native drums!

That is quite enough encouragement for Murder Legendre,sugar-mill owner and interesting second occupation, to run amok. And Bela Lugosi was never better than when he did that.

Well, this film really is an one-off. It's stood repeated viewings on VHS and is now doing the same on DVD. It's a real treasure, and a compelling entertainment.

All I can finally do, to encourage a purchase(I'm not selling it, by the way!)is to quote Mr Lugosi's final words:-

"For you, my frend, they are the Angels of Death"

So now you know where that came from,too!
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on 5 August 2013
This movie hails from the era when Haiti had cornered the market on zombies. No raising from the dead, no alien induced zombie, no foot dragging or brain eating fun zombies. These zombies were gainfully employed at the sugar mill. Young Bela boasts an "Eddie Munster" hair style, pointy ears, manicured eyebrows, and a goatee. Along with his superimposed eyes he has come to epitomize evil. He is the one who actually creates zombies in what is now a campy film from a former horror classic.

Madge Bellamy stars in the title role, a bride, abducted by another man and turned into a zombie. The ending wasn't exactly a cliff hanger. A good movie to watch with "Reefer Madness" if you catch my drift.
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In many ways this first zombie movie is the last film in the baroque horror tradition of the silent films. This 1932 film directed by Victor Halperin was made for practically nothing even though it starred Bela Lugosi as "Murder" Legendre, in his first role after making a smash in "Dracula." Lugosi, who apparently directed some of the retakes as well, plays the master of a different type of undead down in Haiti.
In "White Zombie," Monsieur Beaumont (Robert Frazer) convinces a young couple, Madeleine Short (Madge Bellamy) and Neil Parker (John Harron) to get married on his Haitian plantation. Amazingly enough, he does this so that he can convince Madeline to run away with him. Needing help, Beaumont turns to Legendre, who runs his mill with zombie workers. Beaumont uses Legendre's zombie potion to bend Madeleine to his will, but then is dissatisfied with her soulless husk and wants her turned back. Instead, Legendre turns Beaumont into a zombie as well. Meanwhile, Neil is convinced by a local priest that maybe he is not a widow after all.
"White Zombie" never really frightens its audience, but instead sustains a high level of downright eeriness throughout, achieving its effect by taking such simple objects as the scarf used to wrap a voodoo doll or a rose containing poison and making them important elements in Lugosi's evil machinations. This film might be a talkie, but its sensibilities are those of the silent era and since it begins the tradition of zombies in the movies that continues down to "Night of the Living Dead" and other light hearted fare makes it at least an interesting footnote in the history of horror films.
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on 15 January 2012
There's something weird about 'White Zombie' (1932),...it seems to exert a strange fascination on some people. And having now bought four different WZ DVD's, and also the rather expensive, 360 page hardcover, trivia filled book 'White Zombie: Anatomy of a Horror Film' I think I can safely say I'm most definitely one of them! I wanted this one (the 'Screen Edge') because I really like the cover artwork, but I was fully expecting it to be yet another barely watchable 'public domain' print, like most of the other WZ DVD's released to date. However, on comparing the 'Screen Edge' with the 'Roan' release (which is the benchmark 'restored' version), the SE compares really quite favourably....And in some respects it's actually superior:

The 'Screen Edge' DVD features an on-screen menu with a nine chapter scene selection and a three page (six paragraphs) WZ film synopsis and short history. There are also three movie stills.

Picture quality:
The print is quite soft, and this 'Vaseline smeared on the lens effect' seems more apparent in the movie's long distance shots. However, I wouldn't say it was overly excessive or too blurry: for instance, the copyright 'small print' text that appears at the bottom of the opening credits screen is quite legible, which is more than you can say for some WZ transfers. Film damage, dirt, marks and scratches are evident in certain sections of the movie, but again, not too excessive or distracting. It has decent contrast too; not too dark, which is a criticism sometimes levelled at the 'Roan' transfer. All in all, a very watchable print, which, image-wise kinda reminds me of Carl Dreyer's Vampyr. I'd score it a '6' or maybe '6.5' out of '10' (I'd give the 'Roan' an '8.5').

Sound quality:
This is where the 'Screen Edge' really has the 'Roan' (and probably all other versions) beat all ends up....Aurally, this print is positively hi-fi in comparison! I honestly think it has the cleanest, clearest soundtrack of any WZ released to date: Background hiss, rumbles and pops are absolutely minimal, and it has none of the 'listening to it underwater' effect that so blights the 'Roan' version....You can even hear the crickets chirping during the dialogue!

