Thursday, October 16, 2014
Regarded as the first zombie movie ever, White Zombie predates the rotting, flesh-eating ghouls we've become accustomed to since Night of the Living Dead, and instead, it presents us with the Voodoo zombies of Haiti, the mindless slaves who perform the bidding of an evil master, their wills totally destroyed. And in much the same way a certain Mario Bava film gave Black Sabbath its name, so did this movie inspire another heavy metal band, the one that gave us Rob Zombie. How's that for a legacy?
An engaged couple, Neil and Madeline, in Haiti takes a carriage ride to the estate of their friend, Charles Beaumont, who has offered to host the wedding. Beaumont is in love with the bride-to-be, and in desperation, he turns to the aforementioned Murder Legendre, who has a plantation that he mans with the walking dead. Legendre gives Beaumont the zombie powder to use on Madeline so she'll be subservient to his will, and she seemingly dies after the wedding. Neil and a local missionary track them all Legendre's mountain castle, where Beaumont realizes that making the woman you love a zombie probably isn't the best idea.
A few other images approach the sublime of the sugar mill. Legendre has a pack of zombies that serve as his attack dogs, and they pick up one poor bastard and dump him into the moat where he apparently drowns (The movie is a bit vague on that point. If someone ever does a remake, the zombies ought to dump someone in a vat of boiling sugar.). The bride's funeral and her subsequent removal from her tomb by Legendre and his ghouls has an effective eeriness. The film also shows the agony of Beaumont as he slowly turns into a zombie himself, and you have to enjoy a villain who turns his enemies into his mindless slaves.
White Zombie also pushes into taboo territory. Beaumont finds himself unable to love the zombified Madeline, even though she still possesses her beauty. Without her mind and soul, she's not the same person, he says. One only wonders how he, and possibly Legendre, had his way with her before he came to his conclusion. It's not spelled out, but I think we can assume that the thought of having sex with her crossed his mind, and it's even possible that he did try something with her. I doubt Legendre would have any qualms about it. Clearly, it would be rape if he had, but I wonder if it's necrophilia.
I would love to see a remake of White Zombe. The Romero zombies (albeit sped up) have been in vogue for decades now, with only the occasional Voodoo zombie movie that a throwback could work. There are some buried ideas and concepts here that a new version would have more freedom to explore. For a 1930s movie, there is some twisted subject matter, including, in an implied way, necrophilia. Someone with a dark imagination could really hit one out of the park. The makers of this one mostly settled for another Dracula.