[31 Days of Horror Reviews] Day Thirteen: Victor Halperin's 'White Zombie'

Updated: Oct 15

As a fan of horror oldies, I feel like it would disrespectful to exclude 1932’s White Zombie from my five-day excursion into zombie movies.

Not only did White Zombie give Bela Lugosi another juicy role, hot on the heels of Dracula’s opening; White Zombie is also considered the first full-length zombie movie in America.

For anyone who’s only recently discovered zombie movies, I’ll warn you outright that this isn’t a standard zombie movie. The zombies in this movie don’t munch on brains, nor do they appear as decomposing corpses who travel in hordes in overtake civilization. Rather, the zombies in White Zombie are reanimated corpses trained strictly to obey their master.

Lugosi stars as “Murder,” a white Haitian voodoo practitioner who turns the corpses of his enemies into mindless drones who do his bidding. So…he’s pretty much a Wal-Mart manager, minus the hands-on-hips attitude and ever-growing disappointment with life.

When Neil and Madeleine, a young couple, arrive in Haiti, they meet Charles, a plantation owner who quickly gets the hots for Madeleine. Charles knows about Murder’s absolute command over his zombies, and in grand soap opera fashion, he decides to use Murder’s powers to make Madeleine swipe left on marrying Neil and swipe right on getting jiggy with Charles instead. So, rather than marvel at the mysteries of life or ask existential questions like “What sort of God would let this happen?” or “Do the zombies know their enslaved, and is their enslavement OSHA-approved?” Charles’ immediate impulse is to use Murder’s zombie potion in order to trick Madeleine into marrying him.

Too bad the #MeToo movement wasn’t around back then, right?

While Charles the Poon-Seeking Bastard truly feels he’d be a good match for Madeleine (I mean, he totally respects her free will, right?), he’s pretty much okay with watching her promptly die and be buried after her wedding. Although he and Murder dig her up, and although Madeleine becomes Charles’ zombie slave, poor Charles the Would-Be Necrophiliac Date Rapist develops a conscience and begs Murder to reverse the potions effects, to which Murder says, “No way, bro!”

Charles eventually gets his comeuppance, and Neil and Madeleine get to live happily ever-after…aside from what I assume will be years of therapy.

I’ll be the first to say White Zombie has aged rather poorly. But the same can be argued for most of the black-and-white movies that laid a foundation for horror as we know it today. If you haven’t seen White Zombie, it’s worth watching as a curiosity.

Hey, if nothing else, it at least gave Robert Cummings a great name for a band.


This week, I'm doing seven straight days of zombie movie reviews as a part of my 31 Days of Horror Reviews series. Do you have a favorite zombie movie? Tell me in the comments and I’ll add it to the roster.


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