Cuts, splices & running time:
Strange this....According to the timer on my Sony blu-ray player, the 'Roan' clocks in with a running time of 1: 06: 52, while the 'Screen Edge' runs for 1: 04: 37. Yet I can't find evidence of any cuts in the SE whatsoever. In fact, it seems to be more complete: for instance, a dialogue scene with Beaumont and his butler, Silver, which has a couple of nasty jump-cuts in the Roan transfer, is complete in the SE. It also has the final note of music from the movie's end that's totally missing in the 'Roan'. I suppose the only really accurate way to compare running times would be to run both films from start to finish and timing them from an outside source, but I'm trying hard not to become THAT obsessed.

IMHO, Although the 'Roan' is a definite must have for its outstanding picture quality and DVD extras,...the SE's very acceptable transfer, put together with its most excellent sound quality, gives the 'Roan' a serious run for its money in terms of overall viewing pleasure.

Why not become yet another WZ nutter, and buy both?
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 29 October 2012
Amazon have done it again, they have lumped together all the reviews for the different versions of this film! However, the one presently on offer from Roan is the best image although the sound is very problematic. Still, with so many bad prints available of this little classic it's good to have this "restoration" from a few years back of this imaginative and atmospheric period shocker. ironically though, the recent blu ray compilation of 18 horror movies in SD format on one disc, has a clearer soundtrack than this. To be frank my favourite Lugosi is "Dark Eyes of London" but this and Dracula ( in the new blu ray transfer) rank high on my list of his "finest moments".
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 24 March 2009
This does have some interesting photography, and the lighting and make-up (for the time) is well done. However do not be tempted by this. As a previous reviewer has stated the quality of the film and soundtrack is very poor.

There is some truly awful acting in this. I have never rated Bela Lugosi as an actor. He did Dracula first and in my view that is all that merits mention. Boris Karloff was the real actor of the early horror film era. Here though the rest of the cast are so awful that Lugosi's 'solid oak' performance is by comparison quite decent.

Really this is a film for completists, so only buy if you are sure. In its favour it is only 65 minutes long, but if you really must own this film I'd wait for a remastered version.
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on 4 March 2007
Hi welcome to my review of White Zombie - so here goes: I have seen this a few time before so I knew what to expect and I watched it in bed last night. This is the first ever zombie film made and its a good one which is oozing with gothic atmosphere, don't expect gore like the other zombie films of recent offer this is more of an expressionist horror film (like the silent horror films of the 1920's). There is more talking then action and there is one scene where is shows a zombie fall into a grinder, but with this being in the 1930's it didn't show you him getting killed like the recent films would.

This chilling tale features Bela Lugosi as the dark Voodoo prince, Murder Legendre, a supernatural force who holds his Haitian worshippers in his thrall. He joins forces with Robert Frazier who is furious at the rejection of his marriage proposal by the exquisite Madge Bellamy. They strike an unspeakable pact that results in Madge's death and resurrection as a zombie and love slave to Frazier. The evil Legendre reneges on his bargain and holds Madge's soul in captivity.

Bela Lugosi plays a blinding performance in this film and this was filmed after Dracula so he was on top form and was held as a master of horror cinema along with Boris Karloff & Lon Chaney. There is no special features on the version I have and this is also in the 50 horror classics box set I have, I like watching these old horror films because there is a gothic feel about them that later horror films lost and in them days it wasn't gore for gore sake there was a story to them and they were better told then they are now so that's why I like watching them.

Thank you for reading my review and if you watch this enjoy the first zombie film ever made in all its gothic charm.
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on 5 September 2003
This first Zombie movie (and early talkie)is obviously highly influenced by the German expressionist silent film style(compare e.g. 'The Cabinet of Dr.Caligari'). That means from todays point of view the acting looks quite hammy and the villain (Lugosi) is the only real 'character'. Apart from that this is a must-see. Marvelous camera work and an extremly eerie and creepy atmosphere. The scene in the sugar mill or that of the zombies coming down the hill after the credits alone are worth watching this movie. By the way, the 'magic' is quite rational - a combination of drugs and hypnosis (only the controlling without eye contact is humbug).The voodoo dolls seem to be more a psychological tool than actual wizardry.
So if you don't mind the old-fashioned acting style, give this movie a chance.
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