• White Zombie

    Released by: Kino
    Released on: January 29, 2012.
    Director: Victor Halperin
    Cast: Bela Lugosi, John Harron, Madge Bellamy, Robert Frazer, Joseph Cawthorne
    Year: 1932
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    The Movie:

    Directed by Victor Halperin in 1932, White Zombie fell into the public domain and has been the victim of countless re-releases in value packs and bargain bins for years now. The Roan Group attempted to restore the movie and released it on DVD and that disc was certainly an improvement over what came before it, and now the film makes its debut on Blu-ray courtesy of Kino. More on that in a bit – first, let’s talk about the movie itself.

    Shot fast and cheap, White Zombie introduces us to a young couple, Madeleine (Madge Bellamy) and Neil (John Harron), vacationing on Haiti where they plan to become husband and wife, using the lush plantation grounds owned by Monsieur Beaumont (Robert Frazer) as the ideal location for their ceremony. As it turns out, however, Beaumont is not to be trusted for he has secretly fallen in love with Madeleine and plans to steal her from her fiancé. When Beaumont’s plan fails, he turns to more dastardly means and coerces with Murder Legendre (Bela Lugosi), another plantation owner with a background in the unholy voodoo arts.

    Legendre lets Beaumont know that there’s only one way he can truly make Madeleine do his bidding and that’s to turn her into a zombie. Though he initially resists the idea, his lust for Madeleine soon overcomes what little sense of reason he has left at which point and permits Legendre to work his evil magic…

    Light on dialogue but rich with atmosphere, White Zombie was made shortly after Lugosi was immortalized in Dracula. Here the actor is given a pretty solid role, playing Legendre to the hilt by rubbing his hands together maliciously and using his distinct facial features to convince you that, yes, he is as evil as his name infers. In one of the movie’s stand out scenes he carves a wax duplicate of Madeleine necessary for the voodoo to work – the look in his eyes and the body language he uses in this scene are excellent and completely effective.

    Sadly the rest of the cast don’t fare quite as well. Madge Bellamy is gorgeous to look at, bringing an effectively classic beauty to the part that works well but sadly she doesn’t really put much emotion into the part. She and Harron lack serious chemistry here, we don’t necessarily buy them as the couple so in love that the story insists they are. Thankfully Lugosi gets enough screen time and has enough to do that he is able to save the film and with some help from some moody cinematography and a few interesting and macabre set pieces, White Zombie winds up holding up quite well. On top of that there are interesting layers of subtext to the film that would seem to comment rather slyly on race relations, slavery, and sexual politics. This makes the movie one worth paying attention to, and despite its pacing problems, all the more interesting to watch.


    There are two versions of White Zombie included on this disc – a restored version and a raw version. The restored version, from which the first twelve screen caps in this review have been taken, is a mess. The image has been blasted with noise reduction to the point where pretty much all fine detail has been washed away leaving the picture awash in that terrible waxy quality that purists despite so much. There’s been so much filtering done to the picture here that at times it scarcely seems believable that this was transferred from film.

    Thankfully, there’s the aforementioned raw version (see the next ten screen caps), which is a straight transfer of the elements untouched by whatever restorative hand saw fit to mess up the other version. This version, however, is not without its share of problems too. Print damage runs rampant, frame jumps are obvious and contrast can periodically bloom. With that said, it’s quite a bit more watchable than the restored version and beat up or not, at least it looks like film. Ideally we’d have wound up with something in between the two versions included here but that didn’t happen. Thankfully the raw version does at least show some depth and detail where the restored version does not and it does make for a marked improvement over previous DVD versions of the film in terms of detail, stability and texture.

    Regardless of which version of the movie you opt for, you’ve got an English language LPCM 2.0 Mono track to accompany the visuals and while there is hiss and occasional pops present throughout the tracks, the levels are generally well balanced. If dialogue sometimes sounds a bit thin we can chalk that up to the age of the movie and the condition of available elements. There are a few drop outs in here that are hard to miss as well. Those who have seen the movie before will know what to expect and be perfectly happy with what’s here, those who have not should temper their expectations accordingly.

    Frank Thompson gives a pretty solid discussion of the history and influence of the movie in the critical analysis he provides in the commentary track that accompanies the feature. He notes not only how the movie would inspire countless other zombie themed horror films but offers up plenty of interesting trivia about the cast and crew involved with the picture, notes the locations used when he can and offers insight into the recurring themes and motifs that are apparent throughout the movie.

    Also included here is a seven minute Bela Lugosi Interview in which the star discusses his Hungarian origins, what it was like leaving his homeland for the United States and how he learned to speak in American slang terms. It’s not particularly in-depth and it’s obviously been setup for the cameras but it’s a fun watch that Lugosi’s fans will appreciate seeing. Outside of that we get static menus and the theatrical trailer created to promote the film’s 1951 theatrical re-release. All of the extras on the disc are presented in high definition.

    The Final Word:

    Don’t waste your time with the ‘restored’ version of White Zombie included on this Blu-ray, it’s a mess. The ‘raw’ version, however rough looking it might be in spots, is the one to go for. It could certainly have been cleaned up more but it does at least offer a film like presentation of the seminal horror film that is White Zombie in high definition with the detail and texture you’d expect. Add to that a very good commentary and a couple of other fun extras and this is, if not the definitive release of the movie, definitely an upgrade compared to what has come before.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!



    Comments 3 Comments
    1. Mark Tolch's Avatar
      Mark Tolch -
      Jaysus. That restored version looks like it got sandblasted worse than PREDATOR. Who makes these decisions? I think i'll just stick with my old PD copy.
    1. bgart13's Avatar
      bgart13 -
      No review anywhere has had anything nice to say about this release, except all appreciate having the raw version on the disc. I really wonder why they even went with the smeared, er, I mean, restored version. They obviously saw the end result and decided it was so poor that having the raw version was superior. Weird. And, thanks.
    1. Horace Cordier's Avatar
      Horace Cordier -
      I want this badly for the raw version